Day five calls for "a certified autograph card of one of your favorite players."
I've had plenty of favorite players over time and I'm attempting to work them all in. There were a lot of cards I considered for day five before settling on this one.
|2007 Rittenhouse IRL Autographs #17 Dan Wheldon|
He signed this for me at IMS in 2011. I hadn't had a favorite IndyCar driver since Dario Franchitti left for NASCAR after the 2007 season. When Franchitti came back home I was excited, but he wasn't the same as he was before. I met him multiple times but after he came back, he didn't seem as friendly and I just couldn't take to him the same.
Dan Wheldon has started to take over as that "favorite" even though he wasn't in the series full-time in 2011. I loved listening to him calling races early that season and just took to him. I bought the mini-helmet in hopes I could track him down to sign it.
One day I was in the pits and I saw Wheldon out over the wall talking to Sam Schmidt. I wasn't passing on the opportunity and waited. At one point three girls came over and one yelled "Dan" and got his attention. One of the other girls stayed back and we started chatting. She told me the story that they had a "tradition." Each year at Indy, the girl found him and asked him to marry her. He always politely declined. The same held true in 2011.
I'm glad that I was able to experience that interaction. It showed me that everything I ever heard about Dan being a great guy was indeed true. When he saw the girl, he KNEW who she was. He face lit up and he ended his conversation to come over and hug her. The girl I'd been talking to made sure to ask him to sign my helmet for me and he graciously did. He drove the #98 car in 2011 but asked me if I wanted him to sign it with the #10, since that's the number he drove to an Indianapolis 500 victory. Who would say no to that?
Just a few days later...
I was sitting almost in turn one for this race. We had no idea what happened and were completely confused with no idea that Dan Wheldon won this race. I wished that I had been wearing some #98 gear to support him, but there was NONE AVAILABLE! (Thanks for nothing, Maingate)
I told myself that hopefully he'd get a full time ride for the 2012 season and there's be PLENTY of gear for me to choose from. It wasn't to be.
Dan Wheldon was killed in an incident on October 16, 2011. I was watching the race (of course) and I could tell immediately that it wasn't good. I've seen a lot of racing in my day and I feared the worst.
After his death was announced, I watched to see what happened on eBay. The same hero cards (handouts) that Wheldon had signed for me were suddenly selling for as high as $800. The seller did nothing I would question, they were on seven day auctions and ended within hours after Wheldon's death. I never had any thoughts of selling my hero cards, the signed card above or the helmet. They will always hold a special place in my heart.
It was later revealed that the morning he died, Wheldon signed with Andretti Autosport to compete full-time during the 2012 season. We also found out that the night before the wreck, he and his wife got tattoos with each other's initials.
Godspeed, Lionheart. I miss you.