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 fiancée 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)
Bill Zahren: 'Dan Wheldon'
Tony DiZinno: 'Much Appreciated, Dan'
Staff Sgt. Les Newport - 'Guard Member Remembers Indy Driver Wheldon Fondly'