It was the finale of the year, the Indy race at Vegas Motor Speedway. Little did anyone know how it would end. It was to be a day in which Indy racing would lose one of their very own… english driver Dan Wheldon.
Anyone who follows any type of racing knows what ‘the big one’ means. It translates to worse-case scenario, a bunch of cars getting together – usually with injuries, sometimes even a fatality. Early on in lap 13, the big one happened. There were fifteen cars total, and it was one of the worst wrecks I’ve ever seen. It immediately took me back to 2001 when Dale Earnhardt died in NASCAR’s Daytona 500.
As many others did, Keith and I spent the rest of the afternoon awaiting word on the condition of the most seriously injured driver, Dan Wheldon. Already considered a veteran in the sport at a young 33 years old, he was respected and admired by the young guns. He was a two-time champion of the Indianapolis 500, this year as well as 2005.
When a car gets covered up with tarps after a wreck, you just know it’s not good. The commentators tried to tell the viewing audience at home it was covered ‘to keep all the parts intact’ – their attempt at a diversion. After about an hour we sensed the outcome, from the heavy feeling in our stomachs to the drivers’ faces when they came out of their drivers meeting. They tried hard not to show their emotion, while the media continued their job of shoving cameras in their faces. About two hours after the initial crash, the word finally came that everyone dreaded. Dan Wheldon had passed away from unsurvivable injuries in the wreck.
It was respectfully decided the race would not continue. The emotional drivers requested a five-lap tribute to Dan, which the officials quickly granted. They lined up in perfect formation and drove three-wide for their tribute, while bagpipes played in the background. It was very emotional to any and all who were watching – but I can only imagine how it was for those who knew him.
The speeds these cars reach is nothing short of amazing. I know it can happen… and these men and women know exactly what it is they’re signing up for. Even if you don’t follow racing, a tragedy like this sends a stark reminder that we never know when our day will come. On any given day, any one of us may be the one to get in the car, buckle up, and simply not come back home. We are never promised another day.
May you rest in peace, Dan. You sure had a lot of people who looked up to you.