My first memory, as is many fans' first memory of Justin is, "HOLY HELL! That guy is not a driver! Look at how tall he is!" I'm pretty sure I made a Chicago Bulls reference at that point as well (he was probably a better basketball player than the players they had in the mid-2000s haha). Once I saw how talented he was, my jokes quickly turned to how impressive he was to watch. I also remember thinking how he was the only guy who had a chance to stick it to Sebastien Bourdais in Champ Car.
Then came his time in the newly merged Champ Car-IRL. He started out at Newman-Haas Racing, and he was once again leaving an impression on me. He would later to two smaller teams, Dale Coyne Racing and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing between 2009-2014. While I was always vocal about Justin's crappy situation (he had the talent to be in a Penske or Ganassi car), watching him succeed as an underdog was a thorough treat. Seeing him beat champions and Indy 500 winners in average-to-mediocre equipment was thrilling.
It's the way Justin did it, both on and off the track, that made Justin the only 'BadAss.' He was so aggressive and he was seemingly always overtaking people, yet he hardly ever put a wheel wrong. He never caused trouble and never was a pest. Off the track, Justin was one of, if not the most, approachable person in the paddock. I had the pleasure of going up to him and shaking his hand leading up to the 2010 Iowa Corn Indy 250. I wished him good luck and asked what his chances were of winning. He said they were pretty good despite a below average starting position. So, of course Wilson spun and collected Mario Moraes before he finished one lap, but getting to meet him and experiencing just how nice he was in person was great.
Once I made the decision to get on Twitter, Justin was one of the first drivers who followed me. He tweeted to me only a couple time a year, but watching him respond to many of my friends' tweets with a simple 'thank you' embodied just what kind of person Justin is. I even got to interview him, something I will never forget.
Justin also spent a considerable amount of time at Children's Hospitals and with those who had dyslexia, doing whatever he could to brighten a person's day. Justin, who had dyslexia, was a big advocate for those who had dyslexia. His Twitter bio even said, "Warning Dyslexic in control, tweets might not make sense."
Justin was just a kind, respectful, and funny human being. He never once gave off the impression that he was a world class athlete who was amazing at his job. He acted like a fan, and therefore had a cult-like following of fans who stood back and apreciated what he did for years. The outpouring of support this week is a reflection of the kind of many he was.
I know I'm not the first person to publish my thoughts on Justin and definitely won't be the last, but I felt like I had to show my appreciation for Justin. While this article is an insufficient chance to share that appreciation, I just wanted to tell Justin, wherever he may be, that it was an absolute treat to watch you for over a decade. Thank you for being a great representative of Indycar, and we all miss you very much.
My continued thoughts and prayers to Justin's family during these difficult times.
|Photo: Chris Owens / Indycar Media|