They quietly entered the darkened theater just as the music softened, filed into the back ash-faced and reverent. Race car drivers can be elite race car drivers only by compartmentalizing the nagging reality that their occupation can take their life, likely at a normally innocuous moment they would otherwise bemoan as boring.
Dana died in an accident during a warmup before the 2006 season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The tragedy was another reminder that not every driver leaves an accident "with only a scratch."
And on Thursday,
Kalitta was killed on June 21 during qualifying in Englishtown, N.J., when his Funny Car burst into flames and hit a wall in excess of 300 mph.
"My attitude is positive as long as I'm not alone," four-time champion NHRA champion
It's a feeling the dozen or more IndyCar drivers attending Dana's memorial two years ago undoubtedly felt as they filed into the back of the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Fla., as if the distance between themselves and the emotional tributes beginning on-stage would insulate them the thoughts, the emotions and their own sense of mortality and fallibility.
There is no blaze of glory, just reconciliation and debate. Policemen, firemen, soldiers go to work each day with the realization they might not come home. They go for the greater good. Drivers go for entertainment. But they go anyway. No one wants to die, no matter how many times the tired "they died doing what they loved" bromide is trotted out to salve those left behind. And there is guilt for going.
"You're at risk driving here today,"
It's up to an encompassing sense of self-reliance to assure the panicking head inside a helmet that it will not be them next time.
Unrealistic as those thoughts are, they are what keeps drivers getting in their cars.
Kalitta's memorial will be held in Norwalk because it's the site of the ensuing NHRA event, and the show, like it always does no matter the loss or the hurt, goes on. The remainder of Kalitta's team, including his first cousin,
"We're a race team, and that's what we do," said
Drivers learn young how to begin assessing and addressing danger, the balance of calculation and consequence. A botched play in a football game could cost a season. A botched passing attempt or shift could cost a life. Aggression must be channeled into creative pressure, and suppressing doubt is tantamount when one chance at victory might present itself in 200 laps of racing.
"Confidence comes from the fact you have a sense of control over what you're doing," Formula One driver
Picking up and moving on is the natural defense for drivers when the ultimate wrong occurs. Part of that lies in the cranial wiring, the same inner mechanism that enables them able not only to handle but crave potentially lethal situations. And part comes from finding the answers they need either in ego, faith or denial. Whatever works.
"There is one thing I know," said