One year ago, IndyCar and motorsports lost one of the greatest drivers to ever get behind the wheel of a race car. It was the most anticpiated IndyCar finale in the series history, but was tragically and sadly cut short after 11 laps when Dan Wheldon was involved in a 15-car accident that sent him flying 325 feet into the track’s catch fence.
May 30, 2011; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon kisses the Borg Warner Trophy at the yard of bricks after winning the 2011 Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Dan Wheldon was thirty-three years old when he passed. However, his short life on earth gave him a chance to leave an everlasting and inspirational impression on drivers and fans alike.
He joined the IndyCar Series in 2002 when he joined Panther Racing for two races as a teammate to Sam Hornish Jr.
The following year he joined Andretti-Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport) to replace Michael Andretti who was retiring.
In 2004, after a mediocre debut with Andretti’s team, he returned to the team to go onto one of the best seasons of his career. He won his first race in Japan at the Twin Ring Motegi. He would win three races that season and finish second in the points.
The success of the 2004 season carried over into 2005. He won six races including three consecutive races and the Indianapolis 500. He would go on to win the 2005 championship too.
Despite two successful seasons, Wheldon would actually move on from Andretti Racing and would join Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006. He finished second in the points after winning the season opening and finale races.
He would stay with Chip Ganassi Racing through 2008 where he was replaced by close friend Dario Franchitti. He returned to Panther Racing on a full term basis for the next two seasons but would not find much success. He was then fired from the team and replaced by JR Hildebrand after not finding victory lane and the performance the team expected out of him.
In 2011, Wheldon had no ride in the IndyCar Series and would only enter to compete in three races. This actually allowed him to work with the sanctioning body on designing a new and safer car for the series to use in 2012 which eventually became the DW12.
The first race was the Indy 500 with Bryan Herta Autosport. After JR Hildebrand crashed coming to take the checkered flags, Wheldon would pass him for the lead as Hildebrand slowed to a stop and would win his second Indy 500. His victory has been called one of the biggest upsets in IndyCar history with Wheldon competing for a small underfunded team that would only compete in that one race. He made his debut with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Kentucky and would return to race the season finale where his life was tragically taken away far too early.
After his death, Michael Andretti revealed that the morning of his death, Wheldon had signed a contract to rejoin Andretti’s team to replace Danica Patrick in their GoDaddy.com sponsored car who was leaving for NASCAR. James Hinchcliffe would eventually sign with the team to replace the driver who never got to take the green flag behind the wheel of the car.
With one-hundred and twenty eight starts in ten IndyCar seasons, Wheldon found victory lane 16 times and earned 5 poles. 2005 would be his only IndyCar Series Championship.