RIP Paul Dana

Dreams dashed - IRL - Yahoo! Sports

Dreams dashed By Bob Margolis, Yahoo! Sports March 26, 2006

Bob Margolis Yahoo! Sports Exclusive I met Paul Dana for the first time in May 1998 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

We were introduced by a mutual friend who thought I'd be interested in meeting a guy who was trying to be a professional race car driver but had been schooled as a journalist.

Paul had a unique perspective on his goals. Despite having gone to college to be a writer, he wanted to race cars. He knew that he was trying to break into a profession that at the time was becoming more and more dominated by young drivers who brought money to the show – and money was something he didn't have.

What he did have was the passion and desire to make it to the big leagues.

That often translated into Paul coming across as a bit pushy, but I loved his overabundant energy. He was always fun to be around. I've always liked people with the kind of passion and energy that Paul exhibited and we easily became friends.

He started having some success driving in the open wheel Barber Dodge Series later that year, and I always got emails from him on Monday mornings after every race. It was part self-promotion (which was a good thing) and part confession that he wished he had done better.

He did well in that series, winning six times in his first professional racing opportunity.

He spent the next several years trying to get a break and find someone who would give him a chance without him having to buy it.

I suppose after realizing that the only way to open doors was with dollars, he began to use one of his strongest assets, his personality, and forge relationships with potential corporate sponsors who would financially support his dream.

We lost touch for several years, but then met up again last May at Indianapolis. He was cautiously excited about his first Indy 500.

While happy to have the opportunity to drive in the biggest race in the world, Dana was concerned that his race car perhaps wasn't the best on the track.

And after his first accident in practice for the 500, he was a bit gun shy.

He was right to be.

He had another wreck the following week, a more serious one that fractured vertebrae in his back and sidelined him from the 500, keeping him away from the thing that he loved the most.

He was able to come back to the track just a couple of weeks later on the weekend of the race, and despite the severity of his injuries he still had that optimism that was his trademark. He hated being sidelined, but he told me right then that he'd get back in a race car.

I last saw him in the fall of last year after his deal with Rahal-Letterman was announced.

It was like he had won the lottery. I'd never seen him so excited. His eyes were full of joy and we talked about how persistence and drive pays off in the end.

He was going to be teammates with Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and the IRL's biggest personality, Danica Patrick.

I have to admit that at the time, I felt a bit of envy. It made me think about all the goals I had never realized and here was Paul living one of his.

We hugged and I wished him luck and he tried to make me promise that I would write good things about him.

With Paul Dana's death Sunday following a crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway, I've now had the misfortune of watching three young drivers that I considered friends have their lives cut short while living their dream.

Greg Moore, Tony Renna and now Paul Dana.

A close friend who also is involved with auto racing once told me that if I was going to be a motorsports journalist, I shouldn't get too close to the drivers.

"They're the ones who die here," he said.

I never did listen to him. Sometimes you can't help it.