Not much to say here. Indycar nation has lost one of the greatest ambassadors of the sport. Dan Wheldon was fatally injured in the season ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The event was cancelled and another chapter of indycar history is closed; punctuated by the tragic events of Sunday afternoon. Instead of writing a eulogy or memorial: I thought I would share the moments that made me love Dan Wheldon and why he quickly became my favorite driver of recent years.
As a fan, I did not know Dan Wheldon, personally, at all. When he came into the series in 2003, my initial thoughts on him were not many. In the early years of his career, Dan didn’t do much too really make himself stand out to me. He was another, tough competitor but he never resonated and drew me into his corner. That is, until the 2009 Indy 500. It was another empty Tuesday during the first week of practice. I only wok about 15 minutes from the track, so after clocking out at 3:30 I would hustle over and catch a few hours of action before the sessions ended at six. I was standing behind, his then team, Panther Racing’s pits while he was doing his final debriefing with his engineer right before the close of practice.
A young couple with a, what looked to be, a three year old little girl was also watching the pits near me as well. They called to Dan to get some autographs. When he came over, the cute little toddler stated talking to Wheldon; giving him an animal cracker in the process. Dan, being the consummate professional that he is, actually made conversation with the little girl, pretending to eat the animal cracker as well.
He looked rushed but spent a good five minutes with the small family before hopping on a cart and getting whisked away into the depths of the garage. I had never seen anything like that before. Dan, not only, made a three year old a fan of indycar, but also made me a huge fan of his. I hung around his pit in the afternoons during the following sessions and witnessed moments like this every time he was out of the car.
Dan Wheldon was the fans dream and more than happy to oblige. In Kentucky, My roommate really wanted to snag his autograph. We found him as he was stepping out of the Verse sky lair after his prerace interview. Obviously hurried, he not only stopped to sign his hat but made conversation and did not appear to be in any kind of rush to brush the fans off. He signed a few more autographs, shook a few more hands and headed back to the garages.
The indycar community is a close one, and the huge amount of support for Dan’s family, the teams, series officials and us fans has just been amazing. It’s nice to know in times like this, even being a small and geographically separated fan base, support can be found immediately.
I will be posting regularly through the off season, but anotherindycarblog will be silent for the rest of the week. After Sunday afternoon, I need a bit of a break to refresh the mind, and recharge the batteries. Thank you to all the readers who have supported my small corner of the internet though this first season of life, and please keep Dan Wheldon, his family and everyone involved close to your hearts and thoughts.
I leave you will the amazing video of the three by three, five lap parade to finish the season; a tribute to the amazing man that was taken from the world far too soon. Although the video starts with the painful announcement of Dan’s passing; Marty Reid’s impromptu eulogy and the reverence of the situation that the rest of the broadcasting crew displayed was deeply touching. We love you Dan Wheldon; you will be sorely missed, but surely not forgotten.