Remembering Dan


 Photo of Dan and Cate at St. Pete Indycar race in 2009

Grieving is a painful process, and tougher still when someone young and vibrant is lost. So, it is with a sorrowful heart that I, and the world with me, mourn the loss of a legend among men in Dan Wheldon. Even more than that, he was an extraordinary human being and one I’d had the honor and pleasure of meeting. 

On October 16, 2011, a loving family (spanning three countries) lost its father, husband, and son; teammates lost a friend; a racing league lost an icon; the city of St. Petersburg lost one of its own; and as a fan, I lost my reason for cheering. 

Daniel Clive Wheldon, a native of England, moved to the United States to follow his passion and fulfill his dream of racing cars. Hitting the paved track at 200 plus miles per hour, he transitioned along with a reorganizing motorsports league, and nearly overnight went from rooky status to iconic figure and leader in IndyCar.  

After years of following his career with anticipation, my husband and I sat before the television and watched the Las Vegas championship race get underway, thrilled that Dan had a chance to race in the final competition of 2011—the same year he’d celebrated the birth of his second son, and won the Indianapolis 500 for a second time. But before long we were greeted by an unbelievable sight. In disbelief, we eventually learned what the world now mourns. Since then, like so many others, I have found it difficult coming to terms with this loss and can only imagine the heartache and shock his family and friends are experiencing. I had looked forward to meeting Dan again in upcoming years, and applauding his successes in 2012 with his return to Andretti Motorsports, but now instead, I reflect back to earlier days of treasured memories.

My interest in IndyCar racing always existed but clinched in 2007 when I picked up my husband and his friend (both longtime fans of the sport) after the downtown race in St. Pete. The two were all smiles and exhilaration from a fun-filled day. Matching their enthusiasm, I joined the sporting camaraderie and followed every race thereafter. But I needed someone to root for, and so, became a dedicated fan to one driver: Dan Wheldon. He was an energetic, entertaining racer with a personable and charismatic charm—who had married a woman from my country of origin (Canada) and like myself had chosen St. Petersburg as a home—and so he became the perfect choice. To Dan I remained loyal and at every race in which he participated jumped up and down and screamed in anticipation of his success.  

On the afternoon of April 6, 2008, I attended my first race, paddock pass in hand. I took my seat in the grandstands at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg amidst a drenched crowd, sporting rain ponchos and umbrellas as a result of an earlier downpour, and eagerly awaited the start of a delayed race.  Dan did not win that day, but I cheered him on all the same. After the race, my husband and I ventured to the paddock, and like other fans, hoped for a brief moment of the racer’s attention. Emerging from his trailer and running late for a meeting, Dan graciously took the time to sign autographs and pose for photos with his fans, one of them being me.

The following spring of 2009, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and after spending untold hours by her side in a dismal hospital, I embraced the St. Pete race once again, this time with unrivaled enthusiasm. I needed the uplifting break it provided from a disturbing situation and the grief I knew would soon follow. After the race, and again with paddock pass in hand, I not only posed for another photograph with Dan but also had time to congratulate him on the birth of his first child and visit with his wife Susie as she introduced me to their nine week old son, Sebastian. The time spent with Dan and his family became the highlight of my year—one bright moment in a very dark and difficult time. Dan’s generosity and Susie’s kindness meant the world to me that day. I realized then that they were a truly wonderful couple, and I’d placed my support behind a remarkable man.

Now my heart breaks for Susie and the family as they endure and rebuild from devastation. Along with Dan’s family and friends who mourn him, and an entire city and world of fans who loved him, I grieve the passing of a wonderful person and bid farewell to a passionate racecar driver who will be tremendously missed.  My deepest sympathies go out to his family, hoping fond memories will comfort them along with the knowledge that, to the last, Dan lived his life passionately pursuing his dream.  Rest in peace Dan Wheldon.

 Photo of Dan and Cate at St. Pete Indycar race in 2008

Sometimes, the best way to grieve is to get involved and feel included. Locally in St. Petersburg, a funeral service for Dan will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22 at First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg, located at 701 Beach Drive N.E. in St. Petersburg, FL. Susie Wheldon has invited the community to attend the service and share in celebrating her husband’s life.  For more information on the service, donations, condolences, or view the tribute to Dan, visit this link:  http://saintpetersburg.wtsp.com/news/news/86594-dan-wheldon-funeral-arrangements-announced

Also, a public memorial service in honor of Dan Wheldon will be held at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, October 23, and will be broadcast on www.indycar.com, VERSUS, WRTV-6, and WTTV-4. For more information about the service or to make a donation to his family please visit the following link: http://www.danwheldonmemorial.com/  

If you wish to pay your respects, feel free to light a candle or leave your condolences with the St Pete Times guestbook or IndyCar Facebook: http://www.legacy.com/guestbook/sptimes/guestbook.aspx?n=dan-wheldon&pid=154178896&page=8