RIP, Dan Wheldon
The Corner is in mourning right now…and here is why.
I love Motor Racing. I have since I was a 7 year old boy cheering for Mario Andretti as he won a Formula 1 World Championship.
On the same day Andretti won the championship, his teammate Ronnie Peterson was killed in a crash at the start of the race. When I read in the paper, a few days after the race, that SuperSwede had died…I bawled my eyes out.
I hate this part of it. I hate the starting grid of the Grim Reaper.
Ricardo Paletti. Jovy Marcelo. J.D. McDuffie. Roland Ratzenberger.
Clifford Allison. John Nemechek. Neil Bonnett. Scott Brayton.
Henri Toivonen. Sergio Cresto. Slick Johnson. Tony Roper.
Jeff Krosnoff. Kenny Irwin. Adam Petty.
Tony Renna. Paul Dana. Gonzalo Rodriguez. Greg Moore.
Dale Earnhardt. Ayrton Senna. Jim Clark. Jochen Rindt. Tiny Lund. Gilles Villenueve.
And this is a very incomplete list.
It’s the hardest part of loving this sport. The spectre of a driver dying in a race car. Even with all the safety engineering on the racetracks of the world and all the safety engineering done by innovative constructors and others with better restraint, better seats, better fuel cells, and cars constructed with safety as the top priority. Even with full faced helmets, firesuits, and SAFER barriers, there is always the chance of a cruel day in racing.
October 16, 2011 is another cruel day in racing.
Dan Wheldon. A two-time Indy 500 winner, and 2005 IndyCar Series Champion. An affable, engaging, handsome man from Emberton, England, got in his race car at the IndyCar World Championship Race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
He was involved in a fiery crash at lap 13.
He was killed.
And again, I watch in shock and horror, nearly bawling just like I did back in ’78…and I did in ’94, when heard about Ayrton Senna.
As I did in 2000 when I heard about Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin.
Ditto with all those above and many others.
Dan Wheldon. Engaging, funny….”cheeky”….His description is similar to a couple drivers of yesteryear. NASCAR clown prince Joe Weatherly, and Indianapolis 500 standout/cut-up Eddie Sachs.
Both of these men, personable, affable, funny and successful on the track, while being loved off of it.
Both died in a race car in ugly fiery crashes. Weatherly at the 1963 World 600, and Sachs during the second lap of the 1964 Indianapolis 500.
Sachs’ death is on my mind right now, because of what legendary Indianapolis 500 broadcaster Sid Collins said about him on that race broadcast right after the word was announced that a loved racer had passed.
Collins’ impromptu eulogy could easily fit Dan Wheldon.
“You heard the announcement from the public address system. There’s not a sound. Men are taking off their hats. People are weeping. There are over 300,000 fans here not moving. Disbelieving.
Some men try to conquer life in a number of ways. These days of our outer space attempts some men try to conquer the universe. Race drivers are courageous men who try to conquer life and death and they calculate their risks. And with talking with them over the years I think we know their inner thoughts in regards to racing. They take it as part of living.
A race driver who leaves this earth mentally when he straps himself into the cockpit to try what for him is the biggest conquest he can make (are) aware of the odds and Eddie Sachs played the odds. He was serious and frivolous. He was fun. He was a wonderful gentleman. He took much needling and he gave much needling. Just as the astronauts do perhaps.
These boys on the race track ask no quarter and they give none. If they succeed they’re a hero and if they fail, they tried. And it was Eddie’s desire and will to try with everything he had, which he always did. So the only healthy way perhaps we can approach the tragedy of the loss of a friend like Eddie Sachs is to know that he would have wanted us to face it as he did. As as it has happened, not as we wish it would have happened. It is God’s will I’m sure and we must accept that.
We are all speeding toward death at the rate of 60 minutes every hour, the only difference is we don’t know how to speed faster and Eddie Sachs did. So since death has a thousand or more doors, Eddie Sachs exits this earth in a race car. Knowing Eddie I assume that’s the way he would have wanted it. Byron said “who the God’s love die young.” — Sid Collins, during Indianapolis 500 Radio Network coverage of the 1964 Indianapolis 500.
RIP Dan Wheldon. I miss you already. 😦