I spent most of my day today thinking about the tragedy that befell us yesterday. Try as I might to keep myself busy at work, my mind kept drifting to thoughts about Dan. "Why am I so sad?" I kept asking myself. "He was an athlete, you never knew him. Why is this affecting you so much?" At home tonight, it finally hit me why I felt the way I did, and I started bawling like a baby.
I lost a friend.
Typing those words, I began to lose it again. I never knew Dan personally, but here I am, crying at my computer, thinking about what Dan has meant to me, meant to the sport I love so dearly, and the legacy he leaves behind.
Dan is a driver whose career I watched unfold in front of me. I actually attended his first IndyCar start, at Chicagoland Speedway in 2002. I was in attendance for both his Indianapolis 500 victories in 2005 and this year in 2011. In 2005, I saw this snobby British kid who thought he was God's gift to racing. In 2011, after a few bad years, and when I was ready to write off his IndyCar career, he proved me wrong by showing the rawest emotion I have ever seen in Victory Circle at Indy. He held his son, Sebastian, and made him as much a part of the celebration as the wreath and the jug of milk. He was truly happy and appreciative of what he had just accomplished.
I saw his infectious smile and absolute love for the sport when we worked on the broadcast crew for a few races over the summer. I had fallen in (strictly platonic) love with Dan Wheldon, as did the entire IndyCar community. Everyone was so happy for Dan being the test driver for the new car. There are even rumors that he had already signed the contract to run full-time in next season in the GoDaddy car that Danica is leaving behind for NASCAR.
And I know that I am not the only IndyCar fan that feels this way. I can assure you that almost everyone affiliated with IndyCar, fan or otherwise, has shed tears for Dan Wheldon. Marshall Pruett, IndyCar journalist and former IndyCar mechanic, has had drivers perish in cars that he prepared, had cleaned his driver's blood from the car, but never once cried.
Until yesterday in Las Vegas at McCarran International waiting for his flight to arrive, in front of complete strangers.
The fact that the IndyCar world is so shaken to its core is a true testament to Dan's character. No one is mourning the champion that was lost, but rather, from the outstanding human being that was taken from this Earth far too early.
I will probably miss Dan Wheldon for the rest of my life, so long as I am a racing fan. Though times like these are difficult, it's more important than ever to stick together and continue doing and supporting what we love. Dan would not want the world to stop on his account. And it is for this reason we must continue forward.
I think it would be fantastic if IndyCar instituted a "Dan Wheldon Competitor of the Year" award to the driver exhibiting the humility, friendliness, and selflessness that Dan portrayed. Dan's memory needs to be upheld in as many ways as possible. As James Hinchcliffe suggested on Twitter, every Dallara chassis that Dan worked so hard to develop should all have "DW" as part of its serial number. IndyCar is assembling a trust fund for the wife and two boys that Dan leaves behind. IndyCar drivers are assembling items to auction off and donate all proceeds to the Wheldons.
Despite all the turmoil, I have never been more proud to be an IndyCar fan based on the paddock's actions alone. Dan's memory will live on in everyone.
I can't seem to draw this together to a logical conclusion, so I will leave you with Marty Reid's closing comments as the broadcast came to an end yesterday, words that will stick with me forever.
"Many people ask me why I sign off 'until we meet again.' Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye, Dan Wheldon."