I took the picture from this page, which is full of people who actually knew Dan talking about him after the accident. I, unsurprisingly, did not know Dan Wheldon, but the accident still left me profoundly sad. I can't really explain why it hit me so hard. I remember Dale Earnhardt's passing very well. That elicited little more than a shrug from me. Wheldon, though, was different. It didn't bring me to tears or anything, but it stirred me.
I'm not a racing fan. That is well known. I do pay a lot of attention to the Indianapolis 500, though. There are a few reasons for that. The biggest is being from Indiana and always looking to promote the state and Indianapolis, as that's where most of the big sporting events happen. Also, as has been mentioned here, I listen almost exclusively to 1070 AM out of Indy, where they predictably cover IndyCar Racing a little closer than most stations, so I paid a little attention to that series. I didn't watch any races, really, but I paid some attention to who was doing well and that sort of thing.
Wheldon was on the radio a fair amount. Part of that was being a two-time Indy 500 champion. Another part was him being very available this year. He was not in a full-time ride this year, instead doing work on Versus and doing a ton of work helping develop the new IndyCar, which is set to debut next year. So, he wasn't as busy gearing up for a race every week or two and in Indy anyway. It certainly made me feel like I knew him a little bit from hearing him talk on the radio. That in turn made me feel like one of his fans, or at least as much of a fan as I am of any race car driver.
He always struck me as very easy-going with a good sense of humor. He obviously could drive like few others could. Look at his track record at Indy and it becomes very clear. I'm sure he knew the risk every time he got in the car, though. It came to a painful and unfortunate end, but hopefully some solace can be found in going out doing something he loved. I'm sure we will hear much, much more about Dan Wheldon come May, where he sadly will not be able to defend his 2010 Indy 500 title.