The tragic death of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson this week will bring up major questions around the sport, such as driver safety, and if changes need to be made so it never happens again, say sports PR pros.
Wilson, 37, was struck in the head by debris from a crash on Sunday during the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. He was in a coma and in critical condition Sunday night through Monday, and died Monday night.
Matt Saler, director of sports marketing at Imre, says IndyCar should be prepared to respond to inquiries from media and the racing community about driver safety. However, he doesn’t think it’s necessary for the organization to proactively communicate about driver safety in the coming weeks.
Chris Brienza, SVP and head of Coyne’s New York office, agrees that the Wilson tragedy, which marks the second IndyCar driver death in the last four years, will reopen a conversation around driver safety.
"Whether there’s a fix, I don’t know, and I don’t think they know either, but it’s going to be one of those topics that drivers, team owners, and speedway officials are going to talk about and examine," he explains.
Brienza also believes that IndyCar should only share information on the topic if it has something important to add, rather than getting involved in the discussion just for the sake of it.
Following the accident, IndyCar "acted swiftly," says Saler. The organization actively posted information on its website and social media channels, including medical updates.
"They released a statement Sunday night after the initial crash and they held a press conference [Monday] night after he passed," he explains.
IndyCar did not take questions during the presser, but Saler says that decision is acceptable given the circumstances. It is likely that the organization will take questions if it has a follow-up conference in the near future, he adds.
Brienza points out the fact that IndyCar has done "a really nice job getting important information out without feeling the need to over-communicate."
"[IndyCar] has been sensitive, but at the same time, communicating what needed to be communicated," says Brienza. Coyne has been working with Daytona International Speedway since 2013.
Saler adds that all of IndyCar’s statements appear to "very heartfelt and sincere." The league posted a tribute to Wilson on the homepage of its website, as well as on its Facebook and Instragram pages.
Throughout the day on Monday, IndyCar tweeted messages honoring Wilson, who was part of the Andretti Autosport team. The organization used the hashtag #BadAssWilson, to keep his memory going on the social network.
Donations can be made to Justin's children via: Wilson Children's Fund, c/o INDYCAR, 4551 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, IN 46222. #BadassWilson— IndyCar Series (@IndyCar) August 25, 2015
Andretti Autosport posted a tribute to Wilson on its Facebook page and tweeted out the link to it.
We are deeply saddened by the passing of Justin Wilson. He was a tremendous racer, a valuable member of the team and...Posted by Andretti Autosport on Monday, August 24, 2015
In addition to IndyCar and Andretti Autosport, Wilson was remembered on Twitter by organizations, teams, drivers, and sponsors across the racing community.
Wow, what a sad day. @justin_wilson was a good man. A great man. I had the pleasure of knowing him and pray for his family. ????— Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) August 25, 2015
We are deeply saddened by the loss of Justin Wilson. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family & friends.— Daytona IntlSpeedway (@DISupdates) August 25, 2015
We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Justin Wilson. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. #RIPJustinWilson— Honda Racing F1 (@HondaRacingF1) August 25, 2015
Raceway flags are being flown at half-staff in honor of Justin Wilson. pic.twitter.com/rvg353suC4— Pocono Raceway (@poconoraceway) August 25, 2015
V8 Supercars thoughts are with the family and friends of Justin Wilson after the sad news of his tragic passing. pic.twitter.com/FifeA6yR89— V8 Supercars (@v8supercars) August 25, 2015
Our hearts are heavy with the news of Justin Wilson’s passing. Thoughts & prayers to his family, friends, fans and the INDYCAR family.— Verizon Wireless USA (@VerizonWireless) August 25, 2015