Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s main gate turned into a memorial for the late two-time Indy 500 winner
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) ― Dan Wheldon’s biggest fans wanted one more chance to thank their favorite driver Monday.
One-by-one they turned Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s main gate into a memorial for the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, who was killed Sunday in a fiery crash at Las Vegas. Less than 24 hours later, the iron bars at IMS were decorated with flowers, notes of condolence, checkered flags, American and British flags and even half-gallon milk jugs, symbolic of the traditional victory drink at Indy.
“Dan was special, he was a hero,” said Nick Garside, a 37-year-old Indy resident who grew up in Wheldon’s home country of England. “We had a group of British fans who would get together the last nine years in the plaza and fly our flags. Dan made us happy on two occasions. He gave me two of the happiest days of my life and one of the saddest as well.”
It was Indy where the 33-year-old IndyCar driver had his greatest successes and the most devoted fan-base outside his native country.
Workers install a banner to honor Dan Wheldon in Indianapolis on Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)
He won the Indianapolis 500 driving for Michael Andretti’s team in 2005 and won it again in May for Bryan Herta’s team ― in what was, at the time, his only scheduled race of the season. Along with being the 18th driver to win Indy twice, Wheldon also finished as the runner-up in 2009 and 2010 with Panther Racing and finished third in 2004.
Fans loved him for more than winning races, though.
“He was an amazing driver, an amazing father, an amazing person,” said Paula Buis, a 41-year-old Indy resident who dropped off an American flag with flowers attached to it. “He smiled wide and he was always happy around everybody. My heart goes out to everybody who loves him.”
Track officials lowered the flags above the main office to half-staff, and later Monday afternoon, they hung a 5-foot by 30-foot banner with Wheldon posing with Indy’s Borg-Warner trophy.
Fans were honoring Wheldon long before the banner went up.
One brought a pumpkin with the No. 77 carved into it, the number Wheldon was driving Sunday at Las Vegas. Another placed two green candles on a handwritten note, explaining that the candles represented his two Indy wins. Another added a child’s drawing with a heart colored in crayon with the words “We Love You!”
The most poignant message: “To Dan’s children and their mommy, you are in our thoughts and prayers.”
Garside hung a large Union Jack flag with the words “Brit Corner” emblazoned on the cross of St. George. It dominated the scene at the gate.
“It feels better to have it here than in my garage,” he said.