Daniel, Dan, Danny Boy

I remember talking about his name, which at the time, was Daniel Wheldon. Here we were, a group of marketing types, shaking our heads that “Daniel” would just not work as an Indianapolis 500 champion.

I remember trying to rectify that name with other Indy 500 winners, and we joked about calling him “Danny,” which seemed so off for a guy going by Daniel with the accent to back it up. But then again, it had worked for Sullivan…

At the time, he was slugging his way up the open wheel ladder, and I met him in the race shop the week before the trip to Mexico. So it seemed completely improbable , and not just because he was racing on a path that would seemingly never get him to the 500, that this guy who making jokes and hanging about the shop, was going to be some kind of star, much less Indianapolis 500 winner or Series champion.

I remember meeting him up with a bunch of team folks (PacWest) to go karting with him. There was a new place downtown that had this cool new karts, asphalt surface and individual lap timers right on the steering wheel.

When we got there, Dan (Daniel) was already there, waiting for us at the entry way. He immediately started excitedly asking us, “…whats the story with this place? are the karts good? whats a good time here? Which track are we racing on?” clearly setting a foundation for the idea that he’d never been there.

His cover was blown all of twenty seconds later when we walked into where the folks were taking tickets/selling seats…and the guy running the place greeted the entire group by lighting up and recognizing our “rookie,” “hey, Dan!”

He was having us on, from the very get go… this was far from his first visit to the track.

I remember the next year when I was at Walker Racing, and here was Daniel again, shaking the bushes, and keeping in touch with as many folks as he could, trying to make things happen. And it seemed he spent just as much time hanging with the guys in marketing as he did with the folks who had their names on the doors. No dummy, he always knew it took a whole race team to be behind you.

At that point, he had made his move to focus on IRL. “It’s where I have an opportunity” he’d say. And he couldn’t have been more right, as he proved down the road.

I remember when he pulled his helmet off in victory lane in his first Indy 500, and I happened to be standing right there and make eye contact with him. Of course, it’s Dan, so he’s going to give you a nod of recognition, even if he happened to have just won the biggest race in the world, right then.

He went well past Daniel, to just Dan. A household freaking name. An Indy 500 champ, two times over.

But a house hold name that would never stop having you on, no matter if you raced against him or wrote about him, it was easy to see why he’d also respond to “Danny Boy,” especially if you were having a turn at ribbing him, as many of his fellow drivers clearly enjoyed doing. And he, right back.

It’s just incredible that so quickly, he’s now gone. And once again a household name, this time for the wrong reason.

What is not at all incredible is that what people are talking about today is not what he did on the track–not that it wasn’t impressive–but who he was off of it.

RIP Daniel, Dan, Danny Boy.

Prayers for Suzie.

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