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Remembering Dan Wheldon

by Tim Wohlford
Sunday, October 16, 2011

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Dan Wheldon
Two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon died of "unsurvivable injuries" in a massive chain-reaction accident on lap 10 of the Las Vegas IndyCar race. Running for a $5 million dollar prize, his car got caught up at the end of an incident that took out the last 15 cars in the field.  He ran over the wheel of a wrecking car in front of him, catapulting head-first into the SAFER barrier, on top of the SAFER barrier, then into the fence.

Dan died in precisely the type of accident that the new Dallara chassis seeks to prevent with this rear "bumper" in its oval configuration --  ironically, developed over the past year by Dan Wheldon.  In the next race, this type of wheel launching won't happen, partially due to Dan's work.

No one ever doubted Dan’s driving abilities, especially on ovals.  Dan was rookie of the year in 2003, and finished second in IRL points in 2004.  In 2005 he won 6 races – including the Indy 500 – as well as the IRL driver’s championship, the 24 hours of Daytona, as well as the British Competition Driver of the Year.  In 2006 he lost the IRL championship to Sam Hornish Jr. by virtue of a tiebreaker.  However, a move from Andretti to Ganassi proved to be an unhappy relationship, and by 2008 he was replaced by Dario Franchitti when Dario’s unhappy adventure in NASCAR ended.  Picked up by Panther for the next 2 seasons, Dan’s frustration became obvious as it seemed as though the team wasn’t able to keep up with the better-funded teams of Penske and Ganassi.

The 2011 Indy 500 effort seemed to many to be an attempt to stay in the game.  He put together a deal with Bryan Herta, and had a solid car all month.  Still, asking a driver that hadn’t won in 3 years, in a one-off effort, to win the biggest race in the universe seemed too much to ask, and Dan’s predictions to the contrary were simply marketing hype.  However, he ran a smart race, passed on the his prior three teams last two laps en route to his second Indy 500 victory.  No one seemed to wear the milk mustache better than Dan.

That the race was called after Dan died in his accident at Las Vegas on the 11th lap of the race is not surprising.  Neither was the deep grief on the face of everyone in the paddock.

Dan is survived by his wife, Susie, and his two sons, ages 2 1/2 and 7 months.

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