SPEEDWAY – A memorial give-away was never so practical.
The waves of people coming to the to speedway had the opportunity to pick up a pair of sunglasses. They were a tribute to Dan Wheldon, the defending champion who wore white bracketed shades often during his two Indianapolis 500 victories-including 2011.
Officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway asked fans to wear the glasses during Sunday’s parade lap along with the 26th and 98th laps-the two numbers Wheldon won the 500 with in his career.
Fans not already equipped with those glasses would need them often on a hot day where temperatures just fell short of a track record and memory of Wheldon added to an emotion-charged race.
But despite the sweltering temperatures, the sentimental fan had their chance to smile as three of Wheldon’s best friends in IndyCar – Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan-finished in the top three of the 96th running of the “Greatest Spectacle.”
Franchitti took home his third victory at Indianapolis while his teammate Dixon got second and Kanaan third. It came on a day when the high temperature was 91 degrees-just one shy of the all-time record for race day set in 1937.
“I don’t think it could have been a better result for Dan,” said Kanaan of Wheldon-who he was a teammate with during the pair’s time at Andretti Green Racing. “Wherever he is right now, he’s definitely making fun of Sato, I can tell you that, and he’s giving Dario a tap on the back for sure.
“He was going to call me a wanker that I didn’t win this thing.”
Wheldon’s reaction to the entire day itself might have drawn quite a reaction from the late driver as well. A special tribute video for Wheldon was played in the middle of the traditional ceremonies for the start of the race.
During a playing of “TAPS”, Wheldon’s former team owner Bryan Herta took his 2011 Indy 500-winning car out for one parade lap prior to the command to start the engines.
At the same time a number of the drivers wore Wheldon’s signature white-rimmed glasses before and after the race.
“He’s left a big void and a big hole in all of our lives,” said Dixon of Wheldon’s death. “I hope we put on a good race for the fans and I know he was smiling on all of us.”
It was Franchitti who delivered the ultimate tribute, winning the third Indianapolis 500 in his career which Wheldon never got the chance to get. That
“The thing that really got me was the love that the fans showed for Dan and the tribute that we were all able to pay him on lap 26, lap 98, doing that,” said Franchitti. “Susie came around the car afterwards, to see the reaction of how much he was loved.
“To me, that was a great thing to see.”