It is called the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing", the "Biggest Race in the World", and quite simply, "Indy". This year's race was also named the "Most Important Race in History". It only seems right that Dan Wheldon won this year's Indianapolis 500.
Too often in sports these days, we see players and coaches win Championships, only to add their own flavor to the celebration. Not many of them think about the people that came before them or who made the event what it has become today. Dan Wheldon is not one of those people.
As evidenced by the 350,000 people from around the world who came to witness the event, this is not just another race. Traditions dating back a century to 1911 are still carried out today. Winning the Indianapolis 500 is bigger than winning the Series Championship; any driver who tells you differently is lying.
Wheldon knows the history and tradition of Indy, and he absolutely loves it. He showed his passion and the emotions of this race even before he got out of his car in Victory Circle.
“For me, winning the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 is very special,” said Wheldon. “I love this racetrack. I love this race and what it’s done for my career even before being a two-time winner. That is an emotion that didn’t come into it before, and because I’m more experienced I’m able to appreciate this more and you have more time to appreciate it."
He continued, “It’s certainly different from the last one. I remember I was out for most of the night with my sponsor, Jim Beam. Last night, I went to a driver party for about an hour and then I retired to bed. Sebastian (his son) crawled into bed with us about 4 o’clock in the morning and kind of took over the bed. They’re both obviously very good and it’s an amazing achievement by everybody. This one was definitely more emotional; there was a lot more going on. A lot of things have changed in my life since 2005.”
Since his memorable first Indy 500 win in 2005, Wheldon has gotten married, had two children, and his mother is battling a disease back home.
“For me, there’s a lot going on back home with my family and it was certainly nice to win. It was very emotional and different from the last one because of that but nevertheless very good. This also is potentially my only race of the season. It wasn’t one of the races with one of the big, powerhouse teams; it was with Bryan Herta. We didn’t do this deal because we were friends. We would have still been friends even if we hadn’t done this deal. We did it because we believed in one another and we believed that we could win.”
It is simply remarkable that a driver this talented does not have a full-time ride. Not only is he one of the most talented drivers on the ovals, but he is arguably one of the best drivers in the history of Indianapolis. He now has two wins, two second place finishes, a third, and a fourth place finish at the famous speedway.
Wheldon came to IndyCar in 2002 with Panther Racing. He then went to Andretti Green Racing in 2004, where he won the Indy 500 and the IndyCar Series Championship in 2005. After leaving there, he went to Target Chip Ganassi Racing, where he won races and contended for Championships. He was later replaced by Dario Franchitti, and returned to Panther Racing in 2009. Wheldon and the Panther Racing team finished second in the Indy 500 in 2009 and 2010 before leaving at the end of last year.
Wheldon led only once (the final 1,000 feet or so), which is the shortest distance led by any winner of the Indianapolis 500 in its 100-year history. The only other driver to lead in only the final lap was Joe Dawson in 1912.
It will truly be a shame if Wheldon can't at least get some cars to drive for the remainder of the season. Not having the Indy 500 winner in any race during the remainder of the season would be a big blow for the Series.
In today's world, where winning is only about the "now" moment for the individual or the team, seeing a driver win and truly respect and appreciate the history that he is a part of is very refreshing. Congratulations to Dan Wheldon, and the whole Bryan Herta team.