I started the month by talking about contrast in that 10 years ago this month I was an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy in Las Vegas. It's somewhat that today I am driving to Vegas for my ongoing tour, but 10 years ago today I was instructing when we got word of a tragedy.
One of my first instructors was an up and coming driver by the name of Tony Renna. He wasn't my primary instructor, but he was my secondary and if anything my dad spoke to him more much more than I did. A year or so later I went back out there and once again he was a secondary instructor and once again I think my dad talked his ear off, but later that year Tony got a call to drive in the IndyCar series as a sub. He impressed with a 4th place finish but when the season was over he once again was rideless.
For the 2003 Indy 500 Tony drove the "Cure Autism Now" car and my dad and I were at the Circle City Mall in downtown Indy and Tony was going to make an appearance but we didn't hang around to say hello. A couple days later he would finish 7th just missing out on Rookie of the Year honors as Tora Takagi finished 5th. After the race he once again didn't have a ride.
Just as I was about to head out to instruct I saw on the racing news that Tony Renna was announced as a driver at Team Ganassi for the 2004 season. For those that don't know racing, Team Ganassi is one of the best teams and is one of the more coveted rides. When I got out to the school all the other instructors were buzzing about it. Then October 22, 2003 happened.
It started out as a normal day at the Academy but as noon approached I could tell there was something apprehensive with the manager and chief instructor. I said nothing but a half-hour later the rumors they heard were true; there had been an accident in a tire test at Indy. Details weren't solid, but what was known was Tony Renna's car got sideways, became airborne, and hit the catch fence at a critical angle. Survival was not a possibility in this crash.
As I mentioned, Tony had been my secondary instructor and I didn't have much interaction with him. I called my dad to inform him the news and I could hear a sadness in his voice. The staff at the school took it roughly and there was deep somberness for the rest of the time I was out there. For myself, this was my first time ever being in the midst of something so tragic. I didn't know what to say, or what to do, so I just kept to myself and did my job. All the local news stations sent crews to our facility to interview various instructors and mechanics about what type of person Tony was and what type of potential he had.
I know my blog has little to do with autism today, but I just felt it right to tell this small story as most racing fans have never heard of Tony Renna, but he was in line to make a name for himself. It's odd, I write this 10 years later but it seems like yesterday; the apprehension, the rumors, and then the confirmation of the loss. It's one thing to hear a story on the news, it's another to be there with people that called Tony a true friend and were there when he was rideless and then when he got the best news of his career. It's a sensation that just can't be forgotten.