1 May 1994.
I had spent the Saturday night with friends in Atlanta so I wasn’t able to watch the San Marino Grand Prix from Imola live Sunday morning as I normally would have. While I drove back to Athens late Sunday morning, wondering whether my VCR had rendered the race to tape as instructed, the DJ spoke up with news from the Formula 1 racing series. Instantly on alert, this notice coming over the air in NASCAR country, where Formula 1 essentially didn’t exist and certainly had never been mentioned on any radio program I had ever heard, I waited for news of an event grim enough to merit mention. Formula 1 World Champion Ayrton Senna of Brazil has been killed in Italy, in a racing accident.
I don’t actually remember whether my VCR recorded the race. I think not. I’ve seen plenty of footage in the years since, and I remember going through all the foreign papers in the university library in the days and weeks that followed, seeking a breadth and depth of coverage that approached my own sense of loss.
I didn’t know the man. Now I know he had human flaws to match his super-human talents. I’ve come think it silly to invest too much in sporting stars. They’re just people, if highly talented, skilled, and dedicated people engaged in admirable pursuits. But Senna occupied considerable space in my consciousness at the time and in the years around it; he was F1, to me. His genius, competitiveness, passion, and sheer singlemindedness made it easy for a high school and college kid to be drawn in to his orbit. I, along with my father and brother, was drawn all the way to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, in August 1993, my first and still only first-hand F1 race attendance.
I’m not sure that Spa experience could ever be bettered. And I’m certain there will be no displacing of Senna.