by Navi | October 16, 2012
Today we remember and honor our friend, the late Dan Wheldon. Dan was Simraceway’s first pro driver and in part because of that, but more because of who he was, his impact on our world was simply huge. He not only opened the door to his beloved world of IndyCar—which to us was like heading through the wardrobe into Narnia—he did so with a warmth and welcome that was as unexpected as it was disarming.
Dan entered our orbit in 2009 and was intrigued with our project because of the large volume of simulator testing he’d been doing that year. After some discussions, it was agreed he should get involved and start helping us develop the physics side of the game. From that point on we were constantly surprised by how prepared he was to roll up his sleeves and give us the necessary time to talk though this issue or that, as well as the insight of his feedback and, of course, how testing sessions would always go on for “just another 20 minutes.”
One of our fondest memories is when we’d really started to get the basics of the environment working well and the 2011 IndyCar model dialed in. Dan’s session that day ran wildly over schedule to the point where his assistant was on her fourth or fifth “we’re late for x appointment and HAVE to go” but found herself simply unable to break his focus until he’d hit his target time!
Of course, despite his tardiness, whomever he was seeing for that next appointment would no doubt have left it entirely enthralled because Dan was Dan and he brought this intense focus to everything he did, a focus that rarely failed to impress and charm. He was the same whether racing, working on crazy start-up virtual racing environments, or learning about people he’d just met.
Dan’s involvement with Simraceway was of course but a tiny part of his larger-than-life world and, a year after his tragic passing, it’s great to see that some of his other projects have turned into legacies.
The most discussed, and perhaps pertinent, aspect of Dan’s legacy is that of driver safety. Before his untimely death, Dan was a central figure in the testing of the new 2012 IndyCar. Fittingly, one of the safety features included in the development of the car, now named the “DW12” as a tribute to his work, was the rear bumper section designed to reduce the risk of accidents just like the one Dan suffered in Las Vegas.
Away from the track, there are a number of other areas that Dan’s generous spirit touched. They didn’t tend to make the headlines in the same way as his Indy 500 victories but they were no less important. The generous donation of his winnings from his Iowa Corn Indy 250 victory in 2008 to the victims of the natural disasters that had recently struck that area was typical of the man. As was his joining fellow racers at a fundraiser for the Graham Rahal Foundation a few days before his last race.
The cause that was, perhaps, closest to his heart was that of the Alzheimer’s Association, which cares for those living with Alzheimer’s as well as advancing research to help rid the world of this debilitating disease. Dan was particularly drawn to this charity after his mother, Sue, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009, and his tireless efforts in the last few years of his life brought much-needed publicity and resources to this worthy cause.
This was the measure of the man. A warm-hearted, down-to-earth guy who was always happy to help out and made everyone he talked to feel like they were the most important person in the room. Mike Hull, Dan’s former boss at Chip Ganassi Racing, said it best when he observed that “Dan just genuinely believed life was better when everyone was included.”
So today, we’re remembering Dan, IndyCar driver, colleague, and friend—bro, you’ll always be big in Simraceway and you are very sorely missed.
Please note that, as a mark of respect, the Simraceway service will be closed all day today and will open again on Wednesday October 17th. The closing dates of all Events due to end today will be moved to tomorrow.
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