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Wheldon 'a champion' of IndyCar

2011-10-24 10:33

Mark Long

Florida - Of all the indelible moments from Dan Wheldon's public memorial service - fellow IndyCar drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan serving as pallbearers, his father carrying his racing helmet - the heart-wrenching letter from his wife cut deepest.

Susie Wheldon's letter to Dan left few eyes dry in the First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg.

Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, died in October 2011 during IndyCar's season finale at Las Vegas. He was remembered not only as a champion but as a devoted husband, caring father, loyal friend and as a neat freak.

Hundreds said goodbye to the 33-year-old driver during a service that included a eulogy by the best man at his wedding, and letters by his wife and sister that offered a detailed portrait of the popular, fun-loving and always tidy driver.

Susie wrote in a letter read by family friend Michael Johnson: "My sweet Dan, my whole body is aching, down to the deepest part of my soul. I keep thinking this is a bad dream.

"My heart is scattered in a million pieces. I just want to wake up and hear your reassuring voice," she wrote.

Dixon read another touching letter from Wheldon's sister, Holly.

Holly wrote: "I know a lot of sisters would describe their brothers as amazing but mine was truly one of a kind."

Holly recalled having the "same compulsive disorder" as Dan and remembered spending late nights cleaning the floor and drinking tea together.

Dan Wheldon

INDY CAR CHAMPION: Fans sign a banner during Dan Wheldon's memorial in Indianapolis.

"My brother was born to race. Dan without racing is like a cup of tea without milk, and Dan loved tea," she added.

Wheldon left behind two young sons, two-year-old Sebastian and seven-month-old Oliver.

Mourners filled the church, then watched Franchitti, Dixon, Kanaan and Wheldon's three brothers load the casket. Some waved goodbye as the caravan drove away.

Team owners Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske attended the service, along with many IndyCar drivers as well as those from other racing series.

Driver Graham Rahal said: "The past week's been a tough one. When it's someone like Dan, it really puts it all in perspective. He was a guy that was certainly friendly with everybody on the circuit and everybody close. There's just something about him. It's certainly a tough loss."

Drivers Will Power and Pippa Mann, both hurt in the 15 car crash, were still recovering from injuries when Wheldon's funeral took place.
Power was hobbling from a back injury and Mann's right arm was bandaged.

Driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said: "It's almost indescribable. This is something that I never really experienced in my life. I had a good conversation with Dan on Saturday night about everything that was going to come up. In 2012, we were going to be teammates (at Andretti Autosport).

"I just really looked up to him in many ways. He's a champion of our sport, he's everything you would want to be on and off the track. Good has to come of this; it has to. We'll all go on racing in his name. It's heartbreaking to see Susie and their two sons and the family. We're just there for them," he said.

Drivers and other mourners told stories about Wheldon on a video to be kept for his sons. The letters from Susie and Holly, as well as the eulogy by Wheldon's best man, would be a powerful addition.

Adrian Sussmann, the best man, talked about how Dan met Susie, who was a public relations representative for Wheldon's racing sponsor, and how they kept their relationship secret for so long.

He spoke about how Wheldon went from the "Dream Team" at Andretti, which also included Franchitti, Kanaan and Byran Herta, to the "Little Team That Could," the one-car team Herta put together last spring that Wheldon drove to victory in the Indy 500 in May.

"It was a finish that even Hollywood couldn't have written," Sussmann said.

Sussmann joked about Wheldon's obsession to be organised and his pursuit of perfection.

Sussman said: "His happiness came from the fact that he had everything in life that money can't buy."

Susie's letter recalled meeting Dan at a photo shoot in 2003, when she asked the "cocky and stylish" driver what his backup plan was if racing didn't work out.

"I don't have one," Wheldon told her.

She said Dan had equal passion for racing as he did his family. She promised that their boys - she called them Wheldon's "greatest accomplishment" - will grow up knowing what a loving father he was.

"I can still feel your love around me. Not even death can take that away," she wrote.

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