He was sitting halfway around the track from where it happened, but Marc Risman said you could tell from the gasps of the crowd that this had not been an ordinary crash.
Risman is a Las Vegas attorney who represents auto racing drivers and other athletes. On Saturday, he honored a commitment to play in Bo Jackson’s golf tournament at Cascata in Boulder City, before taking a redeye to Indianapolis where one of his clients was favored to win the Indianapolis 500.
Instead, polesitter Scott Dixon was involved in a terrifying crash.
When we spoke after the race, a bleary-eyed Risman was checking into the JW Marriott. He was having trouble describing what had been witnessed between turns 1 and 2 on one of the giant video boards. It wasn’t from lack of sleep.
It’s emotional watching a client — a good friend — not only survive a crash like that one, but walk away from it.
“I got really sick,” said Risman, who watched the Scott Dixon drama unfold in the Pagoda suites with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and Smith’s wife, Elizabeth.
It already had been a harrowing week for Risman’s client, the 2008 Indy winner who earned the first starting position with a qualifying speed of 232.164 mph — the fastest in 21 years — only to be robbed at gunpoint at a Taco Bell down the street from the speedway a few hours later.
Dixon led the first five laps of an exciting race ultimately won by Japanese driver Takuma Sato. On lap 53, journeyman Jay Howard, driving a third entry for Henderson car owner Sam Schmidt, moved over in turn 1 so Ryan Hunter-Reay, one of the leaders, could pass.
Howard’s car washed out and hit the wall.
Scott Dixon, coming up fast, had no place to go.
Racing gods were smiling
Dixon’s car smashed into Howard’s and flew through the air, bringing back a grim flashback from 2011, when Dan Wheldon’s car flew through the air at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in similar fashion. This one, remarkably, turned out so much better.
The crowd in turn 2 roared as Dixon was extricated from the hulk of race car rubble and waved that he was OK.
“I saw the replay, I didn’t know who it was,” Risman said. “Then I saw NTT (Data), I saw Camping World …”
Those are Dixon’s sponsors. Now they were only decals on the bigger bits of a race car that had been split in two when it landed on top of the inside retaining wall and ripped a gaping hole in the catch fence.
Marc Risman has been Scott Dixon’s attorney since 1999, when Dixon was just getting started. The New Zealander had a group of financial backers then, but Risman said it was a lousy deal for the young driver. Risman, who has represented boxers, knows a lousy deal when he sees one.
Dixon, now 36, has quietly become one of IndyCar’s greatest drivers. His 39 victories are the most among active competitors, and he has won the series championship four times.
Risman was on the victory platform with Dixon when he drank the milk at Indy in 2008. When his client was summoned to take the traditional victory lap, somebody handed Risman the massive victory laurel of flowers. The New Zealand TV reporters thought Risman must be somebody special, so they interviewed him on live TV.
Now he was talking to a Las Vegas reporter about Dixon under much different circumstances, trying to find words and perspective after witnessing a terrifying replay on a giant video board.
“I’ve known him for what, 17 years, and then you realize he has a wife and kids …”
Marc Risman said he was arriving at his hotel. He wanted to catch a nap. He and Scott Dixon were supposed to have dinner at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse, in a couple of hours, but he said his client and friend was complaining of a sore ankle.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) May 28, 2017
— Scott Dixon (@scottdixon9) May 28, 2017
Contact Ron Kantowski at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.
A look at the auto racing career of Scott Dixon, who walked away from a terrifying crash in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500:
— Age: 36
— Nationality: New Zealand
— Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
— Wins: 39, most among active drivers.
— Highlights: Winner of the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and four IndyCar season championships. Also a two-time winner of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
— Family: Wife Emma Davies Dixon, a former world class 800-meter runner from Great Britain; children Tilly and Poppy.