One Final Dan Wheldon Tribute
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.
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.
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.