Assigments, Motorsports Photography, Sports Photography

Dark Days at the Racetrack_ RIP Dan Wheldon, 1978-2011

It’s been more than 45 years since my dad took me to my first race at the short track at Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts, and I guess I’m as hooked on motorsports today as I was when first heard the roar of a race car engine and the flashy race cars as a 5-year-old way back when.

If you spend that many years following racing, and you even end up making your living as a photographer of race cars, it’s inevitable that you are going to live through one of the occasional dark, tragic days that can never be far away from a world of brave young men and 200 mile an hour machines. Today was such a day.

I was not in Las Vegas when Dan Wheldon crashed and died early in today’s IndyCar race, I had just arrived home from covering last night’s NASCAR race in Charlotte, NC and was watching some NFL football on my couch when I heard the news.

I am not a regular on the IndyCar series, but have covered some races, and my job as the series photographer for the Grand-Am Rolex Series have given me the opportunity to photograph Dan Wheldon when he ran the Rolex 24 at Daytona for Chip Ganassi. (He won the race in 2006)

Contrary to many people’s belief, us photographers do not always get to meet and become friends with all the drivers we photograph, but we definitely do get an inside feel for the type of people that many of these athletes are and the kind of lives they lead.

Upon hearing the sad news today, I recalled the feelings I always had when around Dan Wheldon. He was a nice young gentleman who seemed genuinely interested in putting forth the time and effort to make his offtrack responsibilities productive, entertaining and successful. He really seemed to love what he did and took huge satisfaction and joy and his racing triumphs and life in general. I was always left with a positive feeling anytime I dealt with Dan Wheldon.

So, this evening, I am once again left with the sad empty, feeling of trying to understand how a young man can wake up one morning, get dressed and go out to do what he loves, only to never come home. In the blink of an eye, another name is added to the too-long list of great young racers who will never grow old. I can’t even begin to imagine the loss his family must be enduring tonight and my thoughts are with them in their pain.

As safety innovations are constantly improving the sport we love, we go through long stretches where the racing is thrilling, the victories are great and the dark days are behind us. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, comes another day like today.

RIP Dan Wheldon, you are hugely missed.


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