Indy winner drops in on Texas to promote race
Dan Wheldon, just two days after his stunning victory in the Indianapolis 500, was greeted like a hero on his visit Tuesday to Fort Worth – the first stop on his Indy 500 champion’s tour.
Wheldon arrived at Frankie’s Sports Bar in Sundance Square as only an Indy 500 champion can – in an Oak Farms Dairy milk truck. With approximately 100 fans greeting Wheldon, he and Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage toasted with champagne glasses filled with milk, the traditional drink given to the winner of the historic 500-mile race.
“As an IndyCar driver, we are extremely excited about coming to Texas,” Wheldon said to the crowd about his return to the Lone Star State. “It’s always a fantastic crowd and this race has been part of the calendar for a long time. I thank you for always coming out in the thousands to the speedway because we love racing there.”
Wheldon wasn’t the only hero honored during his visit, however, as he was able to talk and compete with soldiers of United States Army stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, through the nonprofit organization, “Pro vs. GI Joe.” Major David Wishart, a Fort Worth resident and Abilene native, enlisted the help of Staff Sergeant Michael R Czajka, of Garden City, Mich.; Sergeant Anthony Atiyeh, of Livonia, Mich.; and Sergeant Jacob Wright, of Onstead, Mich., to compete against Wheldon in the Xbox game, “Call of Duty: Black OPS” live via Internet.
Wheldon was teamed up with wounded soldier, Staff Sergeant William Moleon, and Wishart’s son, Joe, who currently is a senior at the University of Texas’ ROTC program. Wheldon must have had some mojo leftover from his victory Sunday as the trio pulled another stunning upset as they defeated the soldiers stationed in Afghanistan in the online game.
“It’s always nice to do things like this, especially after winning a big race on Memorial Day weekend,” Wheldon said. “I’m glad I was allowed to hit the reset button a lot because otherwise I would have been out of the game in two seconds.”
For Major Wishart, an Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army, getting to visit with the Indy 500 champion as well as speak with his son and girlfriend, Rebel Heasley that attended the event was a moment of great pride.
To honor the sacrifices of Major Wishart, Wheldon presented a signed Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hat – a customary gift awarded to race winners at Texas Motor Speedway – to Wishart’s son and girlfriend, Rebel Heasley, to present to him upon his return.
“I’m amazed at the stories I hear with what goes on over there and to think that they are representing us and allowing us to run in our country freely is something that I’m extremely proud of,” Wheldon said. “I personally think what I did Sunday by far pales in comparison. They deserve way more accolades for what they do because it’s truly phenomenal.”
Wheldon earned his second career Indy 500 victory driving for the single-car team of Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian. His victory easily made him the hottest IndyCar Series free agent as he has been without a ride for the first four races of the IndyCar Series season.
On the heels of one of his biggest career victories and the series’ second biggest event – the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11 – on the horizon, he hopes his win will help him secure a ride for the rest of the 2011 season and quite possibly as soon as Texas Motor Speedway since it ranks among his favorite tracks.
“I sure as hell hope so,” Wheldon said of racing next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. “It didn’t hurt our chances doing so well on Sunday, and I’d like to not only be a part of it (Firestone Twin 275s), but win them both.”
He has yet to win at “The Great American Speedway!” but has posted solid stats that include seven top-10 finishes, including four among the top five, in 11 career starts.
Should Wheldon not secure a ride for the Firestone Twin 275s, he will have another seat in the house. He will be serving as a color analyst for VERSUS, which will be broadcasting the Firestone Twin 275s live beginning at 7:45 p.m. CT. But the seat he sure would love to have would be inside the cockpit.
“I would absolutely love to be part of it,” Wheldon said. “Eddie (Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway president) does a tremendous job promoting here and I think this is truly a great concept for not only the drivers but the fans as well. I love Texas and the thing that bugs me about this race track is the one thing I hate about it – I haven’t won here yet. I want to be the one shooting those guns off, so I am going to do everything in my power to be here.”
Tickets for the historic Firestone Twin 275s are available by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com, or by calling the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500.