Wheldon, the 2005 Indycar Series champion and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, passed away Sunday afternoon from unsurvivable injuries suffered in a 15-car wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wheldon leaves behind his wife, Susie, and sons Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months, as well as friends, competitors and fans all across the world.
Not only was the Indycar community stunned by the heart-wrenching wreck, but the entire racing community sat in awe Sunday, waiting eagerly as news unfolded surrounding Wheldon and others injured in the wreck.
“It impacted me dramatically yesterday, I sat and watched all of it,” said five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. “I was glued to the television for a couple hours watching the red flag and what unfolded. Just couldn’t believe it took Dan’s (Wheldon) life.
“Knowing Dan and his wife and two kids, and then I’m sitting there with my daughter running around in the backyard, I was tore up yesterday. We just stared at the TV for a long time with long faces yesterday.”
Johnson had always dreamed of running the Indianapolis 500, the race which his dear friend Wheldon loved so much, but veered away from the idea when he was introduced to fatherhood.
“It has been my dream to race the Indy 500. The racer in me always wanted to run in the 500.” said Johnson at a fuel injection test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We kind of had a deal that once we had kids then I had to look the other way on that (running in the 500).”
Many expressed concern over running at the 1.5-mile in Las Vegas, where speeds reached 220+ mph in Saturday’s qualifying session. Flatout speeds merged with the second largest field in Indycar history (34) on nine degrees of banking seemed so questionable to many drivers scheduled to start in the race.
“I can’t imagine racing those on ovals anywhere,” said Johnson. “Those guys with open wheel cars, when they touch wheels, they just throw them in the air.
“And then they are going so much faster than we are, their average is 225. I’ve never been 225 in my life and that’s their average on an oval. They are brave men and women that drive those things.”