Anybody see the Indy 500 this year? Rookie JR Hildebrand goes into turn four on the last lap with a comfortable lead. It was going to be history. Driving for a team that had finished 2nd three times, he was on his way to becoming the first rookie winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001. All he had to do was navigate one last corner. He had made 799 of them that day without issue, but that last one, it would prove to be a problem. Rookie Charlie Kimball was slow on the inside, and as JR tried to make the pass on the outside, the unthinkable happened. Thud. Straight into the outside wall. He could see the flagman waiving the checkered flag. How helpless he must have felt as he watched the man who had driven his car to those 2nd place finishes drive by and win the race. JR had blown it. 2nd place. Epic fail. Choke. Maybe the biggest choke in motorsports history.
I immediately felt sick for him. If that were me, I’d be on suicide watch for a few days. Then I heard him talk. He obviously grasped the scale of what had just happened, and yet, in the heat of the moment, had the presence of mind to apologize to and thank his team. As he stumbled over his words he found the right ones. He handled it with class and dignity.
I can’t really relate to the feeling he must have felt, but I do know what it’s like to get so close to something, only to have it taken away. My band, the Undeserving, has been so close to turning this hobby into a career for quite some time. We’ve been signed to a major record label, met and worked with famous people who are the best in the business, and had songs featured on the biggest shows on television. We were gonna make it; and then a series of unfortunate events happened. People we work with lost their jobs or quit, songs don’t sell like we hoped they would, and new people come in who don’t have the same attachments to us. The next thing we know we’re in 6 months of limbo waiting to hear if we’ll have a record or not, a record we put 3 years of our life into. It’s hard to not call that a loss.
I used to love Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. It used to fuel me during varsity basketball games in high school. I allowed it to shape my competitive spirit. The older I get though, the more it loses it’s truth to me. The reality is it’s easy to handle a victory, whether moral or material. It’s easy to hold the trophy and drink the milk in victory lane. It’s easy to have class and dignity when you’re on top. It’s losing that will make a man out of you. It’s losing that will make you see what you’re made of. It’s missing out on that promotion to a less qualified colleague, or losing your girlfriend to your best friend, or missing out on an opportunity that could change your life. How will you handle that? It’s really hard to win, but it’s even harder to lose gracefully.
Dan Wheldon won the Indy 500 this year. I’m happy for him. But it’s JR Hildebrand that has a new fan. He gave me a different perspective on things, an important one. Maybe sometimes, the losers are the real winners.