Welcome to my world, gang. I’ll be writing a weekly diary for RACER.com through the rest of the season, sharing my thoughts and feelings as we try to get back into the swing in the IndyCar Series. As you know, it’s been a hard couple of weeks, but I made it through intact and healthy and ready to press forward. I’m motivated by what’s happened during the last few weeks, and I can’t wait to get back in the car and keep going.
So let’s pick up with what’s happened over the last few weeks. Midway through the Indianapolis 500 I crashed hard, and I’ve been recovering ever since. Things are much better now than they were two weeks ago. At that point, a few days after the crash, simply breathing was reason to celebrate.
The crash badly bruised my upper body and legs, especially on the right side where I hit. Something broke in the rear suspension of the car, and I went right into the wall. If you see video or photos of it, the entire right side of the car is smashed right up to the cockpit. It’s the hardest hit I’ve ever experienced – and I’ve experienced some bad ones.
At first, I didn’t notice I’d been injured. I got out of the car and rode in the ambulance to the infield care center, where I was checked by doctors and released. Later in the day, I started to feel it. After a sleepless night, I thought my ribs were broken, so I went to the hospital. They took X-rays and didn’t find any cracks in the bones, but found severe bruising. It’s something that just has to heal on its own, so it’s going to take some time.
People have asked me why I got back in the car the week after Indy and raced at Milwaukee. It’s hard to explain, but I’m motivated by adversity. I see injuries as part of the sport, and I also see injuries as a challenge. Last year, I crashed hard at Iowa Speedway. At the time, I considered it the hardest crash of my career – harder even than crashes in Detroit and Japan that resulted in broken arms, or other crashes that broke my ribs and resulted in other injuries. I was really hurting after the Iowa crash, but I used the injury as motivation. When someone tells me I can’t or shouldn’t do something, it only makes me try harder.
Six days after the crash in Iowa, I won at Richmond. I turned the adversity into motivation to help me succeed. I put the pain out of my mind and worked even harder to win.
That’s what I did at Milwaukee the week after the Indy crash. It didn’t turn out like Richmond last year, but we did lead the race at the beginning before the car went bad. Like Richmond last year, I probably should have taken a week off and recovered, but that’s not the way I operate. I took some injections of an anti-inflammatory medication, put on a back brace, got wrapped up like a mummy, and went out to race. If the car would have been good enough to run up front, I have no doubt that I would have won that race.
That’s what’s bothering me now. It’s not the pain; it’s the car. It simply isn’t running well. We’re trying everything, but Saturday night’s race at Texas is proof that we just aren’t up to the speed of the competition. We still managed to finish eighth, which isn’t bad considering the circumstances, but I’m not as sore physically as I’m sore about the fact that we aren’t more competitive. That’s got to change.
I joked after the race that we were going to have a little barbecue with the car we ran at Texas. We didn’t burn it, but you won’t ever see that particular No. 11 car again. We’re building a new one for the next race June 21st at Iowa Speedway, and we’re confident that we’ll be back up to speed there. Iowa is one of the shortest tracks we race at – seven-eighths of a mile – and I love racing on short tracks. It’s an incredible challenge, and I love a good challenge.
As you know, we’ve had car trouble lately. We struggled to get a car up to speed at Indy, so we took parts and pieces from a car of one of my teammates, Hideki Mutoh, and the 7-Eleven guys stitched together something that got nicknamed “Frankencar.” We managed to qualify well – sixth – but then it broke and crashed during the race. A week later at Milwaukee, our short-track car caught fire. We were running short on equipment by the time we got to Texas, and that car clearly wasn’t as fast as it should have been. So now it’s back to the lab again to build a short-track car that will put us back in contention at Iowa and Richmond the week after that. I have faith in my guys, so I feel good about the next two races and the rest of the season.
All of the car problems, just like the injuries, only serve as motivation for me. When something bad happens, that’s when I perform better. When you give me another challenge, it’s an extra pressure aside from just the usual thing. People who don’t know me probably don’t understand that or think it’s odd that someone would race after getting hurt a few days before, but that’s the way I am. If you put an obstacle in front of me, I’m going to find a way to get around it. It only makes me try harder.
I don’t get sore. I get even.