Justin Wilson’s smile was the only thing that could dwarf his six-and-a-half foot frame. That smile was wide and clear when I introduced him to my five-year-old daughter on Saturday at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Justin grinned and asked her about the stuffed doll she dragged in tow and told her he liked the Indy 500 logo on her shirt. We shared a few words. It had been months since we last spoke and more than a decade since I first interviewed him when he was a young driver on the Champ Car circuit trying to make a name for himself in North American open wheel circles. After we finished our brief exchange, Justin headed to pit road. I offered my good wishes for the weekend. They were not enough.
That beaming smile was one of two looks for which Wilson was known. His other façade was its antithesis: a stare of absolute concentration that the sports fan in me can only compare to Bob Gibson or Nolan Ryan when their eyes locked on to an opposing batter. This cast of stoic confidence must have made other drivers squirm a bit in their cockpits. I imagine this look was on Wilson’s face during the race on Sunday afternoon when his Indy car swung around the first turn in an attempt to navigate the remnants of Sage Karam’s disintegrated Dallara. There was not enough time.