Quebecers and car racing fans around the world are marking the 30th anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve’s death today. The Formula One driver died in a qualifying run accident at the Belgian Grand Prix.
His speed, his daring, and his selflessness were admired by racing fans everywhere, especially in Italy, where the Ferrari family practically adopted him as one of their own.
I’ve never been a big fan of auto racing, but I understand why Villeneuve captured the imagination of so many people around the world, and especially in his home province of Quebec. Gilles was supremely talented, but he gave the impression of being the everyman – unassuming, dedicated, and brave. The little guy from the back woods who beat the odds. If he could pierce the inner circles of one of the world’s most elite sporting events, then maybe there’s a chance for the rest of us.
His death – instead of serving as warning about flirting with risk -has cemented the image of the courageous buccaneer who’s spirit carries on forever.
The Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Montreal is used as an exercise circuit for cyclists, inline skaters, and runners when the Formula One Race is not in town. Even if they are not car racing fans, people are connecting with one of the grand legends of this part of the world.
I’m attaching a Youtube video with racing images of Villeneuve. You’ll note that his wife Joan is in a couple of sequences, with her eyes wide and lit up. When I met her in 1992, as she accompanied her then 17-year-old son Jacques to his first North American race in Trois Rivière, her eyes had a haunted look that I’ve had trouble shaking ever since.