Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A worthy winner

Some day not long from now, the sculptor will go to work on the Borg-Warner Trophy. A new likeness will be added to it. It will be unlike any likeness added to it before in 101 years.

That's because, to start with, Takuma Sato is one hell of a race car driver. Better than you knew, probably, because he never had the ride before to make you notice just how good he is.

Now he's an Indianapolis 500 winner. He's also Japanese, which is why his likeness will be unlike any other that's ever gone on the Borg-Warner.

No Japanese has ever won the 500, until now. No Asian ever has. Most people think that's an historic deal but not necessarily a big deal, because most people realize the Indianapolis 500 has always been an international event -- drivers from 10 nations outside the U.S. have won it over the years -- and because the world we live in today is a global village.

Notice I said "most people."

A few others, however, are still trying to get their arms around the fact that a Japanese won the 500. On Memorial Day weekend. As if this were still 1945 and not 2017. As if the world as it was then still existed -- even if though it hasn't for decades and never will again.

And so here was a columnist from the Denver Post, tweeting he had a problem with a Japanese driver winning the 500, then trying to defend his racist impulse by saying it was because his father was a World War II veteran. And here were various other people saying they had an issue with Sato displaying the Japanese flag on his post-race ride-around.

Of the first, the Blob would say the columnist doesn't get to use his father's service as an excuse to feel uneasy about the Japanese. Only his father has earned that right, even if it's inexplicable to most of us. Sadly, this what war does, particularly one as brutal as the Pacific war. It leaves scars you can't see and that no amount of time can heal. And it turns otherwise fair-minded men against one another forever, unless they are extraordinarily lucky.

And as for Sato displaying the Japanese flag on his ride-around?

Well, why wouldn't he? He's a proud citizen of Japan, and he'd just done something no other of his countrymen had ever done. Maybe the current fever that infects our body politic has made us blind to it, but patriotism is not a wholly owned American subsidiary. Other peoples in other countries get to be patriotic, too.

And to be thrilled to win the most celebrated event in their chosen profession.

That's the great irony of this, you see. If a few in America looked at Sato and saw him winning the 500 through some jingoist's prism, they missed the essential point: That the Japanese man understood the significance of the American event he'd won as well as anyone ever has.

It started with him screaming into the radio as the checkers fell, and continued in Victory Lane, where he was so delirious with joy that when he tried to dump the bottle of milk over his head, he missed and dumped most of it squarely in his face. It was a stark contrast from last year, when the American who won, Alexander Rossi, seemed almost at a loss for how he was supposed to react.

But then, Rossi grew up chasing a Formula One career in Europe, where the Indianapolis 500 was mostly a distant echo. Sato, on the other hand, had been trying to win the 500 for eight years and understood what a pinnacle it represented.  The Japanese guy, in other words, got it more than the American guy did.

"It's such a privilege to win here," Sato said Sunday. "So whether it was the first attempt or eighth attempt or you had a drama in the past, it doesn't really matter. You're winning today. It's just superb."

No matter where you're from.

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