Dan Wheldon is the last driver that I've truly said is my "favorite." Before him, I was a Dario Franchitti guy. Dario was the first driver I met and he was ridiculously nice and courteous to the fans. Then...he went to NASCAR. My few interactions with him afterward were a lot different. Don't know why, but he seemed much more "businesslike'" and I didn't care for it.
After not having "a guy" for a few years, I took to Dan Wheldon leading up to the 2011 Indianapolis 500. He always appeared friendly (I've never heard a person say a negative thing about him) and I loved his demeanor and sense of humor about not having a full season ride. I walked the speedway grounds inside and out that May looking for Dan Wheldon gear. I was never successful.
I was successful at picking up some autographs.
Dan signed these hero card at a driver signing at the Castleton Mall, that was sponsored by the Series Title Sponsor, IZOD. I recall that there were three lines. One was for Helio Castroneves, one for Danica Patrick and one for everyone else. To get in the Castroneves or Patrick lines, you had to make a qualifying purchase of IZOD IndyCar gear in one of the stores. I did, but still decided that I'd rather get signatures from 30+ drivers instead of just one. To this day, I don't regret the decision. You'll see a lot of the autographs I got that day on the blog in the future.
The hero card autographs weren't my favorite of the month, though. This was...
I bought the helmet on eBay a few months earlier. I knew I would have pit passes (thanks to my former employer) so one day of practice/qualifying, I put the helmet into my backpack, hoping to get it signed. I spotted Wheldon and waited. And I mean WAITED. It was worth it, because this is my Dan Wheldon story and it showed me how nice of a man he was.
He spent a good amount of time talking to Sam Schmidt. While I'm standing there, three ladies made their way over and started yelling for Dan. Eventually one of them stepped back from the pit wall. We started chatting and she told me the story. It had become a "tradition" for one of the girls to find Dan every year and propose to him, even after he married. It was a joke (I think) and he knew the girl and what to expect each year. I watched him talk to her with a smile on his face. He knew well who she was. My typing this does the interaction no justice whatsoever. For me, it confirmed all of the things that I'd always heard about him.
I'm not an autograph hound by any stretch of the imagination. Unless I'm paying for an autograph, I would never ask for anything special. However, he was happy to sign and asked if I wanted him to put number 10 with the signature. That was his number when he had won his first (and only at the time) Indianapolis 500. I wasn't going to tell him no!
I attended the race that year and Wheldon won his second Indianapolis 500 championship. It was one of the most memorable,a nd shocking, finishes of all time. I could type it out, but I encourage you to watch instead.
We were sitting at the entrance to turn one and had no idea what happened. We were still confused when J.R. Hildebrand's damaged car finally slowed in front of us. We thought he had still won but were wrong. Dan Wheldon won his second Indianapolis 500. It would also be the last victory of his career.
Just four months later, Dan Wheldon was killed in a wreck at the Las Vegas race. It was awhile after the wreck before he found out, but somehow, I just knew. The scene almost immediately was somber and it reminded me of the day that Dale Earnhardt (who had become my favorite NASCAR driver) was killed.
Do you remember those hero cards I showed above? The night that he died, I went to eBay. There were a few auctions for those same signed cards ending that night. I believe the first ended at around $800 and then the next two were $700 and $600ish. What was truly disgusting were all of the autographs that were listed over the next handful of hours. It disgusts me to this day and makes me a a bit ashamed anytime I ask for an in-person autograph.
You feel like it can't really get any worse but sometimes it does. Sometime in the next few days, we found out about what Wheldon and his wife Susie did the night before that fateful day. It's always hit me as he knew what was coming or something.
LINK: Dan Wheldon and wife got matching tattoos night before deadly crash
Thank you, Dan, for gracing us with your presence. Thank you for being so kind to everyone. You will never be forgotten. If Sebastian ever becomes a driver, like you, he has a life-long fan in me. Godspeed.
Since I probably won't have another opportunity to, I'm going to take this time to show off a few Dan Wheldon cards in my collection.
|2007 Rittenhouse IRL - Autographs #NNO Dan Wheldon|
Per Trading Card Database, Wheldon's only pack-released cards came in this 2007 Rittenhouse set. This is his only certified autograph. I used to have a few copies of them, but at some point sold off the others (before his death). I wish I had them back.
This is a promo card for that same Rittenhouse set.
I believe this "card" was from a sheet released by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's not something that is commonly cataloged, that I know of. On TCDB, the only non-Rittenhouse card listed is a Sports Illustrated for Kids card.
This one is from a 1:64 scale diecast that I purchased (and opened). Thankfully, I have a few more unopened pieces. I'm thinking about selling off the 25 or so IndyCar diecast that I have, but I'll definitely keep at least one unopened Wheldon.
So, there you have it. I hope to make this a weekly post, but as I said before, we will see how it goes. I hope you enjoyed it and if you don't follow IndyCar at all, hopefully you learned a little bit about Dan Wheldon.
I've decided to try selling on Sports Card Direct again. Hopefully you'll take a look at my page and see if there's anything you're interested in. I can always sell off the site and ship in a PWE if you're only looking for a card or two and don't want to pay $3 shipping.
If you shop online and haven't signed up and used ebates yet, you're missing out. I also use it on eBay to get money back from purchases there. Between referrals and cash back, I've gotten over $150 in a year. FREE CARDS! I have another $40+ going into my Paypal account in the next couple weeks.