Motorsports is an extension of the automotive legacy. It is a form of sport that merged the athleticism of the driver, the engineering and technology of the car and the challenge of the tarmac and topography.
Since age 6, I was attracted by the excitement of the race. Of Richard Petty and his all-conquering light blue #43 Plymouths and Dodges in NASCAR. Of Mario Andretti conquering Indy car and Formula 1 in an eight-year span. Of the tragedies each variant of motorsport we experienced as fans of drivers we fondly remember today.
Indy Car experienced a tragedy of severe magnitude. At the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Izod IndyCar series was about to come to a close at their World Championship race. On lap 11, Wheldon was caught in a 15-car jam until the domino theory caught up with everyone in the pack. Wheldon took the brunt of the impact, trapped in his #77 car of Bryan Herta Aurosport. Medical teams were able to get Wheldon out of the wreck, but his injuries were considered critical to have him airlifted to University Medical Center.
At 3:00PM local time, IndyCar's chairman Randy Bernard announced the passing of Wheldon.
Wheldon leaves behind a legacy of a skilled race driver and a great personality. His kind heart provided an example to everyone at the Izod Indy Car Series as he gave more of himself on and off the track.
Weldon was at the top of his game. His 128 starts yielded 16 wins and 5 pole positions. In 2003, he was named the IRL Rookie of the Year. In May, Wheldon won his second Indianapolis 500.
Every time I saw Wheldon race on television, it was as he gave a clinic on today's open wheel racing. He was methodical and intelligent on the track. Wheldon always gave you a good race, regardless of the result. He won many fans despite the attention given to his colleagues, such as Danica Patrick and Dario Franchitti.
Wheldon was one of many reasons why the Indy 500 gets special attention every year. He provided contrast to the ego of Foyt, the disappointments of the Andretti family and the consistency of Mears. As Wheldon's generation of drivers soon took over the Brickyard, the old square oval seemed alive again. Wheldon's 2005 victory was the cornerstone of my own return to IndyCar racing.
It would be easy to say that next year at the Brickyard, the 500 will seem a bit empty. No, it will not. Wheldon's absence will be felt, but his colleagues would easily fill the void as intended. I hope the fans will remember this come next May.
My heart goes out to his wife Susie and their two sons. My heart also goes out to the men and women at Bryan Herta Autosport and the rest of his colleagues at the Izod IndyCar series – his fellow race drivers, car owners and management of the series.
What Dan Wheldon gave to motorsport was something we should always remember about life. For those reasons, I will miss Dan Wheldon.
Of an additional note, my thanks go to Michael Myers and Ross Bynum of Queers4Gears.com for their live social media coverage from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway of this tragedy. It is good to know of allies in my community who are dedicated to providing news and thoughts on motorsports. My heart goes out to the both of them for being in the trenches as the events of the Izod IndyCar World Championship unfolded in front of their eyes. Hugs to the both you, Michael and Ross.
Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.