Right now the 16th October 2011 feels just like yesterday for many of us.
I didn't lose a husband, father, son or brother that day like the remarkably strong and inspiring Wheldon family did. But I did lose a friend. And that’s one of the many things that made Dan Wheldon so very special, because two years ago today the whole world lost a friend.
There can be no denying that today will be hard for us all. But as painful, tearful and difficult as it will be, we can only imagine how hard today is for his family. Dan was always known for his Lionheart spirit but in the two years following his loss the Wheldons have shown such incredible strength and dignity that it’s easy to see where he got it from. His young sister, Holly in particular has shown immense courage, often inspiring and lifting us with a Lionheart spirit that would make Dan very proud. We can only wish them peace and comfort as they face their loss and grief again today and every day.
They say that time is a great healer too. Yet somehow the loss and grief seems just as vivid and strong today as it did on that fateful day in Las Vegas. Perhaps the recent tragic loss of Maria de Villota and Sean Edwards has heightened our already fragile emotions. Not forgetting Dan’s close friend, Dario Franchitti’s horrendous Houston accident last week too. That couldn't fail to make us all hold our collective breath once again; conjuring up images and thoughts we’d just as soon try to forget.
This emotional roller coaster certainly hasn't made Dan’s memorial any easier to cope with, but I think the depth of loss we feel is due to something more. Because Dan was something more. He wasn't just another driver; he was a friend, he was family, he was one of us. He had that incredible ability to make everyone feel special and important. You met him once and you were a friend for life. Even those who hadn't met him personally still felt a bond with him as it was virtually impossible not to be captivated by his whiter than white smile, that mischievous glint in his eye, that cheeky school boy charm. Everyone fell under the spell of the neat freak Brit with a shoe fetish and too tight overalls who never failed to make you feel happy.
Indeed one memory that keeps coming back to me is of him laughing hysterically after Jenson Button almost ran me over during their early Formula Ford days. It wasn't even that funny, but I’m pretty sure he made us all laugh so hard that eventually our ribs hurt even more than my pride did…
We all have and share our own similar stories and memories of this wonderful, much loved and deeply missed man. Because although Dan wasn't given anywhere near as much time as he deserved another thing that made him so special is that he always found time for others. At Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2011 he was called to dinner with Lord March but told him he’d have to wait as he hadn't finished signing autographs and meeting people. Nobody could have known then just how precious that time he spent with those fans was to become only a few months later.
Which brings us back to that word again: Time. It’s a paradox, a healer, a precious gift and, all too often, cruelly short.
Time may one day help to numb the pain and loss we feel on the 16th October a little. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that our hearts will never let us forget Dan and the special part he played in our all our lives.
So today I’m taking time to remember and pay tribute to Dan Wheldon - the awesome race-driver, devoted husband, caring brother, loving son, doting father.
And friend to us all.
Here’s to you Lionheart