Sage Karam isn't competing this year at Pocono Raceway. It's been a year since a freak accident claimed the life of fellow driver Justin Wilson.
Karam was leading the IndyCar race a year ago at the 2.5-mile track in rural Pennsylvania when he spun and crashed in the closing laps. Wilson was fatally struck in the helmet by debris from Karam's car. The 37-year-old Englishman died the next day.
For the 21-year-old Karam, it's not so easy to understand the accident was a tragedy out of his control.
"It's different for me," Karam said at the racetrack, where Union Jacks flying at half-staff in honor of Wilson. "I'm not racing here this year. If I was racing, going around the track would give me some weird feelings. I know I'm here in the spot that changed my life forever."
Karam lost his ride with Chip Ganassi after last season because of sponsorship difficulties. He's raced in the IndyCar Series once this year — in the Indianapolis 500 in a one-off ride with Dreyer & Reinbold — and wrecked for the second straight year after briefly leading the race.
Wilson's younger brother, Stefan, also ran the 500, a tribute to his brother and part of the healing process for both families.
"Sage and I speak a lot about Justin," said Karam's dad, Jody, his voice tinged with emotion. "I think as much as Sage suffered and our family feels the pain of what happened, we always keep in the back of our minds that family is suffering more.
"As a family, we've supported Sage and made all the right moves. I think he's doing all the right things to get back to where he needs to be mentally and emotionally."
Wilson's widow and two young girls attended the Indy 500, but they won't be at Pocono. The memory of that tragic day remains nevertheless, evidenced by the "JW" painted on the track at the finish line.
Karam, of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, knows there's another step to take on the track.
"Every time I think about IndyCar racing, the biggest memory in my mind is that day," he said. "I see flashbacks in Turn 1. I feel like I need to do it for myself, go through Turn 1 again flat out. I think that would be the last part of it."
AP Auto Racing Website: www.racing.ap.org
Follow Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947