Many big name reporters and editors, as well as world famous race car drivers around the world have shared anecdotal stories about JW over the past few days, and I too wanted to find some way to honor his legacy and legend. Mine, however, may be a bit different.
About 5 years ago, I walked into my job at the Apple retail store in the Keystone mall and noticed this tall, well dressed man, with a nice watch on, and a blue pea coat. After a few minutes, I noticed that he looked frustrated, and the Genius who was helping him looked to not have a solution. So, being the know-it-all I am, I approached him and introduced myself. He introduced himself as Stefan. I knew who he was, as I had recently started to follow the Mazda Road To Indy program, as well as Indy Car due to a number of friends that I had made while working at Apple, who were drivers and team management in the series. I was both surprised and intrigued to see just how well spoken he was and how professionally he carried himself, all whilst making eye contact and smiling. I was able to resolve his issue, and before he went on his way, he gave me a pretty cool “driver” business card, which I still have to this day. I also gave him mine, and my email address and cell number to get directly to me if he had any further issues. I am not sure how long passed, but not long after this meeting, I got a call (or was it an email?) asking if I could help with getting some devices for a few drivers, as they were just being released, and waiting in line with 750 people is just not something they really had the time to do…and I was more then ok to help out. Turns out, one of these devices was for Justin.
Shortly after, I was gifted credentials to attend my first Indy Car race since I had attended one in Phoenix, YEARS ago. Justin and I had exchanged text messages since I helped with the device, mostly just a “thank you for helping out” and “My little brother Stefan said you helped him out as well, so thanks for that”, but a few. As I arrived at my chosen seat shortly before the driver announcements for the Indy Car race at Chicagoland Speedway, I received another text. “Hey mate, are you here?” JW and I had exchanged text messages the last few days where I had expressed an interest in saying hello to him. He said, “come meet me at my transporter” I hauled ass to the under track walkway and towards the paddock, mind you, I had NEVER been in the paddock before, and had NO CLUE which transporter I was headed too, so I got very lucky when I flashed my credential, and meandered up to the first transporter which happened to be his…. As I walked up, this giant of a man (I’m 5’7″ and he was well over 6 ft tall) comes out of the transporter with a giant grin to match his stature. No clue how he knew it was me, but he introduced himself and shook my hand, then he handed me this clear plastic bag, with some red stitching around the edges, and a Puma logo on it. Inside were two red racing gloves. I was pretty excited. Now, I am not a HUGE collector of memorabilia, I have had my brushes with fame, and I have been ultimately proud of myself with how I handled “me”. I am sure there are some Indy Car drivers in the paddock who are like “Why does this Tony guy keep texting me YEARS later, I just wanted a discount on computers….?” (TK, I remember the middle finger at Mid O :)) But this guy, was SO soft spoken, and so sincere, and he made eye contact that totally put me in a place of awe of him. And this is where I find the most humor in the situation…..he looked me dead in the eye…”would you like me to sign them?” HELL YES! was my response. He signed them “Thanks Tony” and his autograph. Then, he had to run because of the driver intros.
That was the first and last time I had a physical interaction with JW. We exchanged a few generally boring texts over the years, until I texted him, shortly after he left DRR, and got a response “Sorry buddy, this isn’t Justins Phone anymore now that he isn’t with Dreyer”.
Now, some of you might wonder why this left such an impression on me, and honestly, I do a bit as well. And I have had a few days to think about it. Here is my conclusion.
The man I met sitting at the Genius bar in Apple, was NOT Justin Wilson. It was his brother, 11 years his junior, and a budding racing driver himself. BUT, this NOT famous, NOT former Formula 1, big successful star, was the spotting image of his older brother, right down to his mannerisms, and gentleness. I was able to be a part of the team that put together the sponsorship with Nirvana Tea, for Stefan to make his Indy Car debut at Baltimore a few years ago, as a teammate of his brother. I would only imagine how that felt for Stef to be in that position, and I hope he knows how special it was to me to be a part of that, especially in the wake of what just happened.
Stefan and Justin are cut from the same cloth, one only their parents could have instilled in them, and I can only pray for Stefan to have the success that JW had, as he is just as deserving.
The Gentle Giant will be greatly missed, but his spirit will live on in his daughters, and his brother. His parents should be extremely proud of the men they have raised, and the greatness that shines from them.
Justin will be missed, but his legacy will live on, in both the memories we have all shared over the past few days, and in the lives of his daughters, his wife, and Stefan.
Daily, I work on trying to find new sponsors to support this series. Stefan is always at the top of the list when I pitch. Hopefully, someday soon, I will be able to offer him his second chance. Just to see a Wilson back in the Indy Car series, driving proudly in his brothers honor and memory.
Rest peacefully Justin. You will be missed sorely, but know that your legacy will live on, as will the memories. no matter how small. You touched everyone you met in a special special way, and I will forever treasure the small token of appreciation you shared with me.