Justin Wilson led a champion’s life on and off the track. He succumbed to injuries during Sunday’s Pocono 500 when a piece of flying debris hit him in the helmet from Sage Karam’s crash late in the race. He was 37. Indianapolis TV station WRTV – The Indy Channel – put together the above video tribute to Justin Wilson’s life and career.
It was a freak accident, and the first death in IndyCar since Dan Wheldon lost his life in a Las Vegas oval race in 2011. But IndyCar racing has been one of the most deadly racing series over the last 20 years with eight drivers losing their lives in racing accidents compared to two NASCAR Cup drivers and two Formula One drivers.
Wilson began his racing career in karts in 1987 and worked his way up the support series ladder in Europe all the way to Formula 3000 and then Formula One, the pinnacle for any open wheel road racer. But Wilson’s height at 6′ 4″ made it difficult to fit into tiny Formula One cockpits, even though he had some success with Jaguar F1 in 2003, scoring his lone World Championship point at the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis.
In 2004, Wilson moved on to the Champ Car World Series (which later merged with the IRL), achieving success quickly with a win in 2005 at Toronto with the RuSport team based out of Colorado where he based his home away from his native England.
Wilson donated his organs so that six people could live. His brother Stefan said Justin had pre-arranged for his organs to be donated. In an interview with ABC News, Stefan Wilson said that he didn’t want to donate the organs at first but in the end he was glad that the family had chosen to follow Justin’s wishes so that he could help those in need.
A native of Sheffield, England, Wilson recorded seven career Indy car victories – the most recent in 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway – and eight pole starts in 174 races. He totaled 711 career laps led, including two in the Aug. 23 race. He co-drove a Michael Shank Racing sports car entry to the overall victory in the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012.
Wilson was a road cycling and mountain biking enthusiast, and also an ambassador for dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading that challenged him as a youth. He often would speak to groups at the racetrack and visit schools near IndyCar race venues.
Wilson is survived by his wife, Julia, and two daughters. His younger brother Stefan is an accomplished race car driver who has competed in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights.
In lieu of flowers, a fund has been set up for Wilson’s children. Donations may be sent to: Wilson Children’s Fund, c/o Forum Credit Union, P.O. Box 50738, Indianapolis, IN 46250-0738.