“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Indycar drivers are brothers, friends and downright approachable human beings. Such brotherly love could be witnessed at the yearly karting event where most of the Indycar field got together to honor the memory of their late racing brothers, Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson”
It has been a somber last few months for the racing fraternity, starting with the passing of Formula One driver Jules Bianchi in late July, and more recently Indycar’s Justin Wilson as the fourth anniversary of Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway quickly approaches. As always, professional drivers gathered up the courage and put those frightful thoughts behind to jump behind the wheel for a good cause. This time their work tools consisted racing karts (15 to 20-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engines) instead of lightning-fast Indycars to honor their fallen brothers, as well as raise money for the Dan Wheldon Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association and Wilson Children’s Fund.
The Indycar family got together for the third consecutive year at the New Castle Motorsports Park for the Dan Wheldon ProAm race, and although it was our first time attending this star-studded event, track officials shared with us how the event’s popularity and attendance is definitely on the rise. Even today’s cold, windy and rainy weather didn’t keep thousands of families from waiting outside the track’s clubhouse to get an autograph, or even snap a selfie with their favorite racing drivers.
The weekend’s festivities are made up of two different races, the Dan Wheldon ProAm race on Saturday, which features four-fifteen minute driving stints or “heats”, where team personnel, media professionals, celebrities and other non-pros get to drive their butts off, and hopefully keep the kart in once piece. Keyword, hopefully. Then there is the Wheldon’s Cup Newgy Robo-Pong 200 on Sunday, which features an all-out 200 lap race with multiple driver changes, as well as lots of heated driving and a decent dose of drama.
As if Dan Wheldon himself orchestrated the weather from above, the rain and chilly wind gusts gave way to sunny blue skies just in time for the race start on Saturday, as his son Sebastian Wheldon led the field in his adorable, yet professional looking cadet-kart, proudly sporting his last name in all capital letters on the back of his racing suit. The field of all professional drivers followed Sebastian’s steady pace while making sure to digest the emotions and pay respect to the Wheldon family and passionate fans. After a few warm-up laps and even a slight spin-off by Sebastian (due to a cold and wet track), he safely made it back into the pits and the rest of the field blasted down the main straight to kick-off the 2015 Dan Wheldon ProAm.
After nearly an hour of racing shenanigans courtesy of a field mostly made up of pit-crew members, it was time for the likes of Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Ryan Briscoe, Gabby Chavez, Sage Karam, Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher, Matthew Brabham, and Spencer Pigot to battle it out for a podium finish. The grandson of racing legend Mario Andretti —Marco, drove brilliantly for the majority of the race, until also grandson of also racing legend Jack Brabham —Matthew Brabham overtook him and built himself a decent gap, even as the rest of the aggressive, yet smooth Indycar drivers ran nose-to-tail in packs of four and five karts.
With just eight laps remaining, Marco Andretti spun out of control and flipped his kart in what seemed like a crash straight out of “Mario Kart”, only to get back up, flip his kart over and continue the race! As the laps ticked down, Matthew Brabham struggled with tire-wear problems and it became nearly impossible for him to keep Sage Karam and a hungry pack of drivers behind him. Such struggles became all too noticeable on the back straight as Will Power and Scott Dixon slingshotted past Brabham and Karam and drag raced to the final corner of the final lap.
I would’ve been thrilled to see any driver win, but knowing what Scott Dixon brings to the sport as a racer and as a person, I was extremely pleased to see him conquer the top step of the podium in driving-genius fashion, just like he did at Sonoma and the Indycar Championship.
All in all, the 2015 Dan Wheldon ProAm was an incredible experience that I will never forget. The way Indycar drivers mingle with their fans, the way they smile at the kids, the way they carry themselves inside and outside of the racetrack is nothing short of awesome. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again —Indycar, not NASCAR, and much less Formula One, has the best drivers in the world.