Thank you for making this thread. I'll be the first to go non-F1, since I've only ever seen 30 or so grands prix in my lifetime!
I'll go in chronological order, and that starts with the late 90s and Greg Moore.
Moore...in his element, really. A great speedway racer, something he attributed to the ice racing he had done when he was younger (the cars, at least then, were very slippery on the big ovals, making it so much harder than it looks. Moore initially struggled, so he was advised to spend his winter racing on ice. He did, and ended up as one of CART's greatest speedway racers). Beyond that, the bird...something Moore did a lot, only to play with photographers. He and Montoya were good friends; actually, he and the entire paddock were good friends. He was a hard racer, brilliant car control, on McLaren-Mercedes' radar to replace D.C. for 2000 until he ultimately signed for Penske in CART, and an all-around great guy. He was always smiling, always having fun, and brought a great bond among the drivers. It was a hard hit for the community when he lost his life in 1999; Moore had only been in CART for four seasons, yet his 99 became the only number retired in the history of the sport. That's how big of an impact he made, most of it off the circuit.
Then there's Alex Zanardi, the same era. It's a shame F1 never worked for him, because he was such a joy to watch in CART. His charge at the 1998 Long Beach Grand Prix
, for me, was a bigger highlight than "the pass" at Laguna Seca in 1996, but then again, I wasn't watching live in 1996. My memory could be wrong, but I feel as though he was one lap down at some point during that race. Zanardi's story is told often, and I'm sure you all know what happened. I can't even put the moment of him running those last 13 laps at the Lausitzring into words when he did in 2003. Far cooler than any photo finish, any 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, any of that. A great moment.
On to Benny Parsons, who I never saw race, but had the honor of meeting. Parsons won the NASCAR title in 1973, and retired in 1988. He did, however, become a broadcaster at that time, spending over a decade with ESPN, before moving to NBC/TNT's coverage in 2001 until his death in 2007. Parsons definitely represented the "older NASCAR," a very relaxed, low-key, friendly man with a great sense of humor and a love for everything. Benny's attitude was just so admirable...simple, hard-working, and just so kind to everyone else. I'm so glad I got to meet him; just a few years later, he was gone, losing a long battle with lung cancer. It's hard to watch a NASCAR race without Benny's wit, enthusiasm, knowledge, and Bennyisms. Just to hear him call one of his Jamie McMurray's wins this year, always pronouncing it "MacMary," would have been grand...
And then a modern one. Shane Hmiel. He's not your typical "good man," not at all. Hmiel came to NASCAR in 2002 with a lot of promise. He had great talent and an aggressive style, but was pegged to be the next "bad boy" due to his scrappy attitude and tendency to get into it with other drivers. In 2003, Hmiel was suspended from NASCAR for testing positive for marijuana. He returned in 2004, winning his first race in the Truck division, and signed on as a development driver for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the 2005 year. After a solid start, Hmiel again failed a drug test, this time for both marijuana and cocaine, and was suspended indefinitely. During his process to return to the sport, Hmiel failed a third test, and was permanently banned from the sport. He hit rock bottom. His father, a longtime mechanic in NASCAR, stated Hmiel was refusing help, laying on the couch all day feeling sorry for himself, gaining weight, letting his life go. All talk about Hmiel died, and during that time, everything came together. Hmiel has bipolar disorder; he didn't know that until 2008. He "self-medicated" to deal with his condition after being misdiagnosed as a teenager and not knowing what was really going on. Since the diagnosis, Hmiel's life has made a complete 180. He's finally clean, and has returned to USAC, winning races across the country in open-wheel midgets. In a few weeks, he'll make his Indy Lights debut at Chicago. I believe in Shane. I believe he's truly past his worst days and into his best; now with an understanding of himself and taking action to handle his condition appropriately. I think he's a great story, I think he can raise a lot of awareness, and I don't think he's lost his talent. It's unfortunate he threw it all away, but its really nice he has a new chance in the open-wheel world, with sights set on the Indy 500. I hope he stays focused, keeps his life where it is now, and gets there.
Edited by Pucky the Whale, 13 August 2010 - 04:08 PM.