IndyCar: Liz Power remembers Justin Wilson, talks about being a racer’s wife
SONOMA, California – The wife of the defending IndyCar Series champion Will Power knows all about the difficulty of being married to a race driver. But for Liz Power, this week has been devastating because she used to be the public relations director for Justin Wilson at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
Mrs. Power achieved her dream of public relations as a career and was previously Power’s PR contact at Walker Racing Team Australia during the Champ Cars days of 2006 and 2007. The two began to date, fell in love and married each other. As Power’s career took him to Team Penske in 2009, Liz continued her role as a team publicist at Dreyer & Reinbold. In 2010 and 2011, Wilson was the driver for that team and that provided a difficult balancing act for Liz.
She left team PR following the 2012 season and now attends all of the races to support her husband at Team Penske. During the races, she is so nervous about the risks of Will’s profession that Liz cannot watch any of the racing action. Instead, she paces behind the pit area and chews on a plastic water bottle.
That is what she was doing on Lap 180 of last Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway when Wilson was struck by a large piece of debris off Sage Karam’s crashed race car. Wilson would late die from serious head injury and his death greatly impacted Liz Power.
“This week has been devastating, actually,” Liz Power told FOXSports.com in an exclusive interview Friday at Sonoma Raceway – site of this weekend’s IndyCar Series season finale. “It’s been crushing. I do have the perspective where I have worked with Justin for two years handling his PR and I’m married to a driver so it makes all aspects of it very well. The other wives understand the aspects of it, too. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a bunch of drivers and you get to know them on a personal level. As a PR person, when you are with that person all the time you are friends of them.
“It has really hit home. It is so hard. I don’t know any other way to describe it.”
Mrs. Power admits that in her private moments with her husband they have asked, “Why do we even do this?”
“I would by lying if I said I didn’t think that,” Liz Power said. “At the same time I also know what I signed up for. Ironically enough I had this similar conversation with Julia Wilson (Justin’s widow) a couple year’s back. We were talking about how we are the second loves. It doesn’t mean they love us any less but racing is their first love and we knew that getting into it.
“As tragic and horrible as it is you ask, ‘Why do we do this?’ but you have to sit back and appreciate what you have.”
A high-speed, big-time racing driver is like a fighter pilot. They are fearless and brave and don’t let the danger of their profession impact them. They love what they do and block out the ever-present specter of the possibility of death.
She marvels at the way her husband puts those risks aside and makes brave and bold moves.
“That’s why I don’t watch,” Liz said. “I do marvel at their ability to be able to block it out and get in the race car. Everyday Will amazes me. Each and every one of them has that ability. I look back to 2009 when Will broke his back for the first time at Sonoma how he would ever get back in the car. Sure enough, we come back to this track and it’s as if nothing ever happened.
“I was a wreck that whole weekend and haven’t been the same since that accident at Sonoma. I know what can happen but what makes these guys amazing is they can block that out. They have to be to be able to do what they do.”
When she worked in public relations, Liz was married to a driver on a team that she did not represent. She was able to separate the two because she worked hard to get into public relations.
“I met Will along the way and fell in love along the way and that wasn’t what was planned,” Liz said. “I didn’t find it difficult working for another time. It gave me something to do. Now, I’m more nervous than I ever was before just because my mind is solely on Will is doing on the track. I had something to occupy me. Now, I don’t.”
She is at every race behind Power’s pit stall but can’t remember the last time she actually watched the race. She’s there and that is important. She knows what is going on but can’t follow it because she is so nervous. She admits she is especially terrified of oval racing because of the increased speed and danger associated with that form of competition.
“I always make sure I hug Will a little tighter before those races and those times. I take it a minute at a time and hug him and love him and keep a smile on my face,” Liz said. “And then I say my prayers because that is all I can do and he goes out and races.”
When she worked for Wilson, she constantly took notes during the race, but as a driver’s wife she doesn’t have that to vent her nervous energy. So, she started chewing on a plastic water bottle. After this year’s Indianapolis 500, when television showed her pacing and chewing on the bottle in the closing laps of the Indy 500, Will Power actually got messages they were concerned about Liz’s teeth, she said with a laugh.
There is a special bond the IndyCar Series drivers’ wives share. And Liz Power was especially close to Julia Wilson.
“That is what makes all of this really hard,” Liz said through a breaking voice choked with emotion. “Circumstances like this bring you closer to the other wives and I get along with the other wives. We can all relate to what we are going through. I don’t want it to sound selfish because there are so many other occupations like police officers or firefighters or the military but you bond with them, too.”
Liz said Wilson was the easiest driver she ever worked with. He always had a smile on his face and was such a “good guy, such a family guy, such a humble guy.
“He used to always shake his head at me like I had lost my mind,” Liz said. “Will does the same thing with me.”
She had many favorite moments with Justin, but one in particular makes her laugh the most and that is when she first starting working with Wilson in 2010. The two had known each other before but not to the extent of when they were working together.
Wilson won the 2009 race at Watkins Glen and in 2010 he had to fly to the circuit early for a promotional appearance. Liz was supposed to pick him up at the track.
“I got so lost, I didn’t have GPS and I had no cell service without a gas station in sight,” Power recalled. “I did what any normal person would do in that circumstance and I knocked on random people’s doors to ask how to get to the track. This guy answered and he looked just like Beetlejuice. A very nice guy but he looked just like Beetlejuice.
“Poor Justin waited on me for 45 minutes and Beetlejuice helped me get to the track. I pull up and tires are smoking and Justin had his arms crossed standing there for 45 minutes cracking up laughing. He wouldn’t let me drive him anywhere after that – my driving scared him.
“What I loved most is I really got to know him. I got to know his beautiful wife – his precious girls, how much he loved them. How much he sacrificed to get to do what he loved. I got to know Justin as a person and to me that is my favorite, precious moment of him and his family.”
Last Sunday, Liz Power was in pit lane and when she heard the helicopter ambulance taking Wilson to a hospital she knew it was bad. She found out early Monday evening that he had died.
Liz and Will Power spent all day Monday in each other’s company at home in North Carolina. They didn’t want to leave each other and hugged a little tighter.
She will hug Power a little tighter on Sunday before he begins the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Getting back to racing has provided a healing process for the series and it is a tribute to Wilson’s career – a 37-year-old driver from Sheffield, England who loved the sport.
“It brings everyone together and we can heal together because we are really a big family in racing,” Liz said. “I think this really helps. We can pay tribute to Justin and we need to help with the Children’s Fund. Justin and Julia sacrificed a lot so anyone that can whelp with the children’s fun it would be so greatly appreciated.”
Will has been by his wife’s side to help each other get through the devastation.
“It is hard on everyone because Justin was such a nice guy,” Will Power said. “It’s surreal. We have been supporting each other and we still have a race to do. But we are all thinking about Justin this weekend.
“My memory of Justin is the way he raced on the track in an aggressive, clean way and he never had a beef with anyone off the track.
“It’s Justin, man – just a great guy.”
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.