Justin Wilson celebration: ‘We’re the lucky ones’ for having known him
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted “Celebrating the Life of Justin Wilson” Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 afternoon at the IMS pavilion. Here Chris Mower hugs Julia Wilson, Justin’s widow, during the memorial.Tuesday’s gathering to honor Justin Wilson was, as his wife, Julia, desired: a celebration.“(Because) I don’t do sad very well,” she said.Smiles and good memories abounded at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because that’s the way Wilson lived. Numerous stories were told of his family, his friends and, of course, his racing.In nearly every photograph displayed, Wilson, who died Aug. 24, was smiling.“We’re the lucky ones,” sports car team owner Michael Shank said.Reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon said he initially was uncomfortable being asked to speak to the large crowd — until he realized he would have wanted Wilson speaking on his behalf.Wilson’s brother, Stefan, read a letter written by Julia. There were pauses for light tears, but mostly the message was upbeat. Keep living. Keep smiling.“Not even I realized how big his heart was,” she had written.Justin Wilson’s widow: He was amazing on the track, but also with his familyWilson, 37, stood for the underdog, but not just for those in motor sports. His work with dyslexic children had come from the soul, where his own reading struggles came. A local karter he had befriended attended.Wilson’s words were featured in many of the videos. In one sequence, Wilson was asked a series of rapid-fire questions. He admitted, sheepishly, that he hadn’t read a book “in a long time.” He said he was best “at being a father.”Wilson’s daughters, Jane, 7, and Jessica, 5, did not attend, but they appeared on the large screens sitting in their father’s arms, at his side, the apple of his eyes. It was touching when Julia’s letter noted how much effort her husband put into reading to the girls.“(They) are missing their best friend,” Julia wrote.Stefan was Wilson’s little brother, and he delivered a moving tribute despite not having enough light to read his prepared notes. Wilson’s unofficial little brother, racing partner A.J. Allmendinger, couldn’t attend, but his admiration shined through recorded messages.The height discrepancy between Wilson and Allmendinger was noted on several occasions. Shank even showed how the two drivers were able to share the seat of the same Daytona-winning sports car. That drew big laughs.Funeral for IndyCar’s Justin Wilson held in English villageAllmendinger told of ribbing Wilson for too-short-for-public workout shorts — “He never wore them again” — and Wilson’s longtime IndyCar engineer, Bill Pappas, told of coaxing the straight-laced Wilson into sampling “American bourbon.”Julia’s letter gave even more details of the night she met Wilson. Turns out he was tipsy when he joined the party, and “he then made a beeline for the Jell-O shots.”Apparently that’s where Wilson got the nerve to talk so much to her. However, late in the evening, Wilson missed the door frame he attempted to lean against.Wilson could laugh at himself, and he would have loved the retelling of a story from a racing test years ago in Germany. Following dinner in a quaint and quiet nearby town, team members divided for a race down a hill lined with several tall hedges. The challenge grew with each jump, and Wilson tumbled after the last hedge. But he didn’t just fall; he rolled through poison ivy and over the top of a lovestruck couple minus a significant amount of clothing. Sharing poison ivy with them was another example of how giving Wilson could be.The room howled.The list of friends who toasted Wilson at the end of the hour-long event was IndyCar’s Who’s Who. Nearly every driver Wilson raced against in this year’s Indianapolis 500 was present, plus all of the team owners Wilson drove for in this country, including Dale Coyne, whose drought of 25 years without a race win ended with Wilson at the wheel in 2009.Justin Wilson, 1978-2015: ‘A true sportsman’Said Roger Penske: “I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”Playing in the event’s background were songs of the Rolling Stones, whom Wilson loved. There was video of this year’s late-race battle with Graham Rahal at Mid-Ohio that illustrated Wilson’s professionalism. Pappas told how much Wilson, a product of European road racing, loved American oval-track racing and how Wilson cried after winning at Texas Motor Speedway in 2011. Boy Scouts that Wilson long represented on his Indy car were on hand to distribute pins.Inside, friends warmed the room. Outside, rain befitting a British afternoon reigned.It was a perfect celebration.Follow Star reporter Curt Cavin on Twitter: @curtcavin.