IndyCar driver Justin Wilson has died from a head injury suffered a race Sunday at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.
IndyCar made the announcement on Monday night at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wilson, a British driver who lived outside Denver in Longmont, Colo., was 37 years old. He is survived by his wife, Julia, and two daughters, ages 7 and 5.
He 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, Pa.
“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!” Wilson’s younger brother, Stefan, also an IndyCar driver, wrote on Twitter.
The last IndyCar driver to die because of an on-track incident was former Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who was killed in 2011 in Las Vegas after his head hit a post when his car went airborne.
“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.
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 driver in the series, was well liked.
He won seven times over 12 seasons in open-wheel racing and finished as high as fifth in the Indianapolis 500. He was also an acclaimed sports car racer, winning the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona with Michael Shank Racing.
But 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 IndyCar season concludes Sunday in Sonoma, Calif..
Andretti Autosport called Wilson “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 in a statement. “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.”
Wilson once said that his injuries and Wheldon’s death did nothing to change his perspective or make him question his career choice.
“You’ve got to know the risks and work out if those risks are acceptable,” Wilson said in 2012. “To me, it’s acceptable. But I’m not going to stop trying to improve it. All the drivers, this IndyCar, we’re always trying to make it safer, but at the end of the day, it’s a race car. We’re racing hard, we’re racing IndyCars and it’s fast. When it goes wrong, it can get messy.”