Sunday, October 16, 2011
On the Passing of Dan Wheldon
Like I said on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not like I knew the guy as a friend, but I met him at both Richmond International Raceway and Indy as a “media” member for the Furious Wedge (as it was called then), and both times he was as kind and nice as could be to me. He didn’t ask who I worked for, didn’t look at my credentials to make sure I was legit, I asked a question after qualifying in Richmond in the media bullpen and he smiled and answered and was as nice as could be. There’s a lot of drivers in the series, and a lot of them are happy, distant, shy or pricks depending on how the day is, but I’ve watched Dan since he was in the minor leagues, and I seriously don’t think I’ve ever seen him be angry… ever… He always signed the most autographs and stayed the longest around for fans and to take pictures, and the year he lost the championship on a technicality of tie-breaker, he wasn’t angry, disappointed, but not angry and whining about rules; he took it in stride and came back the next year driven to not have a tie breaker get him again.
He simply loved racing, and loved life. One year my wife and I decided to vacation to Vegas for Thanksgiving week. I of course knew the karting SKUSA Supernats were in town that week so we fit it in for a day, and sure enough Dan was competing; and when he wasn't competing you found him talking to other aspiring karters and fans, that was Dan at his purest.
One year at a race in Homestead-Miami he was dominating the race when his team completely screwed up a pit-stop, and he lost like 16 places as a result, and instead of being angry on the radio, he told his team not to worry about it and that he’d do his part to get those spots back… and he did, coming all the way back to win.
Even when the Ganassi-Target team was found out to be negotiating with another driver (tony Kanaan) to replace him in 2008, he didn’t say anything bad about them, he went about his way behind the scenes and started negotiating with other teams but publicly kept plugging his sponsors at his current team, same thing for National Guard team when he was there… I seriously can’t say just how happy and full of life he was, and that’s what made his win at Indy this year so great, he was there celebrating with his son, even though he knew that was likely his only race this year, then he jumped in the broadcasting booth and immediately had all the fans loving him and wanting him to become a broadcaster if he wasn’t going to be racing because he was so good.
Like so many racers before him taken too young, he had so much ahead of him, the broadcasters were chatting with him from his car on the pace laps and Kelly and I were just commentating on how he is the best spoken driver in the series and a PR dream because he has mastered the talent of mentioning sponsors without making it sound forced. He not only won Indy, but not just 2 days ago it was announced that he had just signed a new contract with the Andretti team to be Danica’s replacement, he was about to go back to one of the best teams in the prime of his career. And outside of his career, he went from being a young 21 year old rookie talking about partying every night to married and just having had his second child... and that’s the part that really makes this a travesty, right now none of that other stuff matters.