Chris Denari remembers Dan Wheldon

Oct. 18, 2011

While I am in my sixth season as the TV play-by-play announcer of the Pacers on FOX Sports Indiana, I have worked in the Indianapolis media market for nearly 30 years. Dating back to my internship in the spring of 1983, most of those 30 years I have covered motorsports at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other tracks across the country. That's why I felt extreme sadness at the tragic loss of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon in Sunday's 15-car crash in the final IndyCar event of the season in Las Vegas.

I didn't know Dan well, but had made his acquaintance on numerous occasions in my role as a turn announcer on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network and as Sports Director at WXIN-TV Fox 59. I was in Turn 4 for each of his two wins in 2005 and 2011, and spent a great deal of time with he and his teammates in 2005 when he won his first 500.

Our television station partnered with Dan and Andretti Green Racing during the 2005 month of May. We had great access to Dan and his teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta. That group had more fun than any group of racing teammates I have ever been around. And Dan was the butt of their jokes. He was the young guy. The guy they chased with whipped cream pies. And Dan was the teammate who handed team owner Michael Andretti his elusive win at IMS.

In my current role with the Pacers, I am not around the drivers as much during May in Indy. But this year, I was excited that Dan was making a one-off run with his former teammate Herta as car owner in partnership with Sam Schmidt. He ran strong all day long, but I was focused on rookie J.R. Hildebrand as he kept passing me with just a few laps to go. But as we all know, Hildebrand crashed in front of me on the final lap and Wheldon rolled to his second Indy win. A racing upset if you will. And a second win for the 33-year old Englishman.

Whether you are a broadcaster or a fan, you understand the dangers of auto racing. Crashes are a part of the business, a risk all drivers know and take. But it is their passion. With that passion comes the danger, a danger we know is always lurking. Great progress has been made to make the danger safer, but Sunday showed that tragedy can still occur.

Like many of you on Sunday, all I could do was watch and wonder for the almost two hours between the crash and the announcement of Dan's death. When the announcement was made, I knew that we had lost not just a champion, but a son, husband and father. Dan Wheldon will be missed by many of us, but our thoughts and prayers should be with his family, especially his wife Susie and sons Sebastian and Oliver.