INDIANAPOLIS -- Today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would have been a Dan Wheldon kind of day.
“A sunny day here, 100th running, he’d have been loving it,” three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti said. “He’d have been in his element, bouncing along.”
Few drivers loved the Indy 500, IMS and race fans like Wheldon, and stories about that endure even though the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion has been gone nearly five years now.
Those stories, and many more, are living on through a new book called “Lionheart – Remembering Dan Wheldon,” by Andy Hallbery and Jeff Olson. The book is on sale at the IMS Museum and various gift shops around the Speedway for $74.99, with proceeds benefitting the Dan Wheldon Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association, two causes close to Wheldon’s family. After the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 29, the book will be available worldwide via amazon.com.
Wheldon family members, former teammates Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, fellow competitors, motorsports journalists, photographers and many more friends share their personal and emotional stories in the book, which paints a full picture of the Brit from his childhood through his racing career. That career included the 2005 Verizon IndyCar Series title and wins in the 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500; Wheldon died in October 2011 at age 33 after a racing accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It’s not a glorified honorarium, it’s a much more realistic portrait of him, with all his warts,” said T.E. McHale, Honda manager of motorsports communications.
But the warts are outnumbered by the stories of friendship and dedication – to racing, to family and to fans, as Dixon, Franchitti, Kanaan and former teammate and car owner Bryan Herta shared today at a lunch to discuss the book.
“One thing he always cared about was his fans; he did a lot better job than the three of us combined here,” Kanaan said with a smile and a nod toward fellow champions Dixon and Franchitti. “Taking more time, leaving the garages earlier to sign, to interact. He liked that stuff and he always said he loved the attention.”
Dixon shared memories about how a decade ago, when he and Wheldon were teammates at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, the “Iceman” had the more relaxed approach to racing while Wheldon was the one writing pages upon pages of debriefing notes after practice.
The two weren’t friends immediately but eventually forged a bond, later strengthened as both started families.
“There were so many different things about Dan that were so likable on and off the track,” Dixon said. “Going further into our relationship, with having young kids together and spending family time together, it was fun to see how he changed.”
The contributions in “Lionheart” venture outside the INDYCAR world as well, from Formula One drivers Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber to NASCAR stars Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.
“That goes back to that thing with Dan: when you met him, you remembered him,” Franchitti said. “He had that ability to make everybody feel special and connect, whether that was a superstar like Dale Earnhardt Jr. or a 6-year-old fan he’d met for the first time.”
Herta, a Wheldon teammate and later his car owner for the triumphant 2011 Indy 500, offered the ultimate compliment for the book.
“What I’ve read is great,” he said. “It feels right to the guy we all knew.”
For more information on the book, visit lionheartbook.com.