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Even in pain, Mann reaches out to others

by
Paul Dalbey
| Dec 01, 2011

“After the first impact, I just closed my eyes and held on.  I knew nothing I was going to see would help me out later.”

That’s how IZOD IndyCar Series driver Pippa Mann described her thoughts as she was tumbling through the air during the tragic season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway six weeks ago.  In that moment, Mann knew she was in for a wild ride, but she had no way of knowing just how much of a ride it would be.  Contrary to human instinct, Pippa tried to relax her body, pulled her knees toward her, and prepared for the worst.  After impacting the wall and catch fence, the car landed back on the track upside-down with Pippa’s helmet scraping along the pavement for several hundred feet.  When the smoke had cleared and the grinding finally came to a halt, Pippa found herself right side up again in the middle of a battle zone littered with pieces of 14 different race cars in a horrifying spectacle that looked like a deleted scene from Driven.  While Mann was conscious and clear of life-threatening injuries, it didn’t take her long to realize her right hand was in bad shape.

Though initially reported to have “only” second-degree burns to her right hand, Pippa actually suffered major injuries to her pinky finger that went well beyond a skin burn.  In the days following the accident, Pippa underwent surgery that found the need for transplants of nerves, blood vessels, tendons, and skin.  It would be at least three months until she was able to return to driving and six months before she would be back at “full” strength, whatever “full” might mean in the future.

But this isn’t a story about Pippa’s injuries.  This is about how even as Pippa was enduring the worst pain and injury of her racing career, she still found the strength to reach out and be a rock of support for others.

One week removed from the accident, I was in attendance at the Dan Wheldon Memorial Service at Indianapolis’s Conseco Fieldhouse attending the event with a race fan who had actually been in Las Vegas the week prior.  Several minutes after we took our seats, Pippa and another friend sat down beside us, and we quickly began conversation.  As much as I tried to keep the conversation light in nature and avoid talking about the tragic circumstances that were the genesis of our gathering, the talk eventually went toward the accident and quickly turned somber.  When my friend broke down in tears of grief, it was Pippa who put her massively bandaged and obviously still pained hand around my friend and did the best she could to console her.  Here, this driver, who was only seven days removed from being involved in a tragedy that had shaken the racing world and bearing her own great physical and emotional scars, put her arm around a race fan she didn’t know and sought to bring her comfort.  Very few people saw this gesture and even fewer likely noticed it, but for one race fan, it was a genuine gesture that spoke volumes about the type of person Pippa really is.

Several weeks later, I was asked to accompany my father-in-law and a couple of his friends to Indianapolis when one of them had to visit the city for a doctor’s appointment.  Being race fans, they had asked if I could show them some of the racing sights around the city, including of course the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  I obliged and did my best to set up a couple fun activities for them throughout the day.   I thought it would be neat for them to meet a driver who had actually raced in the Indianapolis 500 and hear what racing at over 200 mph was really like, so on the ride to Indianapolis that morning I sent Pippa a message to see if she might be available to meet a few impressionable race fans.  Fully expecting her to have plans for the day, I was quite surprised when she messaged back saying she was free and could meet us at the track later that afternoon.  Though we were slightly delayed in arriving thanks to a tour at the Andretti Autosport headquarters (huge thanks to Kimberley Jackson and the great folks at Andretti Autosport) and knowing that Pippa was running short on time, I was concerned that she might not be able to oblige us, but thankfully she was running a bit tardy as well.   For about 20 minutes, we stood in a chilly, windy parking lot while three race fans who had never met Pippa asked her all sorts of questions, ranging from how she got started in racing to her experience as a rookie in this year’s Indianapolis 500 and, of course, her memories of “The Accident.”  Again, few people saw this gesture and donation of Pippa’s time and even fewer noticed it, but it made a remarkable impression on those three gentlemen.  My father-in-law, a minister, even spoke about the experience in a recent sermon to his congregation, so this story, known at the time to only five people, has now been shared with a couple hundred more and Pippa’s fan base has grown as a result of this one small gesture.

Pippa Mann has taken her fair share of lumps and criticism this past year -- some justified and some not -- but stories like these and countless others of her efforts to reach out and connect with the INDYCAR Nation should be remembered every bit as much as what she is able to do on the track.  Sadly, we live in a society that uses a person’s on-track or on-field performance as 95% of the basis for reputation.  The outstanding character of an athlete is sadly all but forgotten if it doesn’t come with a win on the field.  Conversely, unscrupulous character is too easily forgiven from those who do produce victories.  How athletes treat people away from the field is rarely seen by the public, but it is never forgotten by those whom they personally touch.  Pippa Mann is the personification of this trait.  Though these are just two examples, I have personally witnessed many more of these actions throughout the year, and I know fans could fill many pages with their own tales of Pippa’s kindness, even in her most difficult times.  It has been a lot of fun to get to know Pippa and to call her my friend.  But it has been even more inspiring to meet and know someone who believes in treating people right all the time and who I know will make a wonderful role model for my daughter.

At Wheldon’s memorial service, Mike Kitchel, the PR director at Mann’s former team, Panther Racing, spoke these words: “The one thing we control is ourselves and the type of people that we are.  If we could somehow capture one-tenth of the millions and millions of things that made Dan Wheldon great -- being courteous, compassionate, never too busy to stop and speak with a fan, and able to recognize that every once in a while you have a small window to make a positive difference in somebody's life or just to make somebody feel special -- I think that if we could all do that then we could take [INDYCAR Racing] wherever we wanted.”

Pippa Mann certainly captures and displays that spirit.  I know her fellow countryman would really be proud of her.

Paul Dalbey (@Fieldof33) is co-editor of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond.  Paul can be reached at paul@morefrontwing.com.


27 Comments

  1. 1 cover for ipad 2 01 Apr

    He was so lucky, despite of his condition. He never give up.

  2. 2 end of the world 2012 17 Feb
    This is how good sportsman all about,
  3. 3 Claudia 03 Dec
    Wonderful article. It shows that racing car drivers are real people with compassion and understanding of others--not just crazy people racing fast in funny looking motorcars. I really hope Pippa gets well soon.  And for all the other racing car drivers and teams I hope 2012 is fruitful and without pain. 
  4. 4 Steve Herbert 03 Dec

    Very touching article about my favorite Indy Car driver. Pippa is indeed someone very special, as was Dan. I got to meet Dan in 2003 briefly at Indy, and amongst other drivers Dan was one driver i looked out for to do well, he bought such an incredible amount of fun to the series, and for those few minutes i talked to him, stay with me still now, i wish i'd had the money to fly over again since 2003. But was not possible sadly.  I was going to make Goodwood this year. and I didn't. I'm going to miss Dan incredibly, and his tragic loss has affected me more than any driver lost to our sport before.

    Pippa brings the same amount of fun to the series, she is such a character, that watching the qualification days this year from the TV interviews I knew I wanted to follow how well she could do, and being able to connect with her on Facebook and Novus has been incredible, for a driver to give that much time to her fans in that way is something else. I hope to make it over again to Indy maybe in 2013 or 2014 when I'm debt free, and hopefully finally meet Pippa.

  5. 5 brent nowostawski 03 Dec
    very refreshing article.  indy car athletes , owners , corporate , workers , and all involved in indy car racing are a class act. well, i'd say 95% anyway.  also , i find a high percentage of indy car fans are intelligent & knowledgable , unlike so many in other sports.  i've read MANY stories just like this one about pippa. the fact that she went over and beyond in this story just proves the character of this beautiful person , this beautiful racer. i'm not refering to her looks , which also can claim the adjective of beautiful , but i'm refering to the beauty inside this person....the beauty in the talent of this racer.  this is what keeps my faith in people.  i grew up in south bend , in. 150 miles north of indy. ever since i was a child may was my december , the 500 was my christmas.  i still tear up when i see an old pic (or the car at the museum) , or just hear the name mark donohue , my childhood hero along with bobby allison.  that was the early 70's and to this day i look for a sunoco gas station first , and i've been very loyal and dedicated to coca cola. lol , i didn't intend to write all this , i'm sorry for anyone thats still reading !  i just wanted to thank paul for a great article , and everybody that commented. it disturbs me to read most comments in other sports. SO many people are so mean spirited , i just can't understand why.  when did our society become so obsessed with winning is the only thing ?  thats the mindset of the athletes , not the fans.    the so very few professional athletes that have the god given talent , the desire , and the passion to get to where they are , are the most competitive people in the world. every one strives to win , period.  i'm a fan of athletes because i like them , so i back them and support them.  i want them to win every time out. but i realize theres thousands of athletes that have the same goal.   nobody can win all the time , and very few can win sometimes.    why do so many fans think if you don't win , or don't win often enough , that you suck ?   honestly , how ignorant can people with that mindset be ?  i'm from south bend (i'm a huge fan and go to many games in several sports) indy is my favoroite town (i go to 1 , sometimes 2 colts games a year) i wore my colts blue when we were  1-15 , when we won the super bowl , and now when we're  0-11.  same with the pacers.   same with andretti autosports.  i'm also loyal to chevrolet , so i'll be pulling for all the chevrolet teams in indy car next year.  but no matter what , i'll never criticize or put down an athlete or team because they're not doing well. i know THEY are putting it all out and nobody wants to win more that the competitor themselves.  even if ganassi wins indy next year (i hope not !  lol ) i will be happy for and respect the winner.  then i will be excited about the next event and hope my team or athlete has a better day.   i've been looking at some nascar sites and i can't believe what so many people post on there. its horrible.   i'm no saint , and i don't have a college education.  i'm street wise not booksmart. i don't get offended by anything.  however the posts on so many other sites are so mean spirited , hatefull and sometimes even racist. i don't know how many times i've read people on a nascar site put down and degrade indy car and its racers.  they hide behind their anonymous keyboard and claim their "freedom of speech".  so i really can't argue that , it is the united states of america. but , why do so many put all their effort into hate ?  what happened to class and character or , if you don't have anything good to say.......?     okay , i'll jump off my box now.  great article paul !  great comments all you indy car and pippa fans !   best of luck , and you are very much admired pippa !  ALL of you are helping me keep faith in people.....thanks
  6. 6 Mark Scott 02 Dec
    Thanks for a great article. I have met Pippa a few times including the Champions get together at BB Kings. She is always very friendly and easy to talk too. I told her the last time I had seen her that her wrist was in a cast, she didn't miss a beat and held out both hands and said " all good now". It breaks my heart to think of the pain she is now going through and the scars she will carry. That said from all the tweets I have read she is still that positive, upbeat young lady she has always been.! I believe good things happen for good people, and Pippa is good people! Hang in there girl, Keep up that tenacity that I know you have. Someone give this girl a ride!
  7. 7 David Williams 02 Dec
    Having only more accolades to heap onto Pippa, I feel rather redundant, but I will not pass up the opportunity to sing her praises.  As one of her fans on Facebook and nov.us I can attest to what everyone is saying -- she is a genuinely warm-hearted, funny, talented woman who is dead serious about racing and determined to succeed at the highest level.  I have never encountered a driver so willing to interact with her fans, consistently, with an open heart -- I feel as much her friend as if I knew her personally.  The columns and diary entries and blog entries she writes are fascinating -- as a professional writer and editor myself, I can say that her writing is on a high, professional level.  To witness her reaction to the really horrific injury to her hand in that tragic Vegas crash -- level-headed, forward-looking, determined to get back into a race car and onto a track as soon as possible -- no one could doubt that she is a true racer.
  8. 8 Earl 02 Dec
    Great article about a great Lady.Speedy recovery for Pippa is in my prayers.
  9. 9 John Stephens 02 Dec

    Go Pippa! She HAS to be full-time in 2012! Sponsors, this is your lady!!

  10. 10 Tony Zarlenga 02 Dec
    Fantastic article about an awesome person .... just wish more people were like her. All the best to Pippa praying for her speedy recovery.
  11. 11 ROC 02 Dec
    GREAT ARTICLE !!!!..........
  12. 12 Michael Wallis 02 Dec
    It's nice to read an article like this. Rarely do fans hear stories like this but I am not surprised to hear of on about Pippa Mann. Never had the pleasure of meeting her but she has always replied to any tweets I have sent her and constantly keeps her fans up to date on what she is doing. Her blogs she writes always an excellent read and it is obvious she puts her all into a drive when she gets one. I hope she makes a speedy recovery and get a full drive for 2012 and beyond as I believe she has more than proved her capability. Definately a fan for life.
  13. 13 Michael Wallis 02 Dec
    It's nice to read an article like this. Rarely do fans hear stories like this but I am not surprised to hear of on about Pippa Mann. Never had the pleasure of meeting her but she has always replied to any tweets I have sent her and constantly keeps her fans up to date on what she is doing. Her blogs she writes always an excellent read and it is obvious she puts her all into a drive when she gets one. I hope she makes a speedy recovery and get a full drive for 2012 and beyond as I believe she has more than proved her capability. Definately a fan for life.
  14. 14 Jim Gray 02 Dec
    While I don't have the experience of knowing Pippa directly or even having ever talked to her, I also find her to be an incredible person.  She has been kind enough to actually respond to my tweets a few times, even getting snarky when one was misread then sending another message saying sorry (while I was still laughing at the first).  Anyone who reads her timeline or follows her on facebook can easily see her humor, spirit, love of racing, and how engaging she is with her fans.  I am happy to be a Pippa fan and have recently aquired some of her merchandise to proudly wear around.  Now if we could just work on getting her a full time ride!
  15. 15 Gary Cochard 02 Dec

    Wonderful article!  After being a friend of Pippa's on Facebook, it doesn't take long to figure out that her character and exuberant personality are good for the Indycar series, and the sport in general. 

  16. 16 James R 02 Dec

    What a wonderful article. I am really happy to have folks like you and Zachary and Steph, Paul, bringing us some great stories during a drama-filled offseason. We often hear so much negativity, but it's great to know there's still a place for character and humility in the world.

    Three cheers for Pippa!

  17. 17 Ingrid 02 Dec
    This is a top reason I am a Pippa fan!  Even in my very, very short time of meeting her during the autograph session at Indy, you could tell she was happy to be there and meet with the fans.  Pippa is Number One in my book.
  18. 18 Bruce 02 Dec
    Great article.  Pip has what I believe the Brits used to call "good breeding".  I go back to the age of Graham Hill, and in this era I have come across few such fine drivers and authentic personalities. She is on her game 24/7, and despite her focus, she has a sense of humor, too. 
  19. 19 Steve Herman 02 Dec
    Pippa is one race car driver we can all emulate! I have always found her to be very responsive to us autograph seekers. She even posed with me with her trophy after she won her Indy Lights Race at Kentucky. In following her on Facebook and Indycar Nation my respect for her continues to grow!! I know all of Indycar feels the same!!
  20. 20 Jane Jacobson 02 Dec
      Paul this is an EXCELLENT article- shows the world the other side that most people dont notice...Pippa is a true racer whos dedicated to her fans. We  just know shes going to follow Dannys footsteps  as a fellow Brit and do him proud. Each year cant wait to see and chat with her when she races at my home track.She always takes the time for her loyal fans.  yet- shes like the girl next door.. laid back, easy going, but one very determined gal , shes been through the meat grinder it seems and always bounces back somehow. We will always be part of her fan base  racing or not. Shes quite the inspiration for fellow female racers!  Pippa- Good Luck in 2012 and looking forward to seeing YOU on the podium!
  21. 21 Chris Crumpacker 02 Dec

    What a great story. She is a great person first and a driver second. 

  22. 22 marty munce 02 Dec
    the first time i talked to pippa on novus I could tell what kind of person she was you just know she is  one very speical person! all the time i talked to her she was like a real friend, and i just love that about her she is just a real person. and ive raced midget for 30 years, and i think she got what it takes to be a great driver someone has to give her a car that she can win and she will do it, i feel it. please someone give her a chance!!!!!! your freind marty munce always!
  23. 23 Chuck Burns 02 Dec
    I can attest that Pippa is a wonderful driver to be associated with. In our former years with Indy Downforce (the Official Fan Club of IndyCar before the name was changed to IndyCar Nation), Pippa was always the 'first' to offer to help with any of our charities. She was even voted, by fans at all the racing venues as the Firestone Indy Lights "Most Poplular Driver" for 2010!! Thanks Pippa! You are still our favorite Driver, because you 'are' so caring of your fans. I remember when she showed up the morning after a serious accident in the Freedowm 100 for a club event, so bruised and battered that she could hardly move, but she told us that she had promised to be their, and she 'had' to keep her word to the fans. She won us all over that day.  Chuck
  24. 24 Louis 02 Dec

    Pippa is a very great person, I had a chance to have a quick greeting with her at the practice for the last Indy 500 with my Girlfriend and she was so nice to pose for some pictures right away even though she was on the way to a practice session. She took the time for some fans and we were very thankful for that.

    Good luck for the new season Pippa :)

  25. 25 Robert Valentine 02 Dec

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I love to watch and follow Pippa. She is not only a great new racer, but a great inspiration to what life should be about. Like Dan, she is one of the good ones. She not only shares her racing, but shares her thoughts and stories with us fans. I am glad her recovery is on schedule and can't wait to watch her season next year. 

  26. 26 Englander 02 Dec
    Her fellow countrymen and women are proud of her, as they also are of Daniel.
  27. 27 Andy Banfield 02 Dec

    What a great article Paul and so true of Pippa. Thanks for sharing this. Though I haven't gotten to know her as well as you have, I still feel that I can call her a friend just through our various tweets and meetings. It's the kind of person she is, I guess. When Pippa showed up at the first Winter Indy Tweetup, I think we were all so blown away that a competitor in the series would take the time to meet a bunch of unknown and faceless Indy Car fans. Her continued involvement with fans on Twitter and at the track is a true statement of her character. Last season at Mid-Ohio, she showed up at a fan meeting with Shea Holbrook and Shannon McIntosh and spent some more of her time with the fans. This is truly an incredible lady that can compete on the highest level and is an asset to the Series.

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