Brain Dump: Pocono 2018

These are tough words to write, but I’m gonna be honest: I did not like this race. In fact, I felt unsettled most of Sunday and a lot of the time since then. Maybe you felt the same.

Warning: this post was not fun to write, and it probably won’t be fun to read.

Because after seeing what happened on the first Green flag lap and waiting for nearly an hour to hear Robert Wickens was “awake and alert,” there wasn’t much for your humble host to enjoy for the rest of the events from Pocono Speedway.

Here’s a summary of the results:

  • Alexander Rossi dominated for the second straight race, lapping all but 3 cars. He probably could have lapped 2 more, but he deferred.
  • Will Power drove to a valiant 2nd, the only driver that had any challenge for Rossi. And by challenge I mean he could stay within 5 or so seconds.
  • Scott Dixon drove from some-teenth to 3rd. Because he’s Scott Dixon.
  • Some other drivers drove impressively.
  • Others did not.
  • None of this seemed to matter much.

What mostly mattered was this: we nearly lost Robert Wickens.

After seeing his horrific crash the racing world endured a nearly 1-hour delay waiting to hear of his condition. I understand the need to be thorough in examining and evaluating a driver’s possible injuries, as well as the respect for time to notify his team and family first. But, if he arrives at the infield car center awake and alert, can’t someone just say he’s “awake and alert and being evaluated”? No one needs to know the immediate extent of his injuries, but it seems excessive to have to wait 50+ minutes just to know if a driver is alive.

I don’t want to mentally process if someone has died if they haven’t died. I don’t enjoy doing that that.

Mind you, I’m speaking from a fan perspective. If there’s a good reason for making us wait then OK, we’ll all live with it. But if this is easily able to be rectified then please tweak the protocol.

As for Wickens, up until this week he has been a revelation this season, unlike any rookie since Simon Pagenaud in 2012. In the IRL/Indycar era no rookie driver has finished higher than 5th in the standings. Wickens is a solid 6th, just 20 points behind Ryan Hunter-Reay. He’s not going to get any more points, but he’s still over a hundred points ahead of the next rookie (Zach Veach) so there’s no reason to think he won’t still win Rookie of the Year.

But no one is really thinking of that now. We’re all hoping and/or praying that he simply walks again after seeing the words “spinal cord injury” in one of the press releases. And although that news is vastly better planning a funeral, it’s still very sad. But I think I can safely say we’re all rooting for him and his best possible recovery.

What also mattered was this: we nearly lost Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Replays are a sensitive subject for TV production. The general rule for motorsports seems to be that it’s OK to show a spectacularly violent crash so long as no one was seriously injured. And since Hunter-Reay emerged from his wreckage relatively unscathed NBCSN viewers got to see numerous replays from in-car footage of Wickens car nearly removing Hunter-Reay’s head. The car was so close it damaged the roll hoop right above Hunter-Reay’s helmet.

I did not enjoy seeing him nearly decapitated. Over and over.

In fact, I don’t enjoy seeing replays of ANY horrific accident, regardless of how sunny the outcome. Case in point: Scott Dixon’s airborne assault from last year’s Indy 500. Clips of that crash are featured regularly in Indycar’s own promotional video, and I still turn my head away every time they air it.

Why? Because it vividly reminds me of the feeling I had when it happened, where thoughts of “Oh no, Scott Dixon just died!” flashed through my mind. Thoughts of the emotions for his wife, children, friends in the series, countless racing fans. Yeah, he walked away from that, but those feelings didn’t just not happen because he only nicked up his ankle.

I don’t enjoy having those thoughts subconsciously flood back in my head.

If they never aired that crash again I’d be totally fine with that. And the same goes for this weekend’s crash. I’d feel the same about Wickens any time I see that. Maybe more so since we nearly lost several drivers.

Because something else mattered as well: we nearly lost James Hinchcliffe, again.

Hinch slowly emerged from his damaged vehicle holding his forearms out to show they had been hurt. Again, replays were shows to see if he had held on to the steering wheel too long and possibly suffered wrist injuries from holding on during a sudden snap of the steering wheel.

The replays were shown from the camera on his helmet, which gives the viewer almost an identical view to what the driver is seeing. And what Hinch was seeing during the crash was a maelstrom of debris, largely from his teammates car. And while he had pulled his hands of the wheel in time, positioning them across his chest, both his arms and his head were clearly struck by large pieces of Dallara in incredibly violent fashion.

I did not enjoy visually experiencing this.

During every replay I kept thinking about larger pieces and different approach angles and how any number of slight changes could have resulted in a serious or fatal injury to Hinch. I assure you, these are not good thoughts. And while Indycar is working diligently to develop a windscreen that reduces driver exposure to such things, maybe now would be a good time to see if the timeline could be accelerated.

All of this contributed to the worst feeling I’ve had watching an Indycar race since the tragedy in Las Vegas in 2011. I enjoy watching racing, not watching crashes that result in serious injury, or worse.

I love this sport and its competitors, but days like this make it hard to watch.

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