Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Dan Wheldon's IndyCar Triumph — and Tragedy

As the 100th running of the Indy 500 entered its final lap, rookie J.R. Hildebrand could have cruised to the finish, his lead was so big. "Come on baby, bring it home," Hildebrand's crew chief said over the radio. But before his coronation — replete with the ceremonial chugging of milk — could begin, Hildebrand came in too high on the last turn. "No!" the television commentators screamed as Hildebrand crashed into the wall. "It's a helpless feeling," Hildebrand said afterward. As his wrecked car stammered to the finish, Dan Wheldon passed him to win his second career Indy 500. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Wheldon's wife Susie screamed into the radio. "I love you so much."

Those words make the postscript even more heartbreaking. In October, during the final race of the IndyCar season in Las Vegas, Wheldon became entangled in a 15-car wreck; his car turned over in the air and crashed into the "catch fence" above the wall. After being airlifted to a hospital, Wheldon, 26, was pronounced dead. He is survived by his wife and two young children. At the Vegas track, Wheldon's fellow racers did five tribute laps in his honor.