In 2005, Dan Wheldon found victory here on the Streets of St. Petersburg, his adopted-home race. At that time, the now Firestone-branded race was sponsored by Honda, the manufacturer of his engine in the No. 26 with Andretti-Green Racing. Wheldon won 6 races total that season, also standing on the top step of the podium at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, the Indianapolis 500 (his first of 2 career wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway), Pikes Peak International Raceway, and Chicagoland Speedway. He went on to win the IndyCar Series Championship that year.
A short 6 years later, the racing world lost Dan Wheldon in a tragic accident at Las Vegas Speedway. He left behind his wife Susie and two sons, Sebastian and Oliver. Susie chose to stay in St. Petersburg and raise her sons here. Less than 5 months later, she unveiled a street sign with Mayor Bill Foster at the corner of Bayshore Drive and Albert Whitted Park that read “Dan Wheldon Way”. The tribute to the driver was done strategically, as this corner is Turn 10 of the IndyCar circuit and was where Wheldon had made the pass that led to him reaching that checkered flag before the rest of the field at the inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2005.
The 2012 IndyCar season that kicked off in this beautiful waterfront city was an homage to Dan from start – with his sister Holly waving the green flag to Helio Castroneves passionately climbing the fence after his win, patting the Dan Wheldon Way sign affixed to said fence and pointing up to the sky. I still remember that so vividly, as I’m sure many of you do – it actually made my eyes tear up just typing it out.
The following year, a memorial was erected in his honor at that same turn, a concrete pillar with his likeness and another monument nearby with plaques of each winner’s name through the years here in St. Pete.
Dan Wheldon left a legacy here in the IndyCar Series – from his family, to the paddock, to the media center and weaved throughout the fan zones, the grandstands, and the entire city of St. Petersburg. His reach was international, don’t read me wrong… but he had a profound impact on this city and our particular racing community.
12 years after Dan’s St. Pete win, Susie Wheldon is continuing that legacy by putting down professional roots in St. Pete, in addition to her personal ones. This past Thursday, she opened Verve Boutique – an upscale apparel and accessory shop in the Edge district. IndyCar drivers Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, Conor Daly, and James Hinchcliffe were all on hand, modeling some of the trendy and sharp men’s streetwear that the boutique has to offer. Susie is following her passion just like Dan did – that’s the best and only way to truly love and experience life to the fullest, and she strikes me as someone who will settle for no less. Both Sebastian and Oliver were on hand, fooling around with all of their “uncle” drivers, and the extended family that is this series.
Dan was represented throughout, from the clean and chic, yet “homey” vibe of the design to the Lion mural on the wall and diecasts of his cars in the men’s watch case. His Indy 500 winning William Rast N0. 98 Honda from 2011 was even adorning the street in front of the store.
It was truly a night to remember and I was honored to be there. I wish Susie all the success in the world and all the happiness she deserves… which is infinite, just like the love of her husband.
*Wheldon family photo from IndyCar stock photos