Waiting for the initial volley of early-morning TV and radio guest appearances, Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon reflected on the hectic race that transpired a few hundred feet from his victory podium perch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
His milk- and champagne-soaked firesuit washed overnight for a photo shoot, Wheldon also put into perspective his place in the race’s history.
“For me, winning the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 is very special,” said Wheldon, 32, a resident of St. Petersburg, Fla. “I love this racetrack. I love this race and what it’s done for my career even before being a two-time winner. That is an emotion that didn’t come into it before, and because I’m more experienced I’m able to appreciate this more and you have more time to appreciate it.
“It’s certainly different from the last one. I remember I was out for most of the night with my sponsor, Jim Beam. Last night, I went to a driver party for about an hour and then I retired to bed. (Two-year-old son) Sebastian crawled into bed with us about 4 o’clock in the morning and kind of took over the bed.”
Wheldon, who started sixth in the No. 98 William Rast-Curb/Big Machine car for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian, overtook the sliding, crippled car of rookie JR Hildebrand just before the start/finish line to become the 10th two-time champion of the race.
“They’re both obviously very good and it’s an amazing achievement by everybody,” Whedon continued as he was given the two-minute cue for “The Early Show” on CBS. “This one was definitely more emotional; there was a lot more going on. A lot of things have changed in my life since 2005.”
In the succeeding years, he exchanged marriage vows, has two young sons and is coping – along with his extended family – with his mother, Sue, having Alzheimer’s disease. He championed the Alzheimer Association’s message of early diagnosis and risk-factor education during the month.
“For me, there’s a lot going on back home with my family and it was certainly nice to win,” he said. “It was very emotional and different from the last one because of that but nevertheless very good. This also is potentially my only race of the season. It wasn’t one of the races with one of the big, powerhouse teams; it was with (former teammate and longtime friend) Bryan Herta. We didn’t do this deal because we were friends. We would have still been friends even if we hadn’t done this deal. We did it because we believed in one another and we believed that we could win.”
Soon after the media obligations at the Speedway, Wheldon went shopping for clothing for the multi-city Victory Tour that starts May 31 – among his appearances will be a visit to “Late Night with David Letterman” on June 6 — and a suit for the Victory Banquet later in the evening.
“I didn’t think I’d need one,” he said of the improbable victory.