After losing local legend Lee Roy Selmon just over a month ago, the Tampa Bay area has now lost another local legend: IndyCar racer Dan Wheldon died on Sunday in a horrific 15-car crash during the IndyCar World Championship in Las Vegas. He was 33 years old.
Wheldon was a two time winner of the Indianapolis 500, but even the best and most experienced drivers can't escape when a large crash happens right in front of you. Some of the racers had expressed misgivings before the race on the size of the field and the fact that the track was so small, fearing that the conditions could lead to a massive crash, and they turned out to be eerily prophetic. Wheldon himself was only at the race because of a special deal he struck with the IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard that allowed him to compete despite not having a sponsor. IndyCar wanted a large field, and well...it got it.
A native of England, Wheldon had made St. Petersburg his home in recent years. From today's St. Petersburg Times:
"It's a tremendous blow for this sport and his adopted city," St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said. "All I can think about is his wife and children at this time. As a community, we're just going to lift his family up and make sure they're supported.
"He was a member of this community. ... He loved St. Pete. This was his home. We adopted him as our favorite racing son."
Wheldon is survived by his wife and two sons, ages two and seven-months. No death is easy to swallow, but whenever someone dies and leaves behind a young family, my insides curl up in a ball for the day. It adds a whole new meaning to the word tragic.