Since last week, I've been reviewing the positive fan/driver stories from IndyCar fans in the series. It's been enjoyable, and I can't wait to compile them into a larger feature for the website.
But sadly, this weekend, there was news from the Netherlands that was about as far removed from a positive story as I can imagine. Over the weekend, Jalopnik reported Dutch driver and former Atlantics/Firestone Indy Lights driver Junior Strous had been arrested for a stabbing, being arrested in Rotterdam after allegedly fleeing the crime.
I'm not writing on this as a bit of salacious gossip, and I don't take any pleasure in doing so. I talked with Strous back in 2009 and 2010, when he had just joined Lights from running Atlantics. I can't say he was exactly the most down-to-earth or pleasant driver I've ever had the pleasure of interviewing, but neither was he an ogre. His performance was always hit-and-miss, with some victories and some rough finishes alike, but he still showed at least some potential at the level just below IndyCar itself.
Of course, there were funding issues, and mentions of payments not being made to teams (such as HVM's Lights team in 2010), and by the middle of 2010, Strous had largely faded from the conversation. What endured after that were claim after claim that Strous would "likely" be in this series or that, but with little in the way of actual fulfillment. The mention among teams was frequently that his debts had not been paid in Lights, and there was little reason to expect anything else. He did some Benelux racing back in 2011, and that's honestly the last I can remember of him.
So, while Strous would generally pop up with an announcement that he was working on something or other, the general reaction was always one of dismissiveness. Just another driver with more hopes than concrete funding, you know. He was out of sight and out of mind, over three years removed from his last Indy Lights driver, when this latest news popped up.
My first reaction was shock, but the more I thought about it, why should it be? After all, I talked with Junior Strous--that's not the same thing as knowing him. I think that's a mistake we make with all athletes, whether we're chatting with them on Twitter, or fortunate enough to talk with them at the track. What we see is a public persona, at a time when sponsors and backers are usually near by. How well do we really know any of them, though?
We as fans put matters in the sport in terms of that public face, in terms of on-track results, and in terms of ability to pull together a program, because that's what we see day-to-day. We don't know when someone is suffering with something big in their personal life, and we might not know when someone needs help until it's too late. And when they aren't on track, some can fade from our thoughts very quickly indeed. Something like this is another reminder that while drivers might have more backbone and daring in them than most of us, they are still very, very mortal, and very, very perceptible to the same drastic flaws as the best and worst of us.
I don't know the circumstances surrounding the apparent downfall of Junior Strous. But I hope that in all this, justice is served, and if needs help himself, he gets it. Somewhere along the way, things for him went very off-course.