Expanding on the Moment of Silence for Dan Wheldon
Dan Wheldon’s death still seems… unreal. For me it’s the first major death that’s happened in a racing series I follow. I got into NASCAR in July of 2001 so that was after Earnhardt’s death. Wasn’t into Indycar until mid 2007 so that was after the most recent death in 06. Peter Lenz was killed last year in a support race at last year’s Indinapolis Grand Prix and Shoya Tomizawa died in a Moto2 race at San Marino last year but… I didn’t watch either of those series and I honestly did not know who they were before then. I feel bad about that… and I especially feel guilty about not feeling this torn up about Peter Lenz. His death was tragic and I felt it… but not anywhere near this. That’s how it is though. It’s over a day latter and I still feel a combination of shock, horror, and numbness. I have teared up on numerous occasions over the past two days and it’s still hard to write this.
I had every intention of watching the Vegas race but I ended up having to work that day. So I counted down the hours impatiently waiting for a chance to see the results. On my cell phone I was able to see, from Racer Magazine’s website, that the race had been red flagged for a large wreck. It didn’t look like that big of deal really, my main thought was wondering if the race would still be on when it was time for lunch. I drove out to a Mcdonalds down the road, placed my order, and got my laptop out. I was excited to see what had happened in Vegas. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. Power winning the race and title. Dario winning both. Ed Carpenter, Alex Tagliani, or Tony Kanaan getting a well deserved win. Dan Wheldon winning the challenge. When I finally got SpeedTV’s site to load I looked for the Indycar headline. At first, to me, it looked to me like it said “Dan Wheldon killed field at Vegas” and I felt a moment of elation before seeing the headline for a second time. It didn’t say that Wheldon had won the race, it said that he was killed in the race.
My initial reaction was denial. Surely just a mis-print or something. So I clicked on the story in fear while at the same time loading twitter on another page. As I read it I went numb. I jumped to twitter and tried to soak in what had happened. As all of this was happening I was also eating and had used up the honey-mustard sauce on the 2nd chicken strip yet just kept dipping them in the empty sauce container and eating them while all this happened. I was glad I had missed the race but… it was definitely not ideal to be in a public place. I considered going to my car then but honestly I didn’t feel like moving. I held it together just enough to not make a scene and well… I was in the corner so that helped for the rest.
The rest of the day was tough. The three minute car ride back to work was tough but it gave me a chance to get ready to finish the night. When I got home it all flooded back to me, especially once I got back on my laptop. And to be honest it’s been about the same since. I still think to myself “my God, Wheldon really is dead.” The worst was getting my haircut yesterday and the song by Perry “If I Die Young” came on. Not exactly a great song or the type of music I’d listen to or even completely relevant to the current situation, but… definitely NOT the song you want coming on right now.
It seems crazy to be this upset about the death of someone you don’t personally know… but I’m really glad to know from the other bloggers and fans on twitter I’m not the only one who feels this way. We may not know them personally but we do spend a ton of time watching, reading, and writing about them so when someone’s hurt or killed it affects us. I also can’t shake how horrible this is for his family, especially his wife and two kids. It’s especially painful to see the pictures of him with his family from Indy. Those just take on a whole new meaning now.
As for Wheldon himself what more is there to say? He was a great driver and as everyone else has said, one on a comeback. A few lean years had seen him drop off the map only for his triumphant return this May, first by qualifying in the Fast 9 and then by winning the Indy 500. As a fan Wheldon really grew on me the longer I watched Indycar. His move to Panther, while often a strained situation, also saw him turn into one of the underdog hero’s with a good shot of beating Penske and Ganassi on an oval. Seeing him lose his ride last year was upsetting… I had hoped Panther would make room for 2 drivers. It seemed like he would end up somewhere, perhaps KV or Andretti. But it didn’t happen and instead he ended up with a one of deal at Herta. Not a sign of good things but in the end it went spectacularly well. Then he and Herta were announced as the 2012 test team. And it became pretty clear that he’d have a fulltime ride somewhere, in the end it looked like Andretti. In all honesty I though he had a darkhorse shot at the title.
As a person Wheldon was great. He was a wonderful personality for Indycar to have and he was super marketable and fan friendly. But what was really special was it wasn’t just an act. I mean sure after a tragedy people always try and say the nicest things about a person but look at the volume for Wheldon! Look at the stories and anecdotes. The two that just hit the head on the nail are about him and Iron Man Mike and another about him meeting an eight year old at Kentucky. Then throw in what everyone else saw of him, how he treated fans and everyone around him.
I know in the past that races were continued on after a fatality. But calling the race was 100% the right call. I can’t explain why it was different then say, at the Indy GP where all the races continued on as scheduled, or last year’s San Marino Grand Prix, but it was. Maybe it was the long red flag, or the fact everyone in the know knew something was bad. I don’t know for sure other than that the right decision was made, end of discussion.
As for why Wheldon’s death seems so unbelievable it’s largely to due with just how much we’ve been hearing about him since his Indy win. He’s been in the booth announcing races. Touring around and promoting Indycar and then the big one… developing the 2012 car. Then you have the Vegas challenge being rebuilt around him, which was making the best of a bad situation after the original plan fell through. To have the reformatted five million dollar challenge rebuilt around him and then to have him die in the race that’s ironic in the most awful way possible. In no way should blame be laid at the Challenge or Bernard for this. That’s ridiculous and people really need to lay off Randy Bernard about it, especially on twitter. Back to the point, why this was so shocking, I think it just comes down to how big of part of Indycar he’d become over the last year.
It is heartening that the Indycar community has come together and how already a trust fund for Wheldon’s family is being set up. As well as how quickly Dallara agreed to rename the 2012 chassis after Wheldon. I know that a debate over safety is about to erupt. Well… it’s erupted already. I’ve gotten involved on twitter and I’m sure in the near future I’ll get involved on here. I actually have started a post about it… but I didn’t feel right about writing it yet. I was tearing up as I wrote it not because of what I was saying but because it brought all of my thoughts about Wheldon up to the surface again. That’s never happened before when I’ve wrote something and I figured that it probably meant I should write something else first. I will say this. People need to take a step back before they let their anger/initial reaction get the best of them. Anger is of course one of the steps of grief. Ironically anger is not something I have felt a lot of. The only flash of anger was right after I found out Wheldon died I wondered if it was lower back injury related (which has been a problem with the Dallara chassis) but after hearing about the wreck and seeing the replay…I lost that feeling. It wasn’t that the Dallara was unsafe or Vegas was horrible. Really… it was just a freak accident. The type that sometimes happens. I don’t really see the point in trying to place blame right now or, in all honestly, ever. For right now let’s think about Wheldon, mourn his loss and celebrate his accomplishments and keep his family, friends, and the Indycar community in our thoughts.