Dan Wheldon: Ten Years Later
JR Hildebrand Crashes
This happened in front of my seats. I encourage you to click that link just to hear the fans (me included). 10 years later I still don’t believe what I saw. Source

Charlie Kimball ran out of fuel and was low on the apron trying to get back to the pits in Turn 4.  Hildebrand caught Kimball at the wrong time and ran high out of 4.  Hildebrand got out of the groove and slammed into the wall.  Wheldon, running second, ducked past Kimball, avoided the debris from Hildebrand, and swept by at the last second to grab the checkered flag first.  To his credit, Hildebrand kept his foot on the gas and skidded all the way down the front straight, coasting all the way through Turn 1 on two wheels.  He was devastated, a small mistake ruining a fairy tale ending.

Nobody remembers 2nd at Indy. Source

Nobody could believe what happened.  The crowd, myself included, went wild.  It was, and still is, the craziest finish to the 500, and one of the craziest finishes of any race.  Dixon or Franchitti should have won this race: the pair led a combined 124 laps, or over 300 miles and were untouchable until the mileage race at the end.  Wheldon is only credited for leading the final lap and in reality he only led about two football fields worth of the entire race.  Drag racers usually lead for longer when they win.  For Wheldon it was vindication: not only did he beat the team that screwed him over, but he reminded the IndyCar paddock exactly how good he was.  He reminded fans just how personable, fun, and charming he was.  This win meant everything to him.  Even if his season ended right then and there, he could be a happy man.  It meant everything to Herta as well.  This was his team’s second ever IndyCar race and they had just won the Indianapolis 500.

Wheldon Takes a Milk Shower
It’s rare that Dan Wheldon is at a loss for words. This was one of those rare moments. His interview was a rambling mess filled with raw, unfiltered joy. Source

In the old days, winning an Indy 500 would completely change a driver’s life.  While modern Indy 500 winners do receive a ton of praise, fame, and pomp, it is rare they can say their lives have changed.  Wheldon is an exception.  Due to their success (and because they were not planning to compete for the rest of the season) IndyCar hired Bryan Herta’s team to test the new Dallara IR-12 car with Wheldon driving.  The Versus Network, the predecessors to NBCSN and the network that was broadcasting the majority of IndyCar races at the time, hired Wheldon as a color commentator.  He performed the job brilliantly, ensuring he would have a career after driving.  For Bryan Herta Autosport, winning at Indy and testing the IR-12 propelled them from a team nearing bankruptcy to one that would compete successful full-time seasons until the end of last year when Covid-19 forced Herta’s team to be fully absorbed by Andretti Autosport.

Wheldon DW12 testing
Wheldon performed the majority of testing for Dallara’s prototypes before the car was put into full production late in 2011. Source


  1. Great article, not a fan a Indy and at that time I had no idea of who DW was, but after reading this I have a very clear idea of what a larger than life character and his overall impact in the series.

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