In November 2009, some of the best kart racers in the world — kids and young men with aspirations of becoming Michael Schumacher, for that’s how he started — were zipping around the parking lot at the Rio at a high rate of speed during the SuperKarts! USA SuperNationals. One of these young men was Matt Jaskol of Las Vegas, who was closer to becoming Michael Schumacher than most, because he had signed a developmental contract with the Red Bull Formula One team.
So Jaskol was zipping around the temporary circuit at the Rio when this jackwagon comes out of nowhere, drives right over top of him and rips one of his front wheels off.
That jackwagon was Michael Schumacher.
Schumacher was trying to get his reflexes back in shape for a Formula One comeback. That’s why he came to Las Vegas to race shifter karts with the lightning-fast kids and the young men who wanted to be like him. To be like Mike.
Matt Jaskol said he couldn’t believe anybody would attempt such a banzai move. Then he saw the familiar Ferrari-red helmet. Then he knew it was Michael Schumacher. Then he was OK with it. Well, he was mostly OK with it. It was still a banzai move.
“But if you’re going to get taken out, it might as well be by the best racing driver in the world,” Jaskol said.
Matt Jaskol, 29, now is chief driving instructor at Dream Racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he zips around the track in 200-mph Ferrari 430 GTs. He tells that story all the time. He’s telling it a lot this week, as the great Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world driving champion, and legend, and one of the world’s most revered sportsmen, continues to fight for life after suffering head injuries while skiing in France on Sunday.
The great Michael Schumacher, fighting for life, because of a skiing accident? That doesn’t add up. He even was wearing a helmet.
From 1991 through 2006, and again from 2010 through 2012, Schumacher had tempted the fates and tempted the racing gods and tempted the other Formula One drivers, including the ones from Finland with ice water in their veins. He won 91 races and those seven world championships, more than any other driver, and he broke every record, and he was only was hurt once in a Formula One car. He broke his leg in a race in England when his brakes failed. It wasn’t his fault.
And while you know that skiing downhill can be risky — consider what happened to Sonny Bono — you don’t expect it to happen to somebody like Michael Schumacher, because this is a man who always was in control, regardless of how dangerous the circuit or how fast he was going.
And, yeah, he was wearing a helmet.
“You imagine all the situations he’s been in (on the racetrack) his entire life, and now this, to suffer devastating injuries and fighting for life, because of skiing?” Matt Jaskol said.
Jaskol was speaking on the telephone Tuesday morning, but you almost could see him shaking his head.
It doesn’t add up. It would be like a trapeze artist retiring from Barnum and Bailey and getting hit by a bus as he crossed the street.
Racecar drivers are supposed to go out in a ball of flame. They are not supposed to go out on their way back to the lodge because they catch an edge or cross a tip and hit their head on a rock.
When I think of Michael Schumacher, I often think of this obscure Sidney Pollack movie called “Bobby Deerfield” in which Al Pacino played the title character, an aloof Formula One driver, who tells his love interest in the movie, who is dying of cancer and played by Marthe Keller, that he can’t go anywhere without being mobbed by fans. And that’s why he is aloof and wears dark glasses.
There’s a scene in which they are strolling around some quaint European village, and Bobby bets Lillian that the minute he takes off his dark glasses people will mob him. But they don’t, until Lillian calls out “Look everybody, it’s Bobby Deerfield,” and then everybody mobs Bobby D. and asks for his autograph. It’s easily the most uplifting scene in the movie.
People have told me that Michael Schumacher often would come to Las Vegas, or Colorado, because they were sanctuary to him, that people and the paparazzi didn’t recognize him here or up there. So he loved coming here.
There’s this YouTube video that shows him racing around the Rio parking lot in his kart on that November day in 2009, and of him pushing it through the tech inspection line himself, like all the other kids and the young men who aspired to be him.
The great Michael Schumacher was not wearing dark glasses. He did not appear aloof. It looked like he was having a blast.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.