For me it's not a moral dilemma. Indeed, another young racer has died on TV, cut down as millions watched, leaving those who love him with the kind of grief we outsiders can only conceptualize, not actually feel. Watching or not watching the crash that killed Marco Simoncelli (or Dan Wheldon) won't bring him back, and as human beings, we're hard-wired to a certain ghoulishness. It's who we are. That's not my issue.
I won't watch Marco Simoncelli's crash because it's like witnessing the death of racing's future.
To me, MotoGP is the highest form of motorized competition. Yes, I'm four-wheel nerd enough to drag myself out of bed early on Saturday mornings for Formula One qualifying, and watch the races for the tire selections and pitting strategies. But the reductive display of skill in motorcycle racing, specifically in its highest ranks, puts MotoGP far above any other motorsport in terms of sheer racing drama.
And so, Simoncelli's death hit me hard, in part because of how hopefully I'd been watching his tentative ascent. A brash young rider, Simoncelli had spent his second season in the big show crashing people out and getting a reputation for being a bit of a nutter. And yet, the excitement he generated when he was on point lit a talent-filled field with sparks of brilliance — like watching Dwyane Wade's first season with Miami in 2003.
To get a feel for what Simoncelli meant to the future of motorcycle racing — and by extension, racing in general — one need only watch the final laps of the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island last week.
Simoncelli was hovering in third, having relinquished second to Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso, who'd edged past him a lap earlier. A vexing rain was falling on half the track, and the spotty slickness began claiming riders, first Álvaro Bautista, then Cal Crutchlow, then Simoncelli's Gresini Honda teammate, Hiroshi Aoyama. Casey Stoner was so far out front that only a similar shunt would have kept him from the top of the podium.
As the race unwound, Dovi put in his quickest lap of the race, and looked sure to hold second, while Simoncelli, who'd pulled off a breathtaking last-lap pass on Dovi at San Marino a month earlier, appeared to be resigned to the third podium step.
And then he wasn't. Closing in on Turn 4, a low-gear hairpin, Simoncelli outbraked Dovi, then edged over to within inches of Dovi's bike to find an inside line that would shoot him through the tight right hander. It worked. Simoncelli scooted past to finish the lap just over 0.2 seconds ahead of Dovizioso.
It was Simoncelli's best result in MotoGP. The 24-year-old rising star would die a week later in a freak accident during the second lap of the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang. I've heard it's one of those one-in-a-million accidents that no one can predict and no one can comprehend in retrospect. I wouldn't know.
Nearing the end of his second MotoGP season, Simoncelli had just signed to Gresini for 2012. His reputation for pushing harder than his specialized hardware, and the laws of physics, might allow seemed a function of his youth, but so was the enthusiasm and good-naturedness that made him such a likable character in a sport of bitter rivalries. When he pulled it together, as he seemed destined to, the coming years would be laid out like a golden highway.
And then they weren't.
"Sic for me was like a youngest brother. So strong on track and so sweet in the normal life. I will miss him a lot."
— Valentino Rossi
(Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Sport)