SPEEDWAY – You don’t even have to ask him to get a bit of a show-and-tell situation.
In fact Alex Tagliani is very willing to share the design on his helmet.
Located at the back of the helmet is an interlocking “DW” surrounded by sparkling blue paint which the driver wore during practice weeks of the Indianapolis 500 and will wear during the race itself on Sunday.
“I actually want and force myself to want to think about him at least once a day,” said Tagliani-and it’s not hard for him to do this month.
For the 2012 running of the “Greatest Spectacle” the driver will be taking the seat in the number 98 machine for Bryan Herta Autosport. That’s the same number and team which Wheldon scored a stunning win in 2011 after JR Hildebrand crashed in the final lap.
It’s a win that is typically celebrated the next the next year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the form of award presentations and general praise bestowed upon the defending champion. But before his chance to defend, Wheldon was killed in an accident during the Izod IndyCar Series World Championships last October.
He’s the first defending champion not to return to the race because of a death in motor sports competition since 1946 and his absence is especially felt by the team that led him to victory in 2011.
“I think its a very personal thing for all of us that were close to Dan to be here,” said Herta, who was a good friend with Wheldon along with his boss at times in 2011. “Especially at this track you feel his presence more than anywhere.”
Saturday was another such example as the driver’s meeting turned into another tribute for the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion. His widow Susie accepted the “Baby Borg” trophy on his behalf, which is given to the winner of the previous year’s race.
Earlier in the week she received the champion’s ring for Wheldon’s win and will be apart of ceremonies during race day on Sunday as well.
“It’s been amazing to see the tremendous response from all the fans remembering and honoring him,” said Herta. “Remembering how great he was as a racer around this track, how much he loved IndyCar racing and racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“What a generally great guy he was.”
Most of the pressure to honor him will be on Tagliani who will try to bring the number 98 to victory lane in back-to-back years.
“Hopefully we can make him proud,” said Tagliani-and the proof of his efforts will be on his helmet.