INDIANAPOLIS - Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of IndyCar driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon at the Izod IndyCar Series World Championship in Las Vegas.
Various tributes have poured in over the past year remembering not only the driver who won 16 races and a series championship, but as a constant fan favorite.
Below is a reprint of the column written by Larry Hawley shortly after his death on Oct 16th, 2011.
Above is a video tribute to Wheldon that not only highlighted his driving exploits in Indianapolis, but also his philanthropic efforts in the city.
A WINK AND A SMILE - OCTOBER 16, 2011
BY LARRY HAWLEY
A failed crooner knows this song well.
Yes, I fall in that category. Having been a below-average bass and tenor in choir in high school, there were many a song that I gave a college try.
That included on that has been done countless times by various singers-groups big or small-that conveys a simple message with a snappy melody.
So why was it that it would pop into my head in one of the most painful days in the history of open wheel racing, moments after a choked up Randy Bernard confirmed what many of the faces of the Izod IndyCar Drivers conveyed minutes earlier.
It was my memory of Dan Wheldon. A Wink And A Smile. It was there immediately when his fiery accident become absolute.
This, of course, has nothing to do with anything that happened in the confines of Las Vegas Motor Speedway but rather the Indianapolis Motor Speedway late last month.
I was making my way down towards turn one of the speedway having entered from the entrance to Gasoline Alley. At the time, I was running slightly behind for my own schedule but right on time for the event of the day: The first test of the new 2012 Izod IndyCar machine on the two-and-a-half mile oval.
Carrying my big blue camera case in one hand and my tripod in another, I approached the main staging area for the crew of the car about two-third of the way down pit lane. Then, he emerged.
With a look of excitement at the opportunity of the day, Wheldon emerged from one of the "F1" garages at the Speedway as he prepared to jump into the new machine. But before making his way there, he caught a glimpse of me trudging my way towards the staging place for there.
For a quick moment, he pointed to me in acknowledgment and then ever so briefly gave another quick gesture.
A wink and a smile.
I remember nodding at the gesture and smiling myself, but not being surprised. During previous interviews in the past, Wheldon would always offer a warm greeting, a question about your day, and other pleasantries. Many others not only in the press but with fans as well could share a similar story of warm receptions for the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion.
Each of us went on to do our jobs after the three-second exchange. Wheldon's was to shake out this completely different machine on the most fierce oval that the Izod IndyCar Series has to offer, while mine was to sequence his quest on video to the best of my ability.
As he had in the past, Wheldon put on a good show. He was able to get around the track with increased speed and efficiency with every passing lap, then placed his observations and hopes into a witty prose accentuated with an English accent.
"There's not one piece on this car that's been carried over from the previous," said Wheldon of this machine, enthusiastic about its ability to produce safety as much as speed.
It was the ultimate Wheldon moment, a combination of glowing personality along with a keen knowledge for what it took to produce good and effective racing. His devotion to open wheel racing in America could be seen in his enthusiasm for the new car along with his underlying hints that he missed being in a car full time.
Call it the ultimate Wheldon moment, known by those who raced with him and new him and obvious to those who share an occasional interview.
For me and many others that day, it was the last with Wheldon. A flying crash into the catch fence ended an Izod IndyCar career that was ready to have a second life with Andretti Autosport, who eyed Wheldon for the soon-to-be-vacated Danica Patrick seat.
Its a goodbye to one of the few who saw American open wheel racing as a destination not a step. Gone is the work Wheldon did in FF2000 Championship Series, Toyota Atlantic Series and the Indy Lights Series to reach his ultimate goal of the top circuit.
Gone is an ambassador for the next era of IndyCar set to begin with a machine he helped to shape. For Indianapolis 500 buffs, there is an entire fall, winter, and spring without the race's defending champion.
For wife Susie and two children, gone is a family man.
In the end for me, its a loss of someone who had the same belief as I in putting in the time, someone I looked up to as an example of how to convey a confident and positive outlook on life. Someone who found a way to improve himself even after reaching the pinnacle of his chosen line of work.
Victories on the track will serve as a reminder of what he meant and still means to open wheel racing. Mine's much easier, straight to the point.
A wink and a smile on a windy day at the speedway. A gesture that lives even when someone dies.
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