It is impossible to talk about this year’s race without thinking about last year’s winner Dan Wheldon. In the twenty-seven Indianapolis 500′s I have attended, Dan was the best champion. His enthusiasm for Indy and his love for life was infectious. He was one of those rare people that you simple could not dislike. His thrillingly unexpected win last year was one of the greatest stories in the history of the 500, and a win that was most worthy to bear the banner of the 100th anniversary running of the 500. In winning the 100th anniversary race it seemed appropriate that Dan broke a record that had stood for 99 years – least laps led by a winning driver. The previous record was 2, by Joe Dawson in 1912. Dan led one. His record will never be broken.
As much as I love and live for the 500, I returned to Indy on May 17 with as much trepidation as excitement. The last time a defending champion did not live long enough to defend his title was back in 1946. Dan’s passing really took the wind out of my sails, and is why I never finished my blog on the 2011 race (part three is still in draft mode, unfinished). Even though I’ve been following auto racing long enough to know that our hero’s die, during my life the sport went from a time where we almost expected them to die, to a time where we expect them to retire relatively unscathed. The Indianapolis 500 lost it’s greatest ambassador when Dan was killed on October 16, 2011. We will remember Dan during the ceremonies leading up to and including the 500, but there will definitely be something very special missing this year.