In the days leading up to the big 50-lap USAC sprint car event at Washington County Speedway, Jimmy Wilson began hearing a recurring comment.
“Oh, hey,” people would say, looking at him with sudden recognition. “This is the one-year anniversary of your big crash! That’s right!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. If he heard it once, he heard it 20 times.
In a way, that bleak day felt like an eternity ago. At the same time, if Jimmy looked down at the big scar on his left forearm and wiggled his fingers and noticed how the muscle looked kinda weird as it moved, it seemed like not long ago at all.
But he wasn’t much interested in talking about the crash, or the anniversary. After all, why dwell on such a downer event? Busting your ass isn’t a lot of fun anyway, and it’s even less fun to reminisce about the gory details – ambulance ride, surgery, sheet time, that sort of thing.
All that needed to be said was this: it was a tough episode but Jimmy got through it. Getting hurt comes with the territory, and when it happens you deal with it and move on.
Jimmy took a few minutes on Saturday morning to toss his gear on his little kitchen table and check everything out, making sure things were in order for tomorrow. Helmet, suit, gloves, socks, shoes…the usual. The radio was playing, and he looked forward to getting back to Washington County.
Hey, he liked the place. It was blazing fast and intimidating, and blasting around those high banks was a thrill.
But as he thought about the racing season winding down – after tomorrow, just two more events remained on the schedule – Jimmy felt a burning sense of excitement. Change was afoot, he sensed. Opportunity was in play.
Maybe it was a passing thing, nothing more than a taste. Or maybe it was a serious, career-changing crossroads.
And even while he kept himself on an even keel and tried not to get too excited, he couldn’t ignore the buzzing in his belly.
After his two Indy car tests – the first in Phoenix a little over a week ago with the CAM2 team owned by Walter Skaggs, and a second test a few days ago at Milwaukee with Meteor Foods – Jimmy hadn’t heard anything from either team. What did that mean? He felt like he did OK in the car, and couldn’t think of any mistakes he made. Why hadn’t they called him?
It was tough to be patient. It was like the door was open…the door to a place Jimmy had dreamed of for most of his life. But he hadn’t been officially invited in…not completely, not just yet. Maybe he wouldn’t be…there was no way of knowing.
From the first time Jimmy took laps in a worn out old race car – just warming it up, because he wasn’t yet 18 – he had scratched and clawed to make it as a professional racer. Progress, progress, progress…that’s what everybody preached to him in the beginning. Get good enough to make the show, then get good enough to race with somebody, then get good enough to lead…finally, good enough to win. Do this at the local track, then travel to bigger tracks, then…get to USAC. Somehow, some way, no matter what you have to do, get to USAC.
From there…who knows?
The first time Jimmy made the show at Indy a few years ago, several people told him that was the pinnacle. Jimmy didn’t argue with them, but…it wasn’t the pinnacle. He was proud, sure, but…shouldn’t there be more?
So what’s it all about? Being famous? Rich? Signing autographs? That stuff didn’t give Jimmy much of a rise, but he knew this much: he wanted to race in the toughest league he could reach, against the best competition possible.
Could he make it in Indy cars? You know, really make it. Get there and stay there. Win races. Win a championship. Win…win Indy.
Well, why not? Somebody’s gonna win the damned thing every May, so why not him?
As he sat there at his kitchen table in his little apartment, Jimmy made a vow to himself: If he gets this chance – oh, man, why haven’t they called? – he was willing to do every possible thing to succeed. He would listen, he would learn, he would do whatever it takes. He wanted this thing so bad it made his guts ache.