Lionheart: Remembering Dan Wheldon
This month of May is different from all others.
This month Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series celebrate the 100th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Although the first race occurred in 1911, due to war the 100th contest won’t be held until Sunday, May 29 – weather willing.
At that time 33 drivers and cars will attempt to be first to the Yard of Bricks after 500 miles of intense racing. Every seat will be taken, there will be standing room only in the immense infield and traffic will, no doubt be horrific.
As the race meeting commences, many paddock members have one foot in the present and future and another in the past of the Indy 500, thinking of the 100th anniversary of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and its winner, two-time Indy 500 victor Dan Wheldon. Wheldon won the race by being in the right place, behind leader JR Hildebrand when the Californian smacked the fourth turn wall en route to what would have been his first win. But it wasn’t – Hildebrand was credited with second place.
Dan Wheldon touched everyone he met; there was a special aura about him. The fastidious Briton, whose neatness outside the car was only exceeded by his precision inside, was killed in the series’ finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway later in that year he won his second 500, lost in a spectacular fireball. Wheldon started that race last in an attempt to win a $5 million prize if he’d managed to pass the field and, once again become a surprise winner.
By the time of that race, Wheldon was no longer the carefree bachelor, long married to Susie and the father of two beautiful sons, Sebastian and Oliver. Wheldon had a bright future ahead of him at Andretti Autosport for the 2012 season. He’d been on the sidelines that year, spending much of the 2011 season proving the series’ new Dallara chassis, which was christened DW12 after his death. As expected, the tub has proved to be strong, reliable and very raceable, just like its namesake.
As the two races in Indianapolis get underway, with the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis taking place this coming Saturday and the 100th Indianapolis 500 on the final Sunday in May, it’s tough not to look back at Wheldon and think what could have been. And since the race takes place – as it always has – on Memorial Day weekend, it’s time to salute the memory of Dan Wheldon.
A newly published book, Lionheart: Remembering Dan Wheldon makes its debut at Indianapolis and will be sold only at the track during the two-race meeting; it will be available on Amazon starting May 30, even as the eventual 100th race winner poses at the Yard of Bricks for the year’s signature photographs.
Lionheart: Remembering Dan Wheldonis a 216-page hardback cover remembrance by his family, his close friends, his competitors around the world (who were all Dan’s friends) and media members with close ties to the 2005 and 2011 Indy 500 and 2005 series champion, with photographs that may bring tears and laughter.
The story of Wheldon, always known as Lionheart examines his life inside and outside various racing machines. The book will also bring laughter as tales are retold of a man who came of age in carbon fibre missiles.
The book, written by esteemed journalists Andy Hallbery and Jeff Olson, is an easy read and one I devoured within a single day, neglecting all else. Seduced by wife Susie’s opening, by father Clive’s explanation of how racing shaped his son’s life, by World Champion Jenson Button’s regaling of the duo’s competitive stance as kids in karts, the stories throughout this book will, I’m sure take you in.
Ever wonder why Andretti Green was so successful in the middle of the last decade? It was the camaraderie – and the ability to thoroughly tease one another, especially Dan – that made the quartet of Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Wheldon such a threat on and off racetracks where the Indy Racing League competed. There are stories by each of Dan’s teammates and so, so many more.
That there were more than 60 people contributing to this book is inspiring and the stories ring true for anyone that came in contact with Dan Wheldon. The stellar list of contributors is testament to his impact on the sport.
Reading Lionheart: Remembering Dan Wheldon will help race fans understand the depths of that loss and why so many of us still, five years later, have a very difficult time dealing with his death. And also why we remember all the pranks and the joyous times shared with him and his family.
Wheldon’s move from his successful stints in junior formula at his UK home to the United States gave the driver many challenges that he overcame through innate talent and charm, winning in Champ Car Atlantic, Indy Lights and then in the Indy Racing League. Along the way he impressed everyone with his self-confidence outside the car and capabilities when racing.
To make and renew your own memories of Dan Wheldon, and to help funding for his two charities, Dan Wheldon Foundation and Alzheimer’s Association, which each get proceeds from all sales, either pick up the book during this month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or at http://www.amazon.com after the 100th Indianapolis 500 is complete. The cost is $74.99 and well worth it.
By Anne Proffit