LONGMONT, Colo. — The Indianapolis 500 on Sunday marked a special day for a local widow and the family of one of the sport’s former stars. Justin Wilson was killed by flying debris in a race last year.
His nickname was the “Gentle Giant,” a man known for always helping others. In his death, he’s still doing just that with the help of his wife and brother.
Filling every corner in the basement of the Wilson family’s Longmont home are mementos from Wilson’s career.
“This is Justin’s life and this is not even half of it. … This is his pride and joy,” said Julia Wilson, Justin’s wife.
For Julia, it isn’t Justin’s trophies and his many wins she’s most proud of.
“He’s amazing. Just an amazing guy,” she said.
In August during a race at Pocono, Pa., Justin was struck in the head by flying debris. He died a day later.
“Justin saved five lives, and five families get to wake up and kiss their loved ones and carry on their day,” Julia said.
In his death, as a registered organ donor, the 37-year-old became the saving grace to five people waiting for an organ transplant.
“Anyone that donates is amazing. They don’t obviously know, it’s their families that are left behind that suffer. But just to give back and make other families fulfill their lives is just a great thing,” Julia said.
Fulfilling Justin’s legacy on and off the track is his younger brother Stefan.
“He wouldn’t want what happened to him to define my life,” he said.
Getting his first start in the Indianapolis 500, Stefan crawled into his No. 25 Chevrolet, the same number Justin drove in the race last year.
“That dream was always to be on the grid with him and racing against him,” Stefan said.
The race car was wrapped with Indiana Donor Network’s #driven2savelives campaign.
“Potentially save more lives,” Stefan said.
For Stefan, like many others, organ donation is a topic he had never given much thought.
“Something you don’t want to discuss, never want to think about or talk about really, but it happened in my life and now this is a part of my life,” Stefan Wilson said.
“At the time you just don’t think it’s ever going to happen and I never thought about it with Justin,” Julia said.
In reality, the sport and everyday life can always bring the unexpected.
“Suddenly you realize just how dangerous it is,” Stefan said.
For the Wilsons, life will never be the same.
“I’m just really proud of Justin,” Julia said.
They hope is the #driven2savelives campaign will inspire others to become registered organ donors so the families of those waiting for life-saving transplants never have to understand a loss like they do.
“There are 22 people that pretty much die every day on the waitlist if Stefan and the #driven2savelives car can lower that amount then it’s just a fantastic organization,” Julia said.
Stefan Wilson’s goal is to get 2,500 people across the country to register their decision to donate through #driven2savelives.
Wilson finished in 28th place Sunday.