NEW CASTLE – It’s a chill to the air that’s not uncommon in Central Indiana when the end of October comes around.
For most of the day at the New Castle Motorsports Park, the winds blew across the track at over 20 miles per hour and the temperatures hovered in the 40s, with a few frozen sprinkles of rain falling now and again.
Yet at 11:30 A.M. people were lined up in lines inside the main building of the karting track waiting for autographs and more waiting outside for the event to start. Out on the track and then lined up inside were a number of IndyCar Series drivers along with other open wheel stars that took time to show up.
Why, you might ask? Because Dan Wheldon’s name on it.
“Even though he’s still with us, Dan still plays a big part in all of our lives,” said Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe. “To come out here and do something that Dan loved to do for a cause that was very close to Dan’s heart, it’s awesome.”
He speaks of the reason everyone was in New Castle on a chilly afternoon: The Dan Wheldon Memorial Karting Challenge. The race featured four 20-minute stints with team’s made up of drivers and local celebrities, all racing to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association .
Organized by Wheldon’s widow, Susie, the event raised over $100,000 for charity and the response overwhelmed those who put it together. The fundraiser comes just over two years after the death of the two-time Indianapolis 500 Champion at the season finale race at Las Vegas in 2011.
“The turnout today has been overwhelming,” said Wheldon. “It just goes to show what kind of person he was and that lasting legacy that he’s left.”
Wheldon’s sister, Holly, was equally appreciative of the support that included IndyCar’s Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Alex Tagliani, Ed Carpenter, Sebastian Saavedra, Conor Daly and others.
“It’s crazy how it all came together. I’m so greatful that all the IndyCar drivers came,” said Wheldon. “It was so nice of them.”
Many of the IndyCar drivers were happy to oblige as friends of Wheldon when he was alive and running in the series off and on over the past decade. Wheldon’s enthusiasm for that series and the people in it made the drive popular among his peers from his debut in the early 2000s until his death in 2011.
Yet a number of driver said it was Wheldon’s passion for karting that made this event perfect for paying tribute to the driver’s memory.
“That’s the other fun thing, it was Dan’s passion,” said 2013 IndyCar Series Champion Scott Dixon. “Even when he was in IndyCar he continued to race go-karts and he really loved it. It’s definitely fitting.”
Ed Carpenter saw Wheldon’s passion for karting first hand as he participated in the RoboPong Karting Event at New Castle Motorsports Park with Wheldon for a number of years.
“The RoboPong event was something that he was really passionate about and enjoyed and loved the event,” said Carpenter. “So it’s perfect to pair this pro-am on with the RoboPong event, just because its something Dan would have been all about.”
During the 80 minutes of racing, those in the event made Wheldon proud with competitive racing that featured passing and bumping around the road course. In the end it was Carpenter’s team along with Marino Franchitti that took home the event championships.
A competitive race is something Susie Wheldon expected-and embraced.
“They’re racers at heart so they want to get out there and get after it,” said Wheldon-just like her husband did even on chilly days in the past.