DAN, FAMILY MAN
Wheldon evolved into a
lovable and loving guy
Bryan Herta’s first impression
of Dan Wheldon back in 2003
wasn’t exactly endearing.
“He was this brash, punk kid with a
chip on his shoulder,” recalls Herta,
who was one of the Four Musketeers
at Andretti Green Racing along with
Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti
through the middle of the last decade.
The infamous raid on Dan’s shoe
collection in Japan (the boys packed
up just one of each pair and sent them
home) plus other practical jokes kept
his three older teammates amused.
“The three of us ganged up on him
and gave him an earful early on,” adds
Franchitti with a laugh. “We thought
that was pretty funny, but he didn’t!”
Wheldon could be petulant and a
little full of himself following his initial
Indy 500 victory and no public relations
person liked dealing with him…until
Susie Behm. First she handled his PR
for sponsor Jim Beam, then she
became his personal publicist. In
2008 (BELOW) they were married.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
“Dan was always a good person
but he had that wild youth and then
he settled down with Susie and
everything changed,” says Herta.
“He became a devoted husband and
father of two boys and I have never
seen him happier.”
Franchitti agrees. “At first Dan
was brash and all that stuff,
absolutely,” he says, “but he was also
a charmer. A real charmer. And then
he became this loving family guy who
was still charming but he had this
whole new side to him.”
And that unashamedly went on
very public display following his
dramatic win at Indy last May, as
he picked up two-year-old son
Sebastian, kissed baby Oliver and
hugged Susie during a truly
emotional Victory Lane celebration.
He’d matured as a race driver
during the past decade but, more
importantly, blossomed as a person.
race day and he’d wear people down and
then get by them. He hated following
people on ovals.”
Despite his prowess at turning left
and despite his pre-IRL background,
Wheldon struggled to be competitive on
road courses and street circuits following
the open-wheel merger in 2008.
“He could put a real fast lap down
during a test but, for whatever reason, I
don’t think he ever clicked with the
current car on road courses,” says Dixon.
So, after two winless years with
Panther (albeit with two more runner-up
finishes at Indy), Wheldon found himself
without a full-time ride for 2011 and
agreed to do a one-off at the Indy 500
with Bryan Herta Autosport, led by his
old teammate and Steve Newey. It was
only the second IndyCar race for the
team, but it was now under the Sam
Schmidt Motorsport umbrella.
Wheldon qualified fourth, lurked in the
top six for the whole race and seized the
moment coming to the checkered flag while
his former team’s car slid along the wall.
“Dan was amazing all month and he lifted everybody on
this team up and made them better,” says Herta.
“C’mon!” says Dixon. “I like Bryan and those guys…but for
that team to win the biggest race in the world? That was Dan.”
David Cripps, who engineered Wheldon for two years at
Panther and had JR Hildebrand one corner away from winning
Indy, sums up the career that ended way too early.
“Dan had a superb feel for the car, wasn’t intimidated by
speed, never gave up on a setup and always put in so much
effort,” he says. “And we all know that at Indianapolis, you
always see the cream rise to the top.”
Which is why two wins, two seconds, a third and a fourth at the
Brickyard says a heck of a lot about Dan Wheldon, the racer.
The Dan Wheldon Family Trust Fund has been established for the
financial security of Dan’s family. Contributions can be made at the
Fifth Third Private Bank
Attn: Dan Wheldon Family Trust
251 North Illinois St., Suite 1000
Indianapolis, IN 46204
All of Fifth Third Bank’s Indianapolis branches also are accepting
contributions in person, which will be routed to the account.
Friends and fans can also make a donation to the Alzheimer’s
Association, a cause close to Dan’s heart. For more details, visit alz.org
THE DAN WHELDON FAMILY TRUST FUND