I wasn't at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday when this happened. But I have been there enough to guess what the reaction was when Sebastien Bourdais' car went to pieces against the Turn 2 wall in a hailstorm of flame and shredding metal.
It was probably not what casual observers of auto racing, or its detractors, think it was.
Despite the mythology, no one lives for these sorts of moments. No one comes to or covers a motorsports event to see crashes, and especially these sorts of crashes. And so I imagine a gasp or two rose up in the media center when Bourdais hit the wall head-on at 231 mph. I imagine more than one person muttered, "This looks bad." And I imagine a few others, under their breath, perhaps, whispered "Oh, Jesus."
And then began thinking about how much their workday was going to change if it indeed was as bad as it looked.
Thankfully, it wasn't, though it was bad enough. Bourdais came out of the deal with a broken right hip and a smashed pelvis, but he'll live. Whether he races again, and how soon, is a question for the gods.
What isn't in question is what a crash like Bourdais' summons for those of us who've been doing this awhile. I've been covering the Indianapolis 500 for 40 years, and drivers have died on that watch. It's nothing you ever want to see. It's nothing you ever want to have to write about. You hate what you do for a living for awhile when you're compelled to do it, and for awhile you feel like a ghoul.
So, no, no one wants to see drivers crash hard. What we do instead is watch the replays, and thank God it's 2017 and not, say, 1957. Because if once again this ancient place's notorious caprice was on full display -- one microsecond Bourdais was the fastest guy in the joint, and the next he, well, wasn't -- what was also on display was the everything that has made the sport as safe as it's possible to be.
The car itself, designed to fly apart in a way that dissipates the energy of a hard hit. The SAFER barrier, which has been around since the late '90s and which unquestionably is why more than one driver is still walking around breathing air.
I'd have written about that, maybe, had I been there. And I know exactly what I'd have been thinking as I did.
Beats the hell out of the alternative.