By: Tanner Watkins
May 23, 2019 | 4:00 PM
In professional sport, athletes have the ability to make an impact on individuals that common folk such as myself just can’t do. Their words offer inspiration, give strength and allow for growth at times, and Oriol Servia presented each of those traits to a couple in mid-2018.
In the build-up to last year’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, IndyCar fan Robert Sergott was getting excited for an annual tradition with his father. For Sergott, attending the Detroit GP each year helps continue a streak of years since 1981 where he has attended an IndyCar race with his father – the first one coming at Michigan International Speedway.
A Detroit native, Sergott was surprised with the opportunity to take his father’s Cadillac for a lap on the temporary street course before on-track activity commenced for race day. While Robert was excited for the track lap, his girlfriend Erin Liuzzo was perhaps even more pumped to see the Caddilac on-track.
The night before the big day, Sergott remembers calling Liuzzo and expecting to meet her at the track in the morning. As he was waiting to take to the track, Sergott received a terrifying text.
“As I waited to launch onto the track, she texted me (asking) not to freak out, but in the middle of the night she suffered a heart attack at 41 years of age and was in the hospital,” recalls Sergott. “She had waited through the night and made it a point to not call me as she didn’t want to wreck my opportunity, so she waited until I was at the track to have anyone let me know.”
At that point, Sergott’s day had understandably soured. He spoke of the difficulty to stay at the track for a 3:30 PM race when he received the news at 9:30 AM – though it was Liuzzo who insisted that Robert kept his nearly 40-year tradition intact. He remembers being in a daze through the support series races and can’t recall much of any particular on-track action.
The anxiousness brought him up out of his seat to walk around, and this is when Servia entered the picture.
While walking around the paddock, Sergott bumped into the Spanish driver – the same man who had a shot at winning the Indianapolis 500 just a week prior, but also the driver who Robert and Erin have idolized over the years.
Sergott introduced himself to Servia and began talking about Liuzzo and her current condition – how she was supposed to be there on race day and how much she would have enjoyed meeting Servia. Eventually, Sergott asked if there was any chance the 10-time Indianapolis 500 starter could give her a call.
Servia said yes, though the interaction didn’t go as planned – the driver had to leave a voicemail on Liuzzo’s phone.
“She didn’t answer as she was sleeping, so he left a voicemail, says Sergott. “(Servia said), ‘It is unfortunate fans like you aren’t here. I am glad we have such great fans. This is Oriol Servia by the way and the next (Indy) 500 I promise you I will have enough gas to win the race. Get well, as it is sad a great fan like you can’t be at the race today.'”
Nearly an entire year later and that voicemail is one of Liuzzo’s most prized possessions. Sergott mentions how much fear Erin faced when having to do a factory reset on her mobile device a few months ago, and what it meant to her to keep the voicemail and draw strength from it after all these months.
“(Losing the phone) was a bigger concern to her than the phone not working. It means the world to her and her recovery,” reiterated Sergott. “She, in fact, paid the generosity forward and was inspired by Oriol’s kind words during her darkest day to create a piece of art to send Robert Wickens when he was in the hospital last year.”
With nearly a year separating the chance encounter in Detroit and this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, Sergott and Liuzzo are making the trek to the World’s Greatest Race Course to take in the 103rd Running – and hopefully, meet Servia again.
Earlier this week, Sergott reached out to Servia via Twitter and was actually able to reach the part-time driver. The couple hopes to meet up with Servia during race weekend to thank him for his kind gesture in person. Servia was just thankful that the fan had reached out as a follow-up and got him caught up on the proceedings since Detroit.
“It was sweet to hear,” said Servia in response to Robert’s inquiry this week. “That is one of the things with social media that is a positive. I would have probably never known what had happened, but he said that she is doing great and they are coming for the (Indy 500). I hope I see them.”
Sergott jokes that he still has to explain the importance of race day with his dad as opposed to sitting at a hospital waiting room all day, but turns serious when elaborating on their unique situation.
“In Erin’s recovery it is uncommon for someone to suffer such a major heart attack and not have any long term damage,” Sergott explains. “So we think there are IndyCar angels looking out.”
Header image by Chris Jones/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.