Mike Conway has decided to give up oval racing in Indycars. He stresses that he’s not giving up Indycar racing all together; just on ovals.
I’m certain a lot of fans feel a lot of different ways, but I can respect someone for drawing a line and deciding something isn’t for them, or that it goes too far in a direction they’re not comfortable with. Mike Conway isn’t comfortable racing an open-wheel car on a high-speed oval – a style of racing that’s claimed a lot of lives, and maimed many more.
I think sometimes, from the outside looking in, it’s easy to lose sight of what drivers of open-wheel race cars truly undertake when they strap in. We try to appreciate the nuances of racing, and appreciate the danger involved. We try to place ourselves in the car: a car with no doors, no roof, no airbags. Imagining we’re traveling at death-defying speeds of 200-plus miles per hour with walls to your left and right. That’s something we can’t comprehend. And that’s not taking into account the rigid suspension of these cars that make every hiccup in the tarmac feel like a speed bump. In the article about Conway stepping out, they detail how much the cars move when they encounter bumps in the track surface. So not only are you fighting the forces of physics as you take a turn as fast you possibly can – feeling the front-end of the car grip at apex, then a split second later, feeling the right-rear tire begin to let go; correcting for that and encountering a new slate of sensations, with a wall coming toward you at speed. With competitors around you. With the knowledge that you can’t truly crash-test every circumstance, with ever-changing variables that truly and honestly mean the difference between walking away and injuring yourself; and the difference between injuring yourself and dying. When you lose control of this rocket you’ve been holding onto – maybe you rotate 2º one way and you walk away, or 2º in the other direction and the track becomes littered with the scattered and burning debris we all remember too vividly from around this time last year.
There’s a discernible edge to open-wheel, Indy car racing. We see it and attempt to appreciate it as fans, but it’s perhaps a world too far away for us to grasp. Mike Conway is a person who’s danced with the finality that can be Indy car racing – twice at the Indianapolis 500 – and seen the carnage the wrong circumstance or permutation of variables can produce. I feel criticism would be undue for Conway. Instead, I believe this reinforces some of the more fundamental reasons we love and respect open-wheel racing and open-wheel racers. It’s what truly makes all of this so damned romantic.
In a sport where its competitors seek and – at times – overstep ‘the limit’, Mike Conway’s determined his. At the very least, he should be commended for that.