Inevitably, bugs struck as they tend to do in a 24-hour race. Wheldon's stints weren't the culprit, but the general wear and tear on the No. 02 car prompted a trip to the garage in the late hours of Saturday night. A well-timed caution negated the time lost as the crew – far better prepped for the 2006 running than in its two previous Rolex 24s – made quick repairs. Under that yellow, the team changed tires, brakes, the radiator, replaced an alternator belt, changed the gear stack and made an aero package adjustment.
“It seemed to me like an eternity but it was close to 5 minutes,” Hull jokes.
The car's repairs were one part of the race and as laps clicked off and their competitors fell by the wayside – the pole-sitting No. 23 Alex Job Crawford Porsche among them – the crew was in need of a refuel as well. It was at this point that Wheldon's selfless nature showed itself in a new light. Although Hull admits now he was giving the CGR newcomer a bit of a rookie indoctrination, around 2:30 or 3 a.m. was when Wheldon set out on a mission to bring back some of the most important items to help the crew fix the car. Coffee and snacks.
“Dan had a reputation that followed him around, and didn't stop on the day he came to work here, that he enjoyed very much pushing your buttons,” Hull says. “And …I think it was fun to push his! People look at me as this serious guy, where on race day it's all about business and being focused in on what you're doing. So he had no idea where I was coming from, which made it even better. He couldn't see it coming! Absolutely not!
“If he would have looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Mike, what are you talking about?' I would have told him, ‘Oh yeah, sure, go and lay down for a while.' When he fell into it, it was even better.”
The coffee run aside, Wheldon had further stints when the sun rose and the car ran flawlessly to the finish and to Victory Lane. Hull says he could finally exhale at that point, knowing the breathing and sleeping cycles are altered for the entirety of the race.
The spirit of character was present in that first race – Wheldon matched his sports car debut win for the team with a win at IndyCar's season-opening round at Homestead two months later – and Hull's reflects that Dan's impact was profound.
“He gave more than he was given in the sports car at Daytona from the very beginning,” he says. “He didn't resist in any way by saying, ‘Mike, this is the way I shift, or use the throttle.' He didn't do that. He didn't hold us up at ransom and say this is how I drive the car. His actions showed that it was a two-way street. And that was before we raced IndyCars together, and what made it so unusually special. When you have someone like that working for you, it will define your culture going forward.”
Daytona marked one of the first significant, indelible moments Dan left on Hull and the Ganassi team. Purely from a numbers standpoint, it was the first of seven wins for Wheldon at Ganassi (the other six coming in IndyCar).
“Dan was about life being a shared experience,” says Hull. “When you can interact with someone in your life, that makes it an equally shared experience, you have a friend for life.”