LAS VEGAS, Nevada
Just hours before he was killed in a fiery crash, two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon had signed a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract to replace the departing Danica Patrick at Andretti Racing.
Wheldon, 33, had been basically unemployed since being fired before the 2011 racing season by Panther Racing. He had picked up rides for three races during the season, including the Indy 500 which he won for a second time when J. R. Hildebrand (who replaced him at Panther) crashed on the final turn of the final lap.
Patrick was leaving Andretti Racing after the season finale at Las Vegas, to drive in NASCAR racing next year.
This, from Tom Blattler, at Andretti Racing:
Wheldon drove for Andretti Autosport from 2003 to 2005, winning the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and series championship. He was part of a powerful, four-car Andretti juggernaut including Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta that won 11 of 17 races during that magical ’05 season.
“He was a very close friend and we had just literally inked it this morning,” Michael Andretti said. “We had great plans to do fun things together. I’m going to miss him. There was a lot of life in that guy. He was part of the glory days here. We had a combination that has never been put together in the sport of auto racing, in my opinion.
“But it’s part of our sport. He knew the risks; we all know the risks when we get in the car. It probably touches me a little more because of everything that was going on. It’s a terrible thing, but unfortunately in our sport we’ve had a lot of days like these. They suck, but that’s the way it is.”
Wheldon was appearing in the race, in a temporary arrangement with Sam Schmidt Racing, in an attempt to win a $5 million bonus if he could start last in the 34-car field and finish first.
Wheldon is the first reigning Indianapolis 500 champion since Bill Vukovich in 1955 to die in a racing accident.
October, 16, 2011