You might be wondering why I am writing another post about the tragic loss of two-time Indy 500 Champion Dan Wheldon. There are several reasons. On a personal level, he was my favorite driver on the current IndyCar circuit – very likeable, honest, friendly, with an infectious smile and wonderful family. Certainly not a prima donna or egomaniac like so many famous people can be and are.
Second – his story is a triumph over immense odds. He did not have a team for the 2011 season – yet, despite that, he won the biggest auto race in the world in spectacular and exciting fashion.
Third – in ten Indy 500s, Dan Wheldon finished first twice and second twice. In fact, all those came since 2005, which means he either won or finished second in 57 percent of the Indy 500s since 2005. That is an amazing statistic that I doubt has ever been or ever will be matched.
Fourth – Since he did not have a team this year (he had signed to race for Andretti Motor Sports next year), Dan had been a commentator for many of the races this year. He was superb – better than any other auto racing announcer for Indy Car and NASCAR. His passion for auto racing was evident in his commentary.
Lastly, all of us develop bonds with certain celebrities during our lives. We may not know them from Adam, but something about them makes us a fan. As with Princess Diana, Dale Earnhardt, or Steve Jobs, we are heartbroken when this celebrity passes away, especially in a tragic or untimely way.
Let’s face it, Dan Wheldon should not have died on Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas. He should be playing with his two young sons and hugging his wife and family members as I write this post. But, he is not and I am quite pissed about it. To me, Dan Wheldon was the innocent victim of a series of unfortunate decisions and all of us, yes all of us are suffering as a result. Anyone and anything associated with IndyCar died a little on Sunday.
I grew up in Indianapolis and absolutely love IndyCar racing. My grandparents and later my aunt and uncle owned a business in downtown Speedway, Indiana, just blocks from the track. While this tragedy may not be the death knell of open-wheel racing altogether, it had better change how race officials react to concerns expressed by drivers. No one knows better whether a track is safe or not, than the drivers themselves. Between the idiocy of trying to restart races in wet track conditions to racing on tracks that were not designed for this style and speed of auto-racing, the drivers need to be consulted early and often.
Other drivers have died over the decades, but none of their tragedies seem like such a preventable waste of a talented and likeable human being, as this tragic accident. Dan Wheldon has been one of IndyCar’s best spokespersons in the past decade – not constantly vying for media attention, seeking lucrative advertising stardom, or running off to (or hinting at) other racing formats for personal glory. He was in it to win it. Below, is a photograph that I am proud to say my cousin took last May of Dan Wheldon kissing the bricks after his victory, at the finish line of the Indy 500.
No other photograph I have seen demonstrates so well what IndyCar and Indianapolis meant to this good man.
Personally, I think the $5 million dollar prize that was up for grabs at Las Vegas should be donated to the Wheldon family and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway should seriously consider honoring Dan Wheldon’s immense racing legacy in some permanent manner. In my mind, no one else deserves it more. Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon – both I and auto-racing fans around the world will most certainly miss you.