Dan Wheldon was born June 22, 1978 in Emberton, England. Wheldon’s parents were heavily involved with the local race track — both as racers and employees — and Wheldon got his start at a very young age. While making his way up the ranks in English karting, Wheldon developed a rivalry with Jensen Button, now a successful Formula One driver. Lack of funding forced him to come over the U.S. in 1999 in search of a new opportunity. He raced first in the F2000 Championship Series, then moved on to the Toyota Atlantic Series, and then to Indy Lights, the feeder series for the Izod IndyCar Series. He won Rookie of the Year honors in all three, and in 2001 caught the attention of John Barnes of Panther Racing.
Wheldon acted as a test driver for Panther before getting a chance to compete at the end of the 2002 season, making his debut at Chicagoland Speedway. When Panther struggled to come up with funding for the 2003 season, Wheldon moved to Andretti Green Racing, replacing legendary driver Michael Andretti.
As he has throughout his career, Wheldon won the Rookie of the Year award by scoring nine Top-10 finishes. He notched his first victory the following season at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, and ended the season as runner-up in the points standings to teammate Tony Kanaan.
2005 represented the best year in Wheldon’s career to date. He won four of the season’s first five races, and would finish with a series record six total on his way to securing the points championship. Most importantly, he got his face etched on the Borg Warner Trophy by winning the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500. After the 2006 season Wheldon jumped to Target Chip Ganassi Racing where he teamed with Scott Dixon. After a turbulent, albeit successful stint with Ganassi — he scored Top-Five finishes in the championship all three years — Wheldon made the controversial decision to re-join Panther Racing, the team that gave him his start in IndyCar racing.
Wheldon started fifth, but finished 19th in his 2003 debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The next year he made the podium with a third place finish. The 2005 race would go down as one of the most exciting in the events history. After chasing down Danica Patrick, Wheldon took the lead with 14 laps remaining, but a crash by Kosuke Matsuura brought out the yellow flag. When the field went back to green flag racing with 10 laps to go, Patrick zipped around Wheldon and passed him going into the first turn.
For three laps the rookie held the lead, but the experienced Wheldon reeled her back in, eventually overtaking her and holding on for the win. He’s failed to duplicate that success in subsequent trips to Speedway, Indiana, but a 2nd place finish in 2009 has Wheldon and Panther Racing thinking positively heading into the 2010 “Month of May.”
|Dan Wheldon crashes in practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway|
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