Monday, October 17, 2011

Tragedy at 220 MPH

TigerBlog watched the 1973 Indianapolis 500 on television and saw the carnage that resulted in the deaths of two drivers and one pit crew member, critical injuries to another driver and burns suffered by 11 fans.

He remembers that race to this day, nearly 40 years later, as well as the Sports Illustrated headline: "Trial By Fire and Rain."

TB has never really been a motorsports fan, though he does marvel at the risk the drivers are willing to take to compete.

As one driver said yesterday after the crash that killed this year's Indy 500 champ, Dan Wheldon, in Las Vegas, the idea of death is out there every time they race, though it's not something that is in the forefront of their mind when they get behind the wheel.

Still, it's there.

TigerBlog supposes it's there in other sports as well, most notably football, the idea that death or catastrophic injury is a possibility.

TB read that Wheldon's death was the first in Indy car racing in the last five years and the fourth in the last 15 years. While no professional football players have been killed in on-field action in that time, there have been, TB supposes, many high school players who have each year.

Still, when it comes to auto racing, pushing the furthest limits of the car and the driver are the name of the game.

And so the images from yesterday's race were so haunting, especially the shots beforehand of Wheldon as he got ready for the start. What's most amazing to TB is that nobody else was killed in the wreckage, or that there aren't many more deaths in racing given the number of crashes.

There are some who think that ratings are down, especially in NASCAR, because the sport has become too safe. TB would hate to think that's the case.

All that's left today, though, is the death of a 33-year-old driver, with a wife and two little kids, who less than five months ago won his second Indy 500, who apparently was extraordinarily well-liked.

It's a great tragedy, even if, like all drivers, he knew and probably embraced the risks.

TB first saw the news of Wheldon's death shortly after the Giants had finished off the Bills 27-24 in a game that was a little conflicting, given the fact that the Giants are TB's favorite team but that it's also hard to root against an Ivy League quarterback in the NFL, as in the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Jay Fielder, who played at Dartmouth and then had a solid NFL career, routinely had big days against Princeton in the early 1990s. In fact, Fiedler's career against Princeton actually began in a legendary freshman game, where he and Keith Elias put up huge numbers (on Finney Field, TB believes) in a game won by Princeton (TB believes).

Fielder capped his career against Princeton by throwing for nearly 300 yards on a wild afternoon in Hanover, one on which Elias ran for nearly 200. Dartmouth ended up winning 28-22 in a game, as it turned out, meant nothing.

If you think Fitzpatrick got to the NFL by showing them game tapes against Princeton, think again. He did little in his career against the Tigers.

In fact, he made only one start against Princeton, that in his senior year. In that game, a 39-14 Harvard win, Fitzpatrick was 14 for 31 for 172 yards, one TD and an interception. He also ran for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Clifton Dawson ran for 201 yards in that game for the Crimson, and it was Dawson who did much more damage against the Tigers than Fitzpatrick in those years. In fact, Dawson had 11 career touchdowns against Princeton, which has to be the record (and maybe the record in all of college football for one player against one team).

This weekend, Princeton is at Harvard in football again. Unlike yesterday, TB won't be rooting for the Crimson quarterback to do well.

Still, it worked out fine. Fitzpatrick had a good game, and the Giants won.

Of course, when the news about Wheldon came, it was hard to feel good about any of that.

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