IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died Monday night from a head injury suffered when a piece of debris struck him at Pocono Raceway. He was 37. IndyCar made the announcement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wilson, a British driver who lived outside Denver in Longmont, Colo., was hit in the head during Sunday’s race by piece of debris that had broken off another car. Wilson’s car veered into an interior wall at the track, and he was swiftly taken by helicopter to a hospital in Allentown, Penn.
“Can’t even begin to describe the loss I feel right now. He was my brother, my best friend, my role model and mentor. He was a champion!” his younger brother, Stefan, also an IndyCar driver, tweeted. Stefan Wilson said his brother’s organs would be donated.
The last IndyCar driver to die from an on-track incident was Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who was killed in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas after his head hit a post in the fence when his car went airborne.
After Wheldon’s death, Wilson became one of three driver representatives to serve as a liaison between the competitors and IndyCar. It was no surprise: The 6-foot-4 Wilson, easily the tallest in the series, was well liked.
“Justin’s elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility – which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman Co., the parent company of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wilson won seven times over 12 seasons in openwheel racing and finished as high as fifth in the Indianapolis 500. An acclaimed sports car racer, Wilson won the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona with Michael Shank Racing, and he competed in 20 Formula One races in 2003 before moving to the U.S. to join Champ Car.
He finished third in the Champ Car standings in 2005, and was runner-up in both 2006 and 2007. To support his career, his management team in 2003 created a program that allowed fans to invest in the driver. Hundreds of people bought shares in Wilson, who was dyslexic and a strong supporter of foundations related to the disorder.
Wilson, a native of Sheffield, England, entered this season without a full-time ride. He latched on with Andretti Autosport and was in the sixth of seven scheduled races with the team. The agreement began as a two-race deal for events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and then was increased to the final five races of the year. The IndyCar season concludes Sunday in Sonoma, California.