The Cult

The Cult: Will Power

Will Power has a name that suggests cool, calm, and collected. In reality, he's none of those things — just one hell of a racing driver.

by Jim Weeks
11 August 2015, 1:15pm

Photo: EPA/SEBASTIAO MOREIRA

From the VICE Sports series The Cult. Read the lot here

Cult Grade: The Name

Let's start by answering the question you're obviously asking: yes, that is his real name; his parents called him Will Power. As in self-control — one's ability to exert their will and master their life and its potential. That's what they wanted him to be called for his entire life.

Which is ironic, because Will Power the racing driver seems so heavily governed by his emotions that he occasionally looks capable of buckling under the sheer weight of them. And then, just when you think he's blown it for the last time, he does something truly special that makes you think, "shit, this guy is as naturally gifted a racing driver as I've seen." Then another wild moment, and you're unsure again. Such is his appeal; there is no telling what comes next.

READ MORE: The Cult — Michael Jordan

The 'name' thing is doubly apt, because most people don't know who Will Power is. He is a one-time champion of a racing series that has been largely irrelevant outside a small band of hardcores since the mid-90s. Outside perhaps Indianapolis, he could walk down any street on the planet and no one would know who he was, and even in the home of American open-wheel racing he'd not be mobbed, just asked a few polite questions and maybe hustled into the odd selfie.

But for the anonymity he might enjoy, Power can lay claim to something that increasingly few racing drivers — and sportspeople in genreal — possess: he is himself. All the time. There is no pretence from Will Power. He's not doing anything for the cameras or the sponsors. He cannot be anyone but himself.

Point of Entry: Medium

Alas, IndyCar isn't a big enough deal to gain high entry status, though Power has been one of its stars for several years now. He won the title in 2014 having finished as runner-up three times on the bounce from 2010 through '12. This year he nearly won the prestigious Indy 500, but lost out to team-mate Juan-Pablo Montoya on the last lap.

In those three runner-up years he was usually the quickest driver, but the odd mistake cost him dear. Power sometimes seems magnetically attracted to trouble, always being released from the pits into a gaggle of cars that he will inevitably hit, always being shuffled back down the order by a strategy mix-up. The collisions are often followed by remonstrations, wrestling with marshals so he can throw his gloves at someone.

Sometimes that stuff makes you wonder about his mental strength and ability to be a racing driver. Then he wins again, and we're back to "shit, he is good."

The near misses are a vital component, too. In 2010 a crash cost him the championship lead at the final race. In 2011 he was involved in a huge accident (this time not his fault) that claimed the life of British driver Dan Wheldon; Power was hospitalised, and though his injuries were not life threatening he again missed the championship. In 2012 he was at fault once more in the final race and lost another title that should have been his.

He finally won it last year after becoming a more consistent (and you could perhaps argue less entertaining) driver. It was his reward for five years of near-misses, incredible speed, and occasional madness.

The Moment: Double Bird, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 2011

After crashing out of a race in New Hampshire in 2011, Power was visibly furious. It was not his fault: the race had been restarted on a wet circuit, which is not the done thing on an oval track. It caused a pileup when the green flag dropped, and the race was quickly called to a halt. Positions were reset to before the restart, so Power had not lost anything in the incident.

But he was Will Power, man of emotion, and he was mad as hell. So he did what any PR conscious dull-as-fuck 21st century athlete would never do: walking past race control, he flipped IndyCar officials with the double bird.

READ MORE: The Cult —Titus Bramble

Of course it was crass and childish, but sometimes people are crass and childish — real people, not intensely staged-managed sports stars. In a business that can sometimes seem dominated by robots, Power came as cross as human. Flawed, a bit mad, but ultimately very human.

It probably defines him a bit much, however: if you search for 'Will Power racing driver', it is the first image that appears, as opposed to one of the many races or the championship he's won. But, as enduring portraits go, it's tough to beat.

Final Words on Member #7

After Will won the title last year his brother Damien, a standup comedian, ran topless through the streets shouting "Will Power won the IndyCar championship!" and brandishing a bottle of Jameson (it's impossible to decipher the reality of it all; it'd be less fun, too).

Will himself was a touch less exuberant: "My hands are numb from hanging on to the wheel so tight," he said after getting out of the car. "I want to be so much more excited, but I'm just drained."

For once, Will was keeping his cool.