It’s hard to find a picture of Dan Wheldon without his 20-carat smile. The British race car driver died this week following a 15-car pile-up at the IndyCar World Championship at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Anyone who saw the video of the cars bursting into flames as they ricocheted off one another was probably open-mouthed at the collision. It looked more like a movie than it did a real-life sporting event. But, there was no stunt double involved in this horrific scene. Dan, a two-time winner of the Indy 500, was all of 33 years old when he died. He won the 2011 Indy 500 by a single lap and dedicated his victory to his mom who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. That was Dan’s first series win in three years.
I got to know Dan a bit through a project we worked on during his rookie year. We produced a radio and TV PSA campaign in 2003 on responsible drinking for Seagram featuring former Indy driver Michael Andretti and a lesser-known at the time Indy rookie, Dan Wheldon. Both the guys were great for the shoot, but Dan was incredibly generous with his time and smiled right through the numerous takes. And to ice the cake, that year Dan became Rookie of the Year. The PSA became popular too, which was definitely a win for all involved… and the British accent didn’t hurt!
I’m always amazed at the punishment these Indy cars can take. Built to absorb pressure, break apart as needed and keep the driver intact, it’s amazing to see drivers pulled out of wrecks and walk away. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for Dan.
The dad of two will be remembered for his commitment to racing, his will to win and his charitable nature. After winning the 2008 Iowa Corn Indy 250 he donated his winnings to help the victims of tornadoes and floods in Iowa, a first-rate act of kindness.
I’m glad to have connected with Dan in a small way in my career and will remember #77 every time I watch a race. You’re the man, Dan.