Thursday, December 15, 2011

Three dates, three losses ... and great memories

Sacramento, California -- This blog will take the week off next week, as a I look forward to immersing myself in my little family -- grateful for yet another Christmas that we will enjoy together.

As we near year's end, three dates and three losses from 2011 are with me ... and likely will be for some time.

On March 9, my longtime Indy Car riding mechanic friend, Harry Dean, died at the age of 97, following complications from surgery. Harry missed being the oldest surviving Indianapolis 500 participant (and the last from the pre-World War II era) by about six months.

In 1937, the last year for riding mechanics at the Indy 500, Harry rode with racing great Ted Horn to a third-place finish, the top three cars finishing within 20 seconds of each other. It would be the closest 1-2-3 Indy 500 finish for the next 45 years.

Harry and I would routinely meet for lunch or dinner, and he would regale me with stories of an Indy Car racing era long past, a time when drivers would play softball in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield during the month of May, a time when drivers would take great pleasure sneaking a woman into the pit area (forbidden by the rules long after WWII), a time when racers would drive their race cars on public roads from racetrack to racetrack -- living and playing hard all along the way.

When Harry would speak, I could picture all of it, somehow wishing that I had been alive back then to drink it in. I miss our meals Harry. And I miss you.

On Oct. 16, Dan Wheldon crashed to his death in the IndyCar Series finale on the super-fast Las Vegas oval. Dan died less than five months after I watched him record a storybook victory in the centennial Indianapolis 500.

It was all so heartbreaking -- the loss of Dan's instantly likable personality, his leaving behind a lovely wife and two beautiful little children and the sight of diamond-hard Indy Car drivers sobbing at his passing. Just today, IndyCar released the results of an exhaustive investigation that confirmed what I already figured out: Dan had the terrible misfortune of impacting the Vegas track's exterior catch fence on the cockpit side. Even a state-of-the-art helmet is not enough to adequately protect a driver's head hitting a vertical fence support pole at more than 150 miles per hour.

Bad, awful luck for Dan. And a hole in our hearts as we move on to remember him and watch the sport we love.

Finally, Dec. 14 brought the news I was expecting since July 15, when my sole sibling, 61-year-old Stephen C. Glover, was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Steve simply slept away this week at his home, ending suffering I would have paid dearly to spare him.

I last visited with Steve over the Labor Day weekend. And in his usual stoic style, he talked frankly about the end to come and how he wanted to spare me any pain at the end. I've seen much bravery in 35 years of being a professional journalist and my lifetime obsession with auto racing, but I can't think of a more courageous outlook in the face of darkness than what I saw in Steve.

I'm grateful that we shared Steve's last Indianapolis 500 -- on the 50th anniversary of his first in 1960 -- shoulder to shoulder in the frontstretch grandstand in 2010. I'll always think of Steve when I attend future 500s, with the playing of "Back Home Again in Indiana" and the command to start engines.

I hate goodbyes, and this year has had too many for me. Yet I am glad to carry with me the memories of these three remarkable people. Gone from Earth, but not from my heart.

1 comment:

  1. Mark,
    Very sorry to hear about the loss of your brother; glad you have great memories of you guys together.