Oh, Danny Boy…. Wheldon’s death one year later

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Last year, I told you ten things I thought were important to remember about driver Daniel Clive Wheldon, who had just died in a horrific crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. At the time, I recall thinking that it was unclear what if any impact this death would have on the racing community. So here in no particular order are things that have and have not changed since we lost Dan.

• No Change: After the race, there were suggestions that Will Power and Dario Franchitti would retire from racing or at least from oval racing. I could see the point with Power, as he had a horrific crash that day himself, becoming airborne as Dan did but without the tragic end. Dario articulated what many drivers who considered Wheldon a dear friend were feeling – was it all worth it? Both came back to decent seasons, so there were no retirements due to his death,

Mike Conway retired from oval racing
Mike Conway retired from oval racing

Photo by: Covy Moore

• Change: Right before the season ender at Fontana, AJ Foyt Racing’s sole driver, Mike Conway, retired from oval racing. I don’t think we would have seen a move like this before Dan died, and most competitors expressed support for the British driver’s courage. Such sentiments were likely not shared by the iconic Mr. Foyt.

• Change: James Hinchcliffe was signed to the slot at Andretti Autosport that Dan was to have had in 2012. Unfortunately, as dangerous a sport as it is, a good drive with a top team is still something to be grabbed like the proverbial brass ring. Hinch’s “campaign” to have Danica taken off the godaddy.com and him in her place was vintage Hinchcliffe, but it wouldn’t have happened without the loss of Wheldon.

• No Change: As has been pointed out by just about every sportswriter, there is an unfortunate irony in that Dan Wheldon was the driver who tested the 2012 Dallara chassis that contains so many safety innovations. And, not to diminish Dan’s significant role in development of the chassis, but I am not aware of any changes per se that were made as a result of the Wheldon accident apart from the one listed below.

• Change: The heavily banked short ovals (of which LVMS is one) only made one appearance in 2012 (Texas), and the drivers were very clear with the series that the kind of pack racing we saw at Las Vegas was in essence engineered out of the new car, decreasing the likelihood of another racing fatality.

James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

Photo by: James M. Holland

• No Change: Ovals are still in the picture and will be because this is the Indy Car Series. In 2013, we will add yet another one, Pocono. After LVMS, five time NASCAR champion Jimmy Johnson urged our series to stop running on NASCAR ovals. Or something like that. But the series has elected to do Plan B, keep running on the ovals, just engineer out pack racing.

• Change: I requested in last year’s remembrance that the ICS hire Beaux Barfield as their Race Director. You could have blown me over with a feather when this actually happened, and Beaux has made some wonderful changes. He’s also closer in age to the majority of the drivers, so there are some very frank discussions between him and the drivers that would probably not happen if TGBB still did that job. This year, when the drivers let Beaux know that push to pass was not working with the delay; he fixed it by the next race. It does not get much better than this. As an added bonus, since Beaux and Brian share the same initials, there was no need to change the monogrammed towels in his executive washroom when Beaux started work.

Fans pay tribute to Dan Wheldon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gates
Fans pay tribute to Dan Wheldon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gates

Photo by: IndyCar Series

• No Change: The Great Brian Barnhard (TGBB) is still part of the series, just in a less dangerous position, that of Director of Operations. He is unfortunately the guy who is responsible for the single chassis which has been so expensive for the teams this year.

• No Change: For many of us who loved Dan, the pain of his absence is still part of our lives and for some, not having him there for races is still wrenching. For those of you who have “moved on” in the words of one Facebook poster, good for you! For me, the sound of the old Irish song still reminds me of our loss:

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valleys hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so
Good bye, Danny boy, you will be missed!

See Oh Danny Boy

Story by: Lisa May Davidson

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Commentary
Tags davidson, featured, indycar, las vegas, wheldon