Quick question: What’s the biggest sporting event this weekend? The Belmont Stakes? The Stanley Cup Final? The NBA Final?
Nope. The biggest TV audience will be on the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix, the sixth leg in a 21-race series that began in Australia in March and ends in Abu Dhabi in November. After soccer, Formula One is the most-watched sport on the planet.
Except in America.
Which is why chances are that you haven’t heard of Robert Kubica, a Polish Formula One driver for Sauber-BMW from 2006-2009 and Renault in 2010-2011, winning his one and only race in June 2008 at the Canadian Grand Prix—which is held every year in June on Île Notre-Dame (literally “The Island of Our Lady”), a man-made island in Montreal.
But Kubica, who moved from Formula One racing to the even crazier World Rallye Cross, isn’t remembered so much for his being the only Pole to win an F1 Race. He is recalled for surviving a crash so harrowing that he should have been killed by the massive impact. Words can’t describe the crash (which occurred at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007, just one year before he won on the same course), so here’s a link to the video of it. Warning: this is a harrowing depiction of a high-impact smash:
Kubica was seriously injured, but recovered to race again—and win—at the very same circuit the next year. A course held on an island dedicated to Our Lady. Coincidence?
During his healing process Kubica made various statements to the press about the intercession of fellow-Pole and then-soon-to-be saint, John Paul II. Ultimately Kubica sidestepped the issue of divine intercession of John Paul and downplayed the Polish pope’s role in preserving his life.
After his career in Formula One ended in 2011, Kubica took up World Rallye Cross (WRC) racing. While you might possibly come across a Formula One race on NBCSN in the middle of the night, World Rallye Racing (WRC) is an even rarer and stranger sight. The races are held in stages (sort of like the Tour de France) and on real roads in all kinds of conditions, including snow, ice, sleet and rain. Crashes in WRC are the norm.
So to almost absolutely no one’s surprise, Kubica was again involved in another yet accident of life-and-death proportions four years after his disaster in Montreal, this time in a remote area of Italy. For this crash there was no vacillating on the help of St. John Paul: the Archbishop of Krakow, John Paul’s former secretary Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, produced a drop of the late pope’s blood to help with Kubica’s recovery. So severe were the driver’s injuries that it was thought his right hand, and possibly arm, would have to be amputated.
Thankfully (miraculously?) Kubica’s hand was saved, and in so doing, so was his racing career, though it is doubtful he will return to the highest echelon of Grand Prix driving, Formula One.
No one in his right mind believes God Himself intervenes in sporting events (otherwise Notre Dame wouldn’t have been waiting since 1988 to win another football championship). But Kubica, who hails from the same town in Poland as St. John Paul, seems to have been blessed twice—not because he won a Formula One race (which is of no import, really), but because his life was saved in one instance and his arm was saved in another.
Which brings to mind one of the classiest moments in Formula One. The weekend John Paul died, Ferrari, the oldest and winningest team in the history of the spor,t painted the front of their cars black (instead of their traditional scarlet) in honor of the Pope’s passing. After all, this is the same pope who years earlier visited the Ferrari factory and had his photograph taken in a Ferrari Mondial Spyder convertible.
While John Paul II didn’t need Kubica’s miraculous recoveries to further his cause for beatification in the Canadian crash and canonization with the World Rallye Cross disaster, one can’t help but wonder if St. John Paul was looking down on his young countryman and keeping him from further harm. And telling him—and all of us—to drive safely.