Every year you give up a few dollars and get in the office Indy 500 pool, hoping your name gets attached to an Unser or a Penske driver or some hot shot Brazilian or for crying out loud someone you've heard of before. Even a cursed Andretti would be fine, but despite all your pleading with uknown forces you pull up the final sheet and see that this year you get...PJ Jones.
With only 20 or so regulars - and some of them are even hard to pick out of a lineup - it's generally accepted that half of the field will be made up of different drivers of the has-been or never-was variety that you know nothing about and will likely not see much of on that glorious Sunday in May (unless of course they manage to clip the wall or stall on the back stretch).
But this year there will be at least one of those "happy to be here" drivers who utterly demands your attention, if not your affection. If you have listened to IMS radio broadcasts then you know him as Mike King's sidekick, and if you've been a fan of the IRL since the turn of the century you remember him as the Vitor Meira of his day. His name is Davey Hamilton, and his story is so good everyone is rushing to tell it.
The short version is that Hamilton never won an IRL race but was twice the series runner-up. He was a solid competitor until a freak accident race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001 threw his car nose first into the catch fence, shredding both of his feet. After 21 (21!) operations and two years (two years!) off what as left of his feet he undertook years of rehabilitation that brought him to here, in 2007 with a Hewlett-Packard sponsorship and a ride in Vision Racing's fourth entry.
Hamilton shares that he has learned a lot being outside the car, although he has given up a lot to get back inside. From the IndyStar:
"Really, I've learned that family has to be No. 1; the job, which is racing, has to be after that," he said..."I guess I've learned you can have two things that are important," he said.Darned if that doesn't bring new meaning to the phrase "ride buyer". To fully grasp the extent of Hamilton's injuries, take a visit to a site by Marshall Pruett who was on Hamilton's team when that fateful crash occurred.
Hamilton, who can't even jog with his fused ankle, added that he had to come back to the sport to complete the family circle. His father is still racing sprint cars at age 66; D.J. is racing go-karts.
Hamilton's determination can't be overstated. He had to return a six-figure portion of his disability insurance check to get coverage for this effort.
It was then that I heard the IRL officials call out a variety of emergency response commands that were different than what I usually heard in the event of an accident. Whatever code words they used, I knew they weren’t good code words.Before you reach for a bucket, take a moment to focus on the present and what Hamilton hopes his return means. ESPN.com has more on how Hamilton see the bigger picture and is hoping in some small way to refocus attention on open-wheel racing.
We’d soon learn that if Davey had just enjoyed any form of luck, it was that his 200mph impact into the steel pole was somewhat a glancing blow. Instead of it being a pure side impact, he hit at about 45 degrees, with his momentum pulling the car slightly back and away from the pole (towards turn 3.)
This miracle meant that while Davey’s legs were almost entirely exposed to impact the pole once the chassis had broken away, the car had continued away from the pole somewhat, leaving his left leg just below the calf to impact the pole. In that whipping motion, his right ankle and foot were also free to impact the pole. This whole ordeal left Davey with two crushed feet, some lost toes, parts missing from his feet, and a lot of carbon fiber shards embedded in his lower extremities. The steel cables had caught and ripped everything they could off the car, and the pole, showing signs of the initial impact, had been bent about 3″ to the left like a horseshoe where the car hit. For steel, that’s a lot.
Davey’s condition wasn’t immediately released, but I did grill the tow truck driver that had returned the car to us as to Davey’s state. He said he was unconscious, and his lower legs were obviously in horrible shape, but that he seemed to be in stable condition when he was airlifted out. It didn’t make the job of wiping a few pints of Davey’s blood off the car any easier, but it was helpful to know our friend was going to hopefully survive his injuries.
In short, Hamilton believes, it's about creating heroes again. He grew up idolizing Rick Mears, but doesn't see any polarizing characters in the current IndyCar Series field.I can think of one guy, Davey. No matter what happens on May 27th we will all be applauding you and your unbelievable effort and passion. Here's to one underdog we can all hope to have the honor of drawing out of the hat.
"I don't think we're making heroes anymore," Hamilton asserted. "I can't think of anyone in the series who is a hero right now. Guys like Sam and Dan are breaking records, but they're not becoming household names and heroes. I can tell you we need to get it done, but I don't know how. It would be great to see short-track guys get a shot."