It's been a hard couple of weeks for motorsports, motorsports fans, and two families in particular. Dan Wheldon's death
in Las Vegas, and now Marco Simoncelli's death
in Malaysia, put a point on a fact we often like to gloss over in racing: it's dangerous.
If you haven't already, I recommend reading Mike Spinelli's excellent piece at Jalopnik
on why he didn't (and won't) watch the crash that killed Marco Simoncelli at Sepang this weekend. It's thoughtful and thought-provoking, and a great lament to the now-vanished future of a great rider, coming from the heart of a true fan of the sport. But I have a different point of view.
I've watched Simoncelli's crash at least a dozen times now. No, I'm not morbid or, as Spinelli puts it, ghoulish.
I'm an amateur racer, track-day aficionado, and speed freak. I watch Simoncelli's crash not as a snuff flick but as a sharp and vivid reminder that even the most brilliantly skilled pilots can be caught out by random chance. A reminder that those of us that take to the track in anger also take tremendous physical forces under our control. Watching Simoncelli's crash, or any fatal accident, serves to drive into my head and heart that no one, least of all a punter like me, is invincible.
Simoncelli's isn't the only fatal accident I've pored over. I've gone in search of footage of every fatal accident I can find--not looking for mistakes, things that could have changed the outcome, because that's pointless; if a gifted professional didn't or couldn't make a life-saving decision, there probably wasn't one to be made. I do it to pierce the armor of denial any racer builds to keep sane.
That armor is just as dangerous as the racing itself; perhaps even more so. To race, one must overcome the fear of death, not put it out of mind. Flirting with that fear provides some of the excitement. Mastering a vehicle on the edge of possibility, at the limits of human capability, is a reward in itself. But beyond that edge lies injury, debilitation, and death--and that edge can move without warning.
Over time we've worked hard in the sport as a whole to reduce the danger, to minimize the chance of injury, and in truth, many accidents that would have been fatal 50, 30, even 20 years ago are today survived with minimal, if any, injury. But the reaper still lurks at every corner, every wall, and every pass. For those of us that dare to taunt death in our hunger for speed, it is healthy, maybe even necessary, to face it full-on, to see the effect it has not just on the racer, but the family, the sport, and the fans.
To understand that that could one day be us, and to suit up and go out again anyway, in remembrance and knowledge of what may await.