“Racing Mourns-Courageous Hero”
1-Man’s Opinion on Sports
by Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton
If you follow auto racing, you know the thrill of speed, the technology that guides the sport, and you know accidents and wrecks, and sadly death, are an accepted part of the sport.
We all remember the Daytona 500-last lap accident that claimed the life NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. Since the mid 1990s, there have been no fatalities in the sport, due to upgrades in the structure of cars, the Safer wall barriers and the Hans Head-Neck support.
We have flashbacks of the deaths of Indy car drivers Dan Wheldon, Greg Moore in airborne wrecks into catch fences, and terrible first lap Indy 500-crash that led to horrific fires that maimed Salt Walther and Swede Savage. The integrity of Indy cars is so much greater now than ever.
Formula 1-nearly went out of business when an airborne car went into the crowd at LeMans in France in the 1950s, and some terrible seige of deaths that plagued the sport in the 1970s. Wings, cockpit protection upgrades, are all part of today’s faster, but much safer, sport.
Auto racing celebrates its sports this weekend, with the Indy 500, the Charlotte 600, and the Grand Prix of Monaco too in Formula 1.
This weekend it should also honor the memory of a courageous champion, who should have died, didn’t, survived, raced and won again, and dedicated the rest of his life to making the sport safer
Nikki Lauda of Austria passed away at age 70. He was a 3-time F-1 champion, who was ahead of his time in setting up cars to run fast. He had speed, he had courage, and he had the conviction the sport had to get safer.
In 1976, he crashed and was trapped for almost a minute in a burning car at the German Grand Prix. Three other drivers stopped to pull him out of the inferno he was trapped in.
The burns to his head, face, arms, nearly cost him his life. The damage to his lungs and throat was immense. The pain, the rehab, the suffering was relentless.
And yet thru it all, he laid heavily sedated, bandaged, with skin grafts in a hospital, he watched the F-1 races, and it gave him motivation to get back on the track. He told reporters afterward, he could stand to see other drivers taking the points he would have earned with victories.
Thru sheer will, and courage, he recovered. Six weeks later, in that 1976 season, he was racing again. The following year he won another title, despite the fears of what it would be like to get into another car.
He had brilliant duels with the star of his time, James Hunt of England.
His crash, the horrors of his rehab, and his return, led to more significant changes to better protect drivers.
Others have died, notably Artyn Senna, another world champion. But the fatality rates are way down. Cars can still break, and when they do, drivers are at risk.
Modern day racing has brought us new stars,Lewis Hamilton of England, Dale Earnhardt-Jimmie Johnson-Jeff Gordon of NASCAR fame, and a new wave of Indy car stars led by Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon.
But the driver from Austria was so very different. So very intense. So very dynamic. So very smart.
I interviewed him, like so many other NASCAR, Indy Car, and select F-1 drivers. When I thought of him, I thought of two drivers I got to know well, who died, Neil Bonnett, from the Alabama gang in NASCAR, and Scott Brayton, who died in practice for the Indy 500. That, and the equally courageous comeback of another friend, Rick Mears, from horrible injuries in a bad crash in Montreal, returning to win multiple 500s.
Lauda was eclectic, electric, intellectual, brash, a bully, and brilliant. We may never see a driver like him ever again.,
I hope in Charlotte, Indianapolis, Monaco, they will hold a moment of silence for one of the greatest drivers, one of the special contributors, one of their most courageous stars we ever witnessed.
Nikki Lauda, champion, for lots of different reasons.