The better part of valor: Conway recuses himself from INDYCAR finale

May 15, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar series driver Mike Conway and teammate Wade Cunningham talk on pit road before practice for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE

No more.

That is what Mike Conway said when he considered taking part in this season's final IZOD IndyCar Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Conway, a genial, mild-tempered Brit, has plenty of reason to hate high-speed oval racing. His shunt in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 still gets airplay even today. A similar wreck in this year's 500 was one of the most frightening tests of the new Dallara DW12 chassis.

And then there is Dan.

Eleven months ago, Conway was in the field for another season-ending INDYCAR race at a high-speed oval. The race was cut short when a vicious multi-car crash resulted in his countryman Dan Wheldon's death.

Conway weighed all of the variables, measured all of the angles. Then he did what very few racing drivers have ever done - or, at least, would admit to doing, or even wanting to do.

He walked into the offices of A.J. Foyt Racing and asked them to remove him from his race seat.

Forget the testosterone-laden bloviating that is done about motorsports; don't quote that hoary old Hemingway cliché; save the inevitable, albeit behind-the-back questioning of Conway's manhood. What Mike Conway did was as courageous as anything he could have done behind the wheel.

"It took a lot of courage for Mike to come forward and we respect him highly for that and we certainly want to honor his decision," agreed Larry Foyt, the team's director.

To understand why it is an act of courage and not one of cowardice, you must understand that there are easier and far less public ways of keeping oneself out of danger in an auto race. High-downforce setups in lieu of the less-stable ones which are necessary to run up front; claiming a mechanical failure and falling out early; or even just lighter pressure on the gas pedal. Boom. You stay out of trouble, you stay away from the madness, you salvage your ego.

But to let it slip to the public that you asked out of the ride, that you admit you are frightened, that you do not trust yourself or the venue under the conditions at hand... that requires backbone. Because you know that in the immediate aftermath people will question your commitment, your ability, your nerve... even your very career.

The #14 ABC Supply car will instead have Wade Cunningham in the driver's seat, a young New Zealander with more time in the INDYCAR ladder system than Conway had and who could be considered an oval-racing specialist.

Conway, who came to INDYCAR racing from the European ladder, may end up back there if he cannot find another opportunity. It is possible that he might find a partial-season deal for an INDYCAR team solely on road and street courses; it may be that he could even stay with A.J. Foyt Racing. He is, after all, a proven winner in an IndyCar. But in the cold, dog-eat-dog world of professional motorsports, his forthrightness might be his undoing in the eyes of owners for whom personal courage counts less than other factors.

But Mike Conway deserves our respect, not derision. And even if he never turns another lap in an IndyCar, he still has proven that he does have the right stuff, even if showing it meant he had to give up the most important thing in his professional life.

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