This blog has been silent for a while now due to personal and professional reasons but it can remain silent no longer. I really wish I didn’t have to type this but I must. Dan Wheldon is no longer with us. It does not seem real. It must be a nightmare. Someone please wake me from this but it is true. Dan Wheldon lost his life doing the thing he loved the most racing an Indycar. If you don’t know who that is or how devastating that is. Well I don’t really have the words to explain it to you. I’ve seen many of my fellow fans search for the words that just won’t come. It’s not even about racing, if you never heard Dan speak, I feel bad for you because if you had you would have liked him.
Dan Wheldon wasn’t just a great racer he was a great person. Although I never personally met him I feel as though I did. Dan was a truly nice person and a great guy. I missed a chance to meet him this year at Indy on opening day. He was back in the garage and was interviewing with the track announcer while I was sitting watching practice laps in the grandstand. As soon as he came up on the TV screens at the track saying they were just a small team this year and weren’t even going out to practice on opening day I thought “Damn if I knew he was back there, I would liked to say hello and met him and get his autograph.” Dan always had time for fans. He was warm and personable so I’m sure he would have happily signed by checked flag that I had reserved for winners of the Indy 500. Although his career was up in air at the time and I worried that he might still not have a full time next year I was sure I would see him next year one way or another. The Indy 500 just wouldn’t run with out him being involved. How wrong I was. I can’t believe it but it is true. The Indy 500 will still be there but it will continue without its champion.
It came close to running without him this year, until Dan made a call to his friend Bryan Herta who owned a small racing team that ran on a shoestring budget. The call wasn’t really a business call since they were former teammates and friends from their time at Andretti Green Racing. When Bryan asked Dan what his option for this year’s race were, Dan laid what little option he had which consisted on smaller team that didn’t really have a chance to win the race in Dan’s opinion so he had not committed yet. Dan didn’t want to run the Indy 500 just to run it. He wanted a chance to win. Bryan told him to hold on because he had something in the works and he would call him back. Dan knew that Bryan didn’t joke about business and was serious about this. Somehow Bryan put together a deal and was able to convince Dan that they had a shot. As it turns out they had more than a shot, they did the improbable. They won.
This would eventually lead to Sunday’s events. I am sure many will seek to blame someone about this but there is really none to be had. Dan Wheldon was a racecar driver. Whether there was a five million dollar challenge or not there were cars available for that race and Dan Wheldon would have been in one of them. His love for the sport was that big. It was infectious. You could not help but be pulled in by his enthusiasm. As he worked as a commentator this year joking about being “an unemployed guy” his love of the sport came through. As people heaped praise upon him about his announcing he thought that was nice but I’m not ready to retire yet. I want to race. So he did one last time.
I am struck by his final words as they interviewed him in the car before the race. A practice I always hate because I feel that you should not distract a driver while he is on the racetrack. They need to have their full attention on the road even under warm up or yellow. Racing is dangerous. We forget that. The first thing Dan did was name drop every sponsor on that car even the little ones because he knew what it was like to be without one. He even made a little joke about Curb Records that was a small sponsor that was something about Taylor Swift that I couldn’t quite make out. That was Dan, always joking, always upbeat and happy. When they asked him about whether he thought he could win this race from the back of the field he said “If I didn’t think I could win I would not be here.” It was typical Dan.
Everyone liked Dan. Even if they were mad at him they could not stay mad for long. Dan was supposed to replace Danica Patirck in the GoDaddy car next year. These two are forever linked since she appeared on the Indycar scene the year he won the Indy 500 the first time. While she garnered more attention he liked to remind people, I won the Indy 500 that year. Later on they would famously have words over a racing incident, which Dan would brush off the argument as Danica being feisty. After the race Sunday when interviewed about the tragic events of the day, Danica described though tears that it was hard because she had lost a friend. Rivals had become friendly. Not close but friendly. You just could not stay mad at the guy.
That is what we should remember about Dan. He was a great guy. He was a great racer indeed but a better human being. If we had more people like Dan the world would be a better place. He left us doing the thing he loved. While this saddens us and brings us to tears, we know he would want us to continue. You need look no further than the last tweet from his twitter account. Although he didn’t tweet it, I know he meant it. It simply said “Green.”
It is green Dan. Time to go.