I expected today's article to be a preview of this weekend's battle for IndyCar's A.J. Foyt Oval Trophy--a look at Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, and all the other drivers still in contention for that prize. As it turns out, yesterday yielded an entirely different oval story.
We all know of Mike Conway's horrible 2010 Indy 500 accident, and his scare in this year's 500 as well. Still, he had contested other ovals, from Texas to Iowa, this year and last.
On Thursday, September 13, 2012, Mike Conway decided that enough was enough.
He stepped out the Foyt car for Fontana, and almost as certainly stepped into a moment that will always be discussed and debated when fans look back on his racing career.
Even with reminders of injury or tragedy in nearly every venue of racing, we tend to forget just what a dangerous sport this can be, even with 21st-century safety and precautions taken. Mike Conway's voluntary exit reminds us that fact cannot always be pushed aside.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of drivers who didn't know when or how to step away. Some simply faded into the background. Others soon found that not knowing how to admit they were done could be a deadly proposition. "Just one more..." may be one of the oldest temptations mankind has faced, and one of the most seductive.
Conway was no longer comfortable contesting IndyCar's ovals, according to his official statement. Given his history on them, it is hard to blame him.
We are casual, sometimes, with our expectations of drivers. We mock or disregard those seen as also-rans, in part because racing demands a hierarchy of haves and have-nots. The Dennis Vitolos and Marty Roths of the world are scoffed at, their courage disregarded, even though it goes far beyond what any of us would even dare to attempt.
Less than a year after a terrible loss shook the IndyCar community, perhaps it is proper that we have a reminder that what we will see this weekend is not pedestrian or commonplace, that this sport is not for the faint of heart, that the danger and speed that thrills us is not some exhibition, that even the slowest qualifier possesses a measure of grit and resolve few reading this will ever know. These are exceptional men and women, given a passion and courage beyond that of so many.
Mike Conway possesses as much courage as any. He did what was right for himself, his team, and his ultimate well-being, public opinion be damned. I wonder, how many of us would be willing to face the same reality in such a direct and honest manner?
Courage does not only belong to the daredevil or the champion. It belongs to those who are truthful with themselves, and think not only of pride, but of ultimate consequence. Perhaps, in our world, it has also become the far less common strain of valor, with its value growing alongside its rarity.
I don't know what the future holds for Mike Conway, in IndyCar or out of it. I do know can hold his head high, and walk proudly as a man that not only challenged the gods of speed on the ovals, but knew when enough was enough.