One Final Dan Wheldon Tribute

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While Susan and I were on our honeymoon last week, we had only one day that it rained enough to keep us off the beach. So, where did my thoughts turn that one day? To racing, of course. We each had one racing related goal on our honeymoon. I wanted to drive into St. Petersburg and check out the street course layout, while Susan wanted to visit Dan Wheldon’s gravesite.

It was pretty easy to find the layout of the temporary street circuit in St. Pete, but finding Wheldon’s final resting place was a bit more challenging. Susan decided a few weeks ago that she wanted to pay her respects to Dan, but she was having difficulty finding where he was buried. But through some online investigating, she finally struck up an e-mail correspondence with someone who claimed to know exactly where it was – even though the gravesite has been left unmarked for now. For no fee – just on the condition of anonymity; he gave her the name of the cemetery, directions and photos of the exact spot. I’ve read his e-mails and he certainly seemed to be on the up and up and didn’t seem to be interested in giving us false information. We took him at his word.

I am certain the Wheldon family have kept the location a secret to prevent his plot from becoming a daily makeshift shrine – and to keep people from doing what we did. Out of respect for the privacy they seek, I’ll not divulge the location of the cemetery. I’ve also altered the photo of a neighboring marker to obscure the name. Although I felt a little apprehension in going there and carrying out our plan – I was glad we did it afterwards.

First of all, we drove into St. Petersburg and quickly found the track layout. Once we found it, it was easy to follow. The course is outlined in red lines on each side of the track. Of course, the concrete barriers and temporary seats are gone, but the red lines tell you exactly where the course runs. I’m not sure why, but I was a little surprised that the red & white curbing was still in place. If you think about it, though – how could they get rid of it? There are some sections where the circuit runs through some park-like areas that cars can’t reach. Then, there is the section from Dan Wheldon Way that runs through the airport section to the runway that was inaccessible to us.

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The following two pictures show where the stands were that held those cheering for Helio Castroneves as he patted the oversized Dan Wheldon Way sign, then where the fencing stood that held the sign.

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Still, it was fun to drive on a portion of the track and bang the red & white curbing with the rental car at speed. Susan was very unimpressed with my driving “in the wet” when I went just a little fast for the Nissan Sentra and went just little wide on the exit of the turn. Speaking of rental cars; don’t ever use Payless Car Rental. The price at the counter was about double what our online quote was. When we finally realized everything they had added without telling us, our final cost was still about seventy-five dollars more than the quote. Plus, our Wayne Newton look-alike clerk was just a little too slimy for my liking. But I digress…

As the skies began to clear in the late afternoon, we set out for the cemetery. As I said, I was a little uncertain of this quest. I wasn’t sure that we had been given correct information and I questioned whether this was the proper thing to do. But I decided if we were tasteful and respectful, then it would be OK.

After Dan Wheldon won the Indianapolis 500 last year, Susan’s son Eric was trolling around the pits and the track looking for souvenirs. He and his friend came across the usual collection of tear-off visors, bits of marbles from the tires and various other pieces of memorabilia. One of the more unusual things he found in the Victory Lane area was one of the orchids contained in the Borg-Warner wreath that Wheldon had worn proudly just a short time earlier.

Susan took it home and preserved it for Eric’s collection of racing artifacts. Of course, it became even more cherished when Wheldon was fatally injured at Las Vegas last October.

When Susan and I were married on May 18 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, her bouquet was made up of the same type of orchids that are found in the Borg-Warner wreath that adorns the winner of the Indianapolis 500 each year, and the exact same type that she had preserved a year ago. She thought it would be an appropriate symbolic gesture to save a single orchid to take with us and lay it on Dan Wheldon’s grave to sort of give back and replace the one from last year. I agreed.

We found the cemetery and had no trouble locating the plot that was supposedly Wheldon’s. We are still not one-hundred percent sure that this was indeed the burial site of Dan Wheldon; but we could certainly tell that this was indeed a relatively new, but completely unmarked grave. Without a word being said between us, Susan stood over the gravesite for a few moments and quietly knelt down and placed her lone bouquet orchid at the foot of the turned plot of earth. Whether or not that was truly the final resting place for Dan Wheldon, we may not know for years. But we left with a good feeling, regardless.

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It was a unique experience to repay one orchid for another, right in the middle part of our honeymoon. The word that Susan kept using to describe the moment was “sobering”, and I couldn’t agree more. Last week, I read Paul Dalbey’s excellent article on More Front Wing.com entitled “It’s Time To Let Dan Go”. I completely agree. We all knew that the opening race at St. Petersburg would be emotional, as well as this year’s Indianapolis 500. Now that they are both behind us, I think it’s time for the gut-wrenching tributes to end. But I felt compelled to share our experience last week of when we (hopefully) visited Dan Wheldon’s gravesite. After today, I also plan to let Dan go.

George Phillips

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18 Responses to “One Final Dan Wheldon Tribute”

  1. SkipinSC Says:

    George and Susan,
    There is no rulebook on the grieving process. I find your visit and simple tribute entirely tasteful. And, while I am no fan of Dario Franchitti, his taking Susie on his victory lap in the pace car seemed to put a perod on the sentence. Well chosen thoughts, sentiments, and actions my friends.

  2. Tampa Joe Says:

    Did it ever occur to you two that maybe the Wheldons kept it a secret was to keep clowns like you from leaving trash on his grave? I live near there and dont never plan on going there. This is why bloggers rank down there with insurance salesman and lawyers.

    • Simon Garfunkel Says:

      Quite the contrary, Joe. I found what George & Susan did to be completely in good taste. This post was well written and respectful. It brought full closure to the flower as they paid their quite respects. In truth, I found myself getting a little misty-eyed as I read it. That is, until I read your hate-filled comments.

      I agree with Skip. People grieve in different ways. I thought this was a perfect tribute to a great man. If it brought comfort to George & Susan, what’s wrong with that?

      • It was not the idea that they left a flower, it was the idea that the original sender of the info. and pictures did not want it posted on any website due to respect for the family. I also have received this information most likely before they did and have kept my word.

    • I saw absolutely NOTHING wrong with what they did. George went out of his way not to divulge the location and they treated the entire act with dignity. A single flower with so much meaning behind it would not be considered “trash” by anyone with any sensibility to them. I enjoyed reading this piece and think what this did was terrific…and in good taste.

      Shame on you!

    • Hal Bush Says:

      For someone who disdains bloggers, you certainly make the rounds.

    • I have visited the grave of Shoeless Joe Jackson (of baseball fame). His grave is treated very respectfully. People will leave a baseball or two, and a bat and been known to be left on the marker. This in addition to flowers. The biggest concern here is most likely that someone would steal the marker, not that people would visit. Once some time passes, they will put out the marker.

  3. Whenever I am around a grave site of someone I admire I will try for a visit and pay respects. I would have done the same with Dan. If ever I am in Fresno I will plan a trip to Vuky’s grave. By the way, if you ever find yourself at West Point, take a tour which included the cemetary. Also, the Arlington National Cemetary is pretty awesome.

  4. The Lapper Says:

    Dan is always going to be spoken of whenever I talk about the all-time INDY 500 grid. Nice thought George and thank you for sharing this with us.

    The Lapper

  5. Good story again, George. I am in agreement with what you did and wrote.

  6. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    A great way to pay tribute to Danny Boy, thanks very much for sharing that George and Susan…

  7. I also received the same information and pictures of Dan’s grave. It was agreed by the sender that this information was not to be posted on any website out of respect for his family. I find this very distasteful considering that if the family wanted the public to know, they would have released the information themselves. I feel the placing of a flower was appropriate, but this posting and pictures were not. It should have been kept to yourselves. After all, I’m sure there is a reason that there is no marker yet and it should be up to the family to disclose that information. Shame on you.

    • Actually, Susan told the sender what she wanted to do and he was fine with it. As mentioned, there was nothing shown to give the location away. I even removed names from the nearby markers. After this post, Susan e-mailed the link to the sender. There was no confidence broken and no location given. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I feel we treated the confidentiality and the entire situation with respect. From most of the other comments from regular readers, they agree. – GP

      • Actually, there was something that was shown to give the location away. There are not that many cemeteries in that area. The stone with the dolphins on it and the shrubbery along side the graves would make it very recognizable to anyone familiar with that area. I have a very close friend in St. Pete who knew the Wheldon’s and we both think it was inappropriate to post the pictures. I have no problem with you visiting the grave, but you should have kept it to yourself out of respect for Susie. And actually, it is not up to the sender to make that decision. I know who it is and he has no links to the family. Susie will reveal the location when she is ready.

  8. Loopii7 Says:

    I think what you did is very thoughtful and the orchid is a beautiful gesture especially with the sentiment it holds but I truly believe that Susie has with held this information because she too is still grieving and sometimes you need a place to go where no one else will be to spend time with your loved one lost to sit in peace and think. She’s probably not ready to share him yet. And I hope that if this is indeed his final resting place and if people do recognise the area that they too are sympathetic and that this does not prevent Susie and the boys from visiting her husbands/daddys grave in the worry that they may bump into someone.

    • Finally someone has hit the nail on the head. This is exactly what I was trying to get across. Having a friend who knew the Wheldon’s, I know through conversations that many people go up to Susie to talk about Dan and it is very hard for her. She needs her private time to grieve and heal. When she is ready the world will know. Thank you for your sense of understanding.

  9. I miss Dan every day and the world just ins’t the same without him in it. I would love to visit his final resting place to pay my respect to Dan and his family when they are ready to reveal it.

  10. Broderic Banta Says:

    Where is DWs grave? I am a huge fan, and the guy was a personal hero of mine. I would like to visit the site myself.

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