Sunday, October 16, 2011

RIP Dan Wheldon

Yesterday was a good day! I spent the morning doing some shopping with the kiddos, and spent a beautiful evening with my family and friends celebrating the wedding of a good friend. Sunday I slept in, finally getting up at about 11:15. It felt nice to sleep in, and I needed it.

Today was going to be a lazy day, with some housecleaning, a little grocery shopping and some meatloaf making the only thing on the schedule. I was about halfway through cleaning the kitchen when I remembered that the final IndyCar race of the season was on. I sat on the floor next and switched the channel, only to see there wasn't any racing on. It was a red flag situation and the drivers were milling around the pits. I saw someone get interviewed -- can't remember which driver anymore -- and he talked about the debris field they drove through on the next lap around and how bad it was. It was then that I realized that this wasn't a typical racing accident. This was bad. Real bad.

I then watched as they announced that they were awaiting news on the condition of Dan Wheldon. I admit I don't follow the IndyCar Series the way that I do NASCAR, and I can probably really only name a handful of Indy drivers. Dan Wheldon was one of those drivers. I know he was a two time Indy champ, a former series champ, and he won at the Kansas Speedway twice. I also know that, from what I have heard of him and from him, he was truly one of the good guys. When I saw replays of the wreck, and read about it on Twitter and Facebook, I had a bad feeling it wasn't going to be good. A yellow tarp had been placed over the car fairly quickly, and the tarp usually isn't a good sign.

I no longer cared about the housework that needed to be done. I just sat watching, and prayed that they would report that Dan Wheldon was awake, alert, and going to be ok. And I waited. And with every minute that passed, every replay that was shown, every interview that was done, and ever shot of drivers in the pits, my heart broke a little bit more.

It had been over an hour after I started watching, when they had called the drivers into a closed door meeting. I prayed it was JUST to decide what to do about the race, but it turned out it was much more than that.

As the drivers filed out of the room, we were told they would not be commenting until after the IRL made their announcement. But honestly, they didn't need to speak. The looks on their faces said it all. The hugs they got from friends, teammates and loved one told me all I needed to know. Especially seeing a guy like Tony Kanaan wiping tears from his eyes under his dark black sunglasses.

At just 33 years old, Dan Wheldon was gone.

Even though I knew it wasn't going to be good, hearing the actual words from the TV made my heart sink. My mouth still dropped open, and then the tears really started coming. I was heartbroken. He left behind a wife and two very young boys. As a wife and mom, I can't even imagine what she is going through.

As it should be, they made the decision not to restart the race. Instead of race, the drivers strapped back into their cars and ran 5 tribute laps in Wheldon's honor, as all of the team members, officials, friends and family lined up to honor Wheldon.

It's been awhile since I've cried like that. My daughter was very sweet as she tried to comfort me, putting her arm around me and rubbing my back. My son kept asking if I was ok, and gave me hugs.

So tonight my heart breaks for his wife, his two young sons, parents, brothers and sister, team members, fellow IRL drivers, and all of his fans. When my NASCAR boys strap themselves into their cars next weekend, I'm sure Dan Wheldon will be on their minds, just like he will be on mine. While I know that it's still a dangerous sport, I am so proud of the improvements NASCAR has made to the cars, the equipment, and the tracks themselves. I just pray that the IndyCar Series does something to make their series safer. They go so fast, and seem so unprotected. I've heard that the 2012 cars are supposed to be safer, and a lot of that has to do with all of the work Dan Wheldon has done with the new car. I just hope that this is the last death the IndyCar Series sees.

RIP Dan Wheldon. You will be missed, but will not be forgotten. God Bless.

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