Monday, October 24, 2011


It was a full house at Conseco Field yesterday afternoon as fans flocked in the thousands to pay their final respects to Dan Wheldon. Susie Wheldon and her family were in attendance, as well as Wheldon’s close friends and colleagues.  The memorial was a silent, respectful affair. Fellow driver Justin Wilson commented after the ceremony: ‘Dan’s memorial was perfect, just like he would have wanted it.’ A 2012 IndyCar sat on stage left, painted in white with red stripes on the bodywork to match the colours of the English flag, Wheldon’s trademark Lionheart symbol emblazoned across the sidepods.  Slideshows of Dan’s life were shown on projection screens as Reba McEntire, Perry, and Garth Brooks performed.

But what people came to hear were the stories of Dan, and there were many tales to tell.  Speakers took turns delivering their speeches, each recounting their time spent with Wheldon. The speaker’s list included IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, IMS President Jeff Belskus, Panther Racing PR Director Mike Kitchel, Dan’s managers Mickey Ryan and Adrian Sussman, Ganassi Racing manager Mike Hull, and drivers Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, and Bryan Herta. Many tears were shed, but there was also celebration. It was comforting to see Susie and the family laughing along to the humorous anecdotes of Dan, remembering the happier times, as they were.

The following is a selection of quotes from the memorial service:

'Dan saw the funny side of life and helped us all to laugh about it.' – Jeff Belskus

'I wanted a trophy and a pace car for each of my boys.' – Adrian Sussman recalls why Wheldon wanted to win a second Indy 500

'Dan was the only guy I knew who had 200 pairs of shoes. It looked a like a communist country's military shoe parade across the floor.' - Mickey Ryan recounting a trip to Wheldon's closet

'Dan Wheldon was all about engagement. His belief was that life was better when it was shared with each other.' - Mike Hull

‘He was a brother that we didn’t ask for. I mean, a guy that looks better than the three of us… Younger, hungry for a win, won more races… Single. He was the only one of us who looked like he belonged in a boy band.’ – Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, & Bryan Herta on their early days with Wheldon

‘He had more hair products than any single girl combined together here.' - Tony Kanaan on Wheldon’s hotel bathroom at Motegi, Japan

‘Without doubt, the tightest race suit I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised he fathered two kids, to be honest.’ – Dario Franchitti on Wheldon’s firesuit

‘The guy was trying to make up for an entire country’s worth of bad dental work in one mouth’ – Bryan Herta on Wheldon’s Million Dollar Smile

‘He is the only guy to be on the Borg Warner trophy with two different sets of teeth.’ – Dario Franchitti on Wheldon’s dental transformation

‘We used to think Dan was really high maintenance… Then we got Marco (Andretti) as a teammate.’ – Dario Franchitti 

‘At first Dan was the little brother we didn’t want. Now, we’d do anything to have him back. We miss you D-Dub.’ – Dario Franchitti

'That's how I want to remember Dan: Always happy. Always smiling, and always shining down on us.' – Randy Bernard

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Super Sic

As I am typing this, I am still in shock over the sudden and tragic passing of Moto GP Racer Marco Simoncelli. It has only been six days since Dan Wheldon's fatal accident at Las Vegas, and I was barely coming to grips with the fact that he was no longer with us. The memorial at Conseco Field in Indianapolis today was meant to be a celebration of Dan's life, and I had hopes that with remembrance would come some form of closure.

Now another death has struck the motorsport community. Simoncelli was involved in a horrific crash with Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi during Lap 1 at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Rossi was unhurt and Edwards suffered a dislocated shoulder, but Simoncelli's helmet flew off as he hit the ground. Initial prognosis was hopeful - Reports said Simoncelli had regained consciousness after impact and was rushed to the Medical Centre. An agonizing 27 minutes passed before Race Officials decided to cancel the race. The ominous signs suddenly started flooding in - The lack of any official news, the muted talks between race officials and drivers Casey Stoner & Dani Pedrosa. Then finally, Italian Television broke the news that Simoncelli had died from his injuries. Fingers were crossed, prayers were said, all to no avail. Simoncelli was gone. Taken far too soon.

A driver friend of mine once said to me, 'Everybody Dies, but Not Everybody Lives'. Professional drivers live lives that are far more extraordinary than most. But when death happens it still takes us by surprise. Ayrton Senna was 34 when he died at Imola. Wheldon was 33. Marco Simoncelli was 24.

Despair can be such an irrational feeling. I didn't know Marco personally, but racing is a unique sport in that it fosters a sense of family like no other sport in the world. The collaborative nature of motorsports means everyone is connected to some degree or another. Naturally, when death strikes in racing, it's treated like a death in the family. The logical side of my brain is saying this makes no sense at all. But then so is the cruel reality of what just happened.

My thoughts and well wishes go out to the Simoncelli Family and the entire HRC Moto GP Team during this very difficult time.  Rest In Peace Super Sic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dan Wheldon: A Life in Pictures (1978-2011)

There are times when words fail to convey the enormity of the sentiment, or rather a lack of courage to craft those words together. Five months ago, Dan Wheldon was kissing the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after his incredible upset win at the fabled Indy 500. At 33, Wheldon was a man on the cusp of making a phoenix-like comeback after being sidelined from the sport that, in the words of his dad Clive, ‘was born for’.

Today, that man is no longer with us.

A litany of essays has been written in tribute to Dan Wheldon, the most fitting of which I have linked to below. Rather than reiterate Wheldon’s life and his many achievements in passage, when scribes before me have done a far better job, I thought it apt to celebrate Dan’s life in photos instead.

Most knew Wheldon as a fervent driver. Those who raced and worked alongside him understood him to be an extremely hard worker and a worthy adversary. To his wife Susie, he was a doting husband and father to their two sons. And more recently, he took on the role of commentator on television, delighting those who watched him with his wisdom and candor about the sport he loved so much.

And the smile. That picture-perfect Kodak smile he was known for that garnered him so much adoration from fans and cameras alike. That’s the one thing I will remember him by the most.

Life in the Limelight can be harsh, even for someone as photogenic as Dan Wheldon. Here friend and Versus TV colleague Lindy Thackston gives Wheldon a quick touch-up before stepping in front of the camera. ‘He was passionate about making the broadcast the best it could be,’ observed fellow host  Kevin Lee. ‘Dan was an immediate success and would have had a long second career once he was finished driving.’ (Photo: Robbie Floyd)

The Good Times: Dan Wheldon flashing his trademark smile next to fellow driver Paul Tracy on a fuzzy night in Tokyo, Japan. Wheldon’s  ‘dental transformation’ in 2008 was the birthplace of much comedic fodder over the years, which Wheldon attributed to his then-upcoming marriage to Susie: ‘I'm going to be married pretty soon, so as my responsibility of fiancĂ©e I thought it might be wise to go to the dentist.’ Joked Wheldon. (Photo: Paul Tracy)

Saturday Night: The night before the big finale, husband Dan and wife Susie got his and her initials tattooed on their wrists at the Palms Hotel. Wheldon was happy to show it off the next day, as Alex Tagliani remembers. ‘He was my brother from another mother.’ (Photo: Mark Waters)

Wheldon proved this year that he was just as adept in front of a microphone as he was behind the wheel of a race car. ‘He had great enthusiasm and great insight,’ Robin Miller praised his partner in crime on camera. Hilarity often ensued between the two as they parodied F1’s formal grid walks and embarked on their own ‘Grid Runs’ before races in attempts to land as many interviews as possible.

A Rockstar Welcome: A dramatic entrance as Dan Wheldon rose his way onto the platform during Driver Introductions amidst plumes of smoke at the Las Vegas Finale on Sunday Morning.  Ever the consummate professional, Wheldon took questions from Scott Goodyear via radio during the formation laps. (Photo: AP)

Wheldon strikes a pose in front of the next-generation Dallara IndyCar for 2012 at IMS. Chosen for his ability on providing insightful feedback, Wheldon was instrumental in attempts to make the new car safer and better to drive. At time of writing, company founder Gianpaolo Dallara has announced he will dedicate the new IndyCar in Wheldon’s name. ‘He has been a true champion… A true and warm man to all the people he encountered.’ (Photo: Steve Swope)

The Ecstacy of Victory: Dan Wheldon crosses the fabled yard of bricks and wins the 2011 Indianapolis 500. He led the race on the last lap for 912 feet. (Photo: AP)

All in the Family: Newly minted Indy 500 winner poses next to the Borg-Warner Trophy with his wife Susie and their two sons, Sebastian and Oliver.  Longtime friend Tony Kanaan remarked on Fatherhood’s profound impact on Wheldon after their first son was born: ‘Knowing Dan the way I do, it’s funny to see him as a father. More responsible, talking like dad now. It’s a different guy.’ (Photo: Getty)

Wheldon always made time to bond with his fans, especially children. ‘He was kind of brash… but he was a charmer,’ recalled Dario Franchitti. Here he passes on a hat to an enthused young fan from Victory Circle at Homestead in 2005. (Photo: Jim Wise

Like Father, Like Son: When it came time for pictures at the Brickyard after winning the Indianapolis 500, Wheldon brought his son Sebastian along for the photo op. Seeing his father kneeling down and kissing the row of bricks that marked the start/finish line at the famed circuit, Sebastian followed suit, unprompted by his father. (Photo: Getty)

Here are a selection of essays from friends and colleagues dedicated to the memory of Dan Wheldon. All are agonizing to read as they are well written without compromise. (Updated on 19 October 2011)