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The memory that stands out to me most, is meeting Dan Wheldon at Bump Day on Sunday May 23rd 2011.
I had to miss the Indy 500 to attend an out of town wedding. It was the first race I’d missed in about 10 years. Luckily, I had the privilege of obtaining hospitality and suite passes for qualification weekend. I immediately agreed on going since I knew I couldn’t make it to the race that year.
This was the first time I had ever had pit passes for an IndyCar race so it was the first time I got the chance to walk up and down the pits. It was the most incredible experience. I even got to meet drivers Charlie Kimble, J.R. Hillderbrand, and legend Arie Luyendyk that day as well.
But my favorite moment of the day, and of all my time at the IMS, was about to come.
I was sitting on the wall by Helio Castroneves’s pit looking down pit row, and I saw a silhouette of a man standing near the scoring pylon dressed in white. I immediately jumped off the wall and ran down pit lane while yelling to my friends “Oh my god there’s Dan Wheldon!”. I took off like a bullet leaving my two friends behind me saying “What is going on?”.
I, like so many others, have been a Wheldon fan since his first Indy 500 win in 2005. It didn’t hurt that he was English and gorgeous as well. My girl friends and I stood at the entrance of Gasoline Alley trying to say hello to Dan and get his attention. He smiled and waved. We waited patiently to see if we could get an autograph.
It began to rain and all the drivers and crews started heading for cover, Dan started to walk away, and then stopped, turned, smiled, and headed directly our way. I asked if I could give him a hug, and he said “of course” and he gave me a big hug! It’s sort of fuzzy after that because I believe I briefly lost consciousness for a moment. My friends and I got our picture with him, wished him luck at the race, and then I proposed marriage to him and he said “you have to talk to my wife about that” and laughed. He was the nicest, sincerest person.
I listened to the race on the radio and watched the finish on TV, and when Dan won I cried and ran outside screaming that he had won the race! My favorite driver won the anniversary of the Indy 500! AND I got to meet him for the first time ever the weekend before!!!
His untimely death broke my heart and many others in the racing community, but I was very fortunate to have met him. Last year, in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 program was the picture of me hugging Dan. That moment will live forever in my memory and will always resonate within the walls of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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Andrea, I want to tell you I shared a similar experience that day. My sister and I were standing in the pits, and it was later in the day and all of the garages were closed. And then we saw Dan. We did the same thing, asking if we could get a picture with him. He was so genuine and sweet. He asked me if I played volleyball. Here we were, with an idol in the racing community and he wanted to know about my life?! Anyway, watching him win the next day was amazing. He will be forever missed at each and every future 500. What a memory.
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