Veteran IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died Monday night from a head injury suffered during a race Sunday. The 37-year-old Englishman had been in a coma at a hospital near Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway, where the tragic accident occurred.
Mark Miles, the chief executive of IndyCar’s parent company, Hulman and Company, made the official announcement. He said that Wilson had passed away with his family by his side, including a wife, two young daughters and a brother, Stefan, who is an IndyCar driver in his own right, although he was not in Sunday’s race.
Wilson was struck by debris that flew off of a competitor’s car when that vehicle spun out and hit a wall. Wilson tried to steer around the wreckage, as other drivers had, but a detached nose cone that was bouncing along the track hit him in the head. The race was stopped as Wilson was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Allentown, Pa.
Wilson is the second IndyCar driver killed on a track in the last four years. Dan Wheldon, winner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and, like Wilson, a Brit, was killed in October 2011 during the final race of the season in Las Vegas. He was killed when his head hit a fence post on a crash.
Wilson and Wheldon grew up racing go-karts together in England. Wilson, like Wheldon, became enormously popular in the U.S. The tallest driver in IndyCar, Wilson was called “the Gentle Giant,” and was known for his work raising awareness about dyslexia, a learning disorder that was diagnosed in him when he was 13.
Like his brother, Justin, Stefan Wilson is a popular IndyCar driver, too, and he tweeted his emotions after Justin died.
Wilson is survived by his wife, Julia, and daughters Jane Louise and Jessica Lynne. His parents, Keith and Lynne, said in a statement that “Justin was a loving father and devoted husband, as well as a highly competitive racing driver who was respected by his peers.”
Wilson was a popular figure among his fellow auto racers and IndyCar driver Graham Rahal had this to say to the Indianapolis Star:
“Justin was always the first guy to come up to me and say something positive, something constructive, something helpful. You mention ‘team player,’ that’s Justin, and it’s hard to find that sort of guy in sports.
“He was just the nicest guy out there.”
A native of Sheffield, England, Wilson began his racing career in the 1990s and made it all the way to Formula One before coming to the U.S. in 2004 to compete in the CART and IndyCar circuits. He had four wins and 15 podium finishes in CART competition, and he won three times, most recently in 2012, and gained the podium 12 times as an IndyCar racer since 2008.
Andretti Autosport called Wilson (via the Associated Press) “a tremendous racer, a valuable member of the team and respected representative to our sport.”
“While Justin was only part of the Andretti lineup for a short time, it only took a second for him to forever become part of the Andretti family,” the team said. “His life and racing career is a story of class and passion surpassed by none. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Wilson family and fans worldwide. Godspeed, JW.”