Blogs & Opinion

Remembering Dan

Wheldon's death has taken a genuine talent away

Alex Ferguson Posted 17th October 2011 view comments

It was meant to be such a glorious weekend for motorsport.

Sebastian Vettel capped his back-to-back Formula One Championships with a victory in Korea. Carl Edwards, NASCAR's friendliest driver, padded his lead in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup with a hard-fought third place finish at Charlotte - helped along by five-time winner Jimmie Johnson's crash in the final laps. And the Izod IndyCar Series was coming to a climax, with Dario Franchitti and Will Power battling it out for the title, with Power just 18 points behind the Scot.

Fan farewell: an IndyCar fan pays his own tribute to Dan Wheldon

Fan farewell: an IndyCar fan pays his own tribute to Dan Wheldon

And then there was Dan Wheldon. With a special sponsor's exemption, he started at the back of the starting grid and was told that he'd get a cool $2.5m if he won the race from that position, with another $2.5m going to a race fan. And up to 12 laps in, he was doing quite well in his aim of getting to the front.

Then, it happened.

"I'll tell you, I've never seen anything like it," said IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe, who drove in the race but was thankfully unhurt. "The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere. So it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt because there's just stuff everywhere. Crazy."

The fact of the matter is that nothing will make motorsport 100 per cent safe apart from banning motor racing - something that should and never will happen. People are going to get injured in this sport of speed, and sad to say, more people might go on to lose their lives. We can but hope it never happens again. Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon.

Alex Ferguson
Quotes of the week

We will be paying tribute to Dan in a special show
10.00pm, Thurs, Sky Sports HD2

Then, after two agonising hours, the commentators used the words we didn't ever want to hear again, painfully echoing what NASCAR chief Mike Helton said following the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001: "We've lost Dan Wheldon".

I cried.

As a reporter, I only started following Wheldon's career after he won his first Indy 500 in 2005. And it wasn't because he'd beaten out Danica Patrick, either. It was because a day after the race, with the press caring instead to focus on Danica Patrick, he unearthed a T-Shirt saying: "Actually won the Indy 500".

If I'm honest, I would have loved to see Dan Wheldon run - and beat - my favourite drivers in NASCAR. 'Can you imagine how great it would be to have a British Daytona 500 winner?' I said to myself. We can but dream.

It's sad to say that one of the sport's better-known drivers didn't have the financial backing going into the 2011 season, thanks to his team, Panther, opting to drop him and replace him with young driver JR Hildebrand (who he later beat to the 2011 Indy 500 title).

But that made Wheldon's Indy 500 victory all the sweeter. It was the kind of victory films are written about, where the person without the ride or the hope comes home to claim sweet, sweet victory in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and then a day after the race, kisses the bricks with his two year-old son in celebration.

And ironically enough, he had just signed a contract to drive for Michael Andretti's GoDaddy team in 2012 on Sunday morning.


After his death was announced, there was a celebration befitting a friend to many in the paddock and racer. The drivers did a five-lap tribute to Wheldon. No hard racing, just driving together to the sound of Amazing Grace and the clapping of the fans that remained at the speedway. Of course, we'd all have rather that it had never happened, but it was touching nonetheless.

And there were tributes around the world on Twitter. Here are just some of them:

NASCAR star Denny Hamlin: "Life shouldn't be one of those things. We lost a great driver in motorsports and he will not be forgotten. Rest in peace."

Co-driver Marco Andretti: "I looked up to you both as a racing driver and a person/friend. You will be forever missed".

Will Power (who was injured in the crash): "Such a sad day... to lose a champion like Dan thoughts and prayers are with Susie and his kids".

The saddest Twitter tribute might be from IndyCar fan Matt Healey who said: "Can't stop crying over what's happened to Dan Wheldon. Watched him over the years and like many was ecstatic when he won at Indy".

And Dario Franchitti, who clinched the title in the cruelest of fashions said: "One minute you're joking around at driver intros. The next, Dan's gone. I lost, we lost, a good friend. Everybody in the IndyCar series considered him a friend. He was such a good guy. He was a charmer."


Of course, questions will be asked about IndyCar safety. Some will ask whether the speeds that the cars generate - around 220mph - can be reduced. NASCAR has done so with its restrictor plates to stop cars getting airborne - can IndyCar? Some will blame the track and the banking and the fact that it was way, way too quick. One writer noted that the drivers were concerned the speeds they were getting up to at the track were nearing 225mph. Scary.

"We all had a bad feeling about this place in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat. And if you give us the opportunity, we are drivers and we try to go to the front. We race each other hard because that's what we do," driver Oriol Servia told ESPN. "We knew it could happen, but it's just really sad."

But probably the best thing that's come out of anyone's mouth was from Wheldon's former boss Chip Ganassi as all the media start to play the 'blame game': "There'll be plenty of time in the off-season to talk about that. Now is not the time to talk about that."

The fact of the matter is that nothing will make motorsport 100 per cent safe apart from banning motor racing - something that should and never will happen. People are going to get injured in this sport of speed, and sad to say, more people might go on to lose their lives. We can but hope it never happens again.

Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon.

Comments (2)

  • Page 1 of 1
  • 1

Steve Pugh says...

It was a very sad day indeed. I came home just in time to watch the race live and I would just like to say that it must have been tremendously hard for Keith Heuwen to continue his duties as the programme presenter knowing that Dan had died before it could be officially announced on skys coverage. It was heart wrenching to hear his co presenters sobbing in the background while Keith was paying his repects. It is a tribute to the man as a professional presenter as well as good all round guy. I would be very grateful if he and his fellow colleagues where made aware of my post as it was very fitting in such a sad time. I did also notice that the following day all sky sports news presenters wore black in respect which again I think is a credit to your organisation

Posted 21:28 18th October 2011

Robert Wyatt says...

another great driver has lost his life doing what he loved doing. speed is not the only cause of the tragic outcome, you have to look at the type of track. on an oval when there is an accident you hit a concrete wall which puts you back into the path of following cars. on a road course you have run off areas and gravel traps to slow/stop you before you hit the barriers, also the speeds on a road circuit are lower because the cars have to brake and accelerate. one other thing is that in order to allow overtaking indy cars run a different kind of front wing/nose compared with f1 which leads to closer racing.I agree withChip Ganassi it dosn't need a knee jerk reaction but a proper and informed reaction to what has happend. my thoughts to his wife and family and friends. RIP DAN.

Posted 09:42 18th October 2011

  • Page 1 of 1
  • 1

back to top

Other Blogs:

Latest Posts in :

Alex Ferguson

Clowney's no joke

US sports expert Alex Ferguson profiles Jadeveon Clowney, the biggest defensive pick of the draft....

Alex Ferguson

King James reigns

Alex Ferguson celebrates a wacky, smile-inducing year in US sport - and salutes Miami's LeBron James....


Alex Ferguson

Start your engines!

Alex Ferguson predicts who will triumph in NASCAR's showpiece race, the Daytona 500....


Alex Ferguson

A perfect union?

Alex Ferguson looks at the possible unionisation of college football and how he would handle the issue....

Alex Ferguson

Call of the century

Spacemen Portland pick Bowie over Jordan - Alex Ferguson ranks the biggest decisions in US Sport....


Alex Ferguson

Independence aces

Alex Ferguson kicks off his Independence Day fun by picking his 20 best bits of American sport....


Jamie Redknapp

Toffees come unstuck

Man Utd's men with a point to prove can take advantage of Everton's midweek blow, says Jamie Redknapp....

Paul Merson

Merson's predictions

Paul Merson says Liverpool WON'T beat Norwich - and Chelsea and Man City will close the gap....

Ed Chamberlin

Van the man?

Ed Chamberlin explains why Tejay van Garderen is capable of plucking the Tour de France's Yellow Jersey....


Jamie Carragher

Bruce almighty

Steve Bruce deserves a mention when this year's managerial awards are handed out, says Carra....

Dewi Morris

Heart and soul

Dewi Morris looks at a crucial weekend in the Championship as we head towards the play-offs....

Stuart Barnes

Ups and downs

Stuart Barnes says the drama of relegation must be kept in rugby, but the play-offs need changing....

Phil Clarke

To Hull and back

Phil Clarke looks at the mental damage done to Hull FC and Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup....

Bob Willis

Away for a while

Bob Willis thinks Jonathan Trott will be absent from England duty for some time following his latest setback....

Rob Lee

Pinky and perky

Rob Lee blogs on his vivid Masters Breakfast attire and the men that made waves at Augusta National....

Barry Cowan

Heavy burden

Great Britain's best Davis Cup since 1986 fails to mask their reliance on Andy Murray, says Barry Cowan....

Alex Hammond

Just Cause

Alex Hammond reveals her tips for the Irish Grand National and the Good Friday races at Lingfield....

Alex Hammond

Going the distance

Marathon entrant Alex Hammond previews the Newbury action and Scottish National meeting at Ayr....

Alex Hammond

Rocky's road

Alex Hammond explains why she is backing Rocky Creek and Lion Na Bearnai at the Grand National....

Jim Watt

Quigg as a flash

If he can control the pace Scott Quigg should see off challenger Tshifhiwa Munyai, says Jim Watt....

Johnny Nelson

The best of friends

It will be tough but Johnny Nelson expects mates Anthony Crolla and John Murray to serve up a classic....

Glenn McCrory

Manny happy returns

Manny Pacquiao is back to his best and could yet get it on with Floyd Mayweather, says Glenn McCrory....

View from America

Desperate deals?

Simon Veness reviews a crazy week in the NFL's free agent frenzy, as sides splash out over $1bn....


Neal Foulds

Trump tip

Ronnie O'Sullivan is favourite for the Worlds - but Judd Trump could spring a shock, says Neal Foulds....

Neal Foulds

Night at the Circus

Neal Foulds is looking forward to another fun, raucous Snooker Shoot-Out - but can't pick a winner....


Neal Foulds

Simply the best?

Five-time Masters champion Ronnie O'Sullivan may be the best snooker player ever, says Neal Foulds....


Kelvin Tatum

The contenders

Kelvin Tatum runs through the teams and riders ahead of the 2014 Elite League Speedway season....

Kelvin Tatum

Kelvin's 2013 Review

Kelvin Tatum salutes Poole's hierarchy and Tai Woffinden in his round-up of the speedway season....


Kelvin Tatum

Rich re-Ward

Poole, and the dynamic Darcy Ward, will wrap up the Elite League title at Perry Barr, says Kelvin Tatum....


Richard Moore

The final curtain

Richard Moore reflects on Sunday's Closing Ceremony to an unforgettable Olympic Games......


Richard Moore

A lasting golden glow

Richard Moore suggests all the British Olympians should visit schools and talk about their experiences....


Richard Moore

Favourite Froome

Richard Moore reveals his predictions for the 100th Tour de France, which starts on Saturday....


Wayne McCullough

Wonderful Davis

Wayne McCullough watched Antonio Rogerio Nogueria take on Phil Davis at UFC Fight Night 24. ...


Wayne McCullough

Jones shines bright

Wayne McCullough was highly impressed as the talented Jon Jones made short work of Mauricio Rua....


Wayne McCullough

A bloody marvel

Wayne McCullough salutes Diego Sanchez as he edges out Martin Kampmann in a UFC humdinger....