Last night, for the first time in my living memory I was following the death of a champion who died doing what he loved.
It’s very hard to put into words how to feel when such an event happens, but I thought I’d try to convey how I, an average motorsport fan many thousands of miles away from Las Vegas, have been affected by the tragedy.
For motorsport fans in Britain the timing of Wheldon’s death and the release of Senna on DVD are a very unhappy coincidence, with both events occurring within a week of each other. Last week I watched Senna twice and feeling the emotion as the film reached that fateful weekend at Imola.
I am too young to remember Ayrton Senna racing in Formula 1. I was just three-years-old when he was killed so, although I get slightly emotional when I see those pictures from the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, there is still a detachment because I don’t remember it happening.
However I can’t say that this time.
I’m not a massive IndyCar fan but I have a look to see what goes on in the series and I’m aware of the big names. During my teens I remember hearing his name and seeing his achievements in the motorsport press.
So when the tweets came through about a huge shunt in the season finale I was curious, and within minutes they appeared on YouTube and it looked as horrific as it sounded; the onboard camera from Will Power’s car providing some terrifying images.
When a medical helicopter arrives at a race track it’s not often a good sign and sure enough after a couple of hours guessing it was confirmed that Dan Wheldon was dead.
As I said I’m not a big IndyCar fan but I knew he had won the Indy 500 this year for the second time and was very successful in America. Not many people knew of him in this country but he was a very talented driver.
Growing up in what has probably been the safest two decades in motorsport history it’s hard to know how the death of a driver, especially one of Dan’s calibre and in such a prestigious event, makes you feel.
The only connection I have with Dan is that we’re both British. That’s it. I never saw him race live, I never met him, nothing. But it doesn’t stop an overwhelming feeling of sadness come over and the urge to cry, especially during the five lap salute made by the remaining drivers in Las Vegas while Danny Boy was played over the tannoy system. If you haven’t watched the video yet, I urge you to.
What’s made it more horrible is seeing the crash, and photos from the crash, plastered all over the press. When I first saw the crash the severity of his injuries was unclear, but seeing the BBC show the smash, including the onboard shot from his number 77 car just seconds beforehand, was particularly difficult to stomach.
Some media organisations had enlarged images showing him, effectively, being thrown to his death and it’s very upsetting to see as it leaves you to wonder what went through his mind during those seconds.
I wish I had paid more attention to his career. All I can do now is watch the races from years gone by rather than look forward to his future adventures. And while I can enjoy his skill behind the wheel and his magnetic personality, it will forever be tinged with sadness knowing he can never repeat these feats.
If there are any young motorsport fans reading this, appreciate all forms of motorsport. It’s easy in this day and age to forget that death and danger exists and this is a shocking reminder. You don’t know what you’ve missed until it’s too late, and it’s a lesson I’ve learned this week.
At the end of his commentary of the IZOD IndyCar World Championship, Marty Reid said: “People often ask me why I sign off ‘til we meet again’. Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye Dan Wheldon.”
I hope it’s not goodbye but we will meet again and that motorsport fans everywhere can tell him how good he was and how much we’ll have missed him.
Until we meet again, Dan Wheldon.