The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti and team boss Chip Ganassi paid tribute to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Dan Wheldon, who died following a multi-car accident in the IZOD IndyCar Series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday.
Franchitti was teammate to Wheldon with Andretti Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport) from 2003-'05 – a period which included an Indy 500/championship double for Wheldon in 2005.
“I guess I'm speechless or overcome,” Franchitti said. “One minute you're joking around at driver intros – the next, Dan's gone. I told his son Sebastian on Thursday night at the strip, ‘I've known your dad since he was almost your size.'
“We had a couple fall outs along the way, but we were friends. He was a huge part. We put so much pressure on ourselves to win championships, it's what we love to do, it's what we live for, and then on days like today it doesn't really matter. We lost a good friend, I think everyone considered Dan a friend. He was brash, but a charmer when he showed up. Then he became this loving family man with Susie and the boys. I'm struggling to get it together. I don't know what else to say.”
Once Wheldon left Andretti, he moved to Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006 – where he would race with Ganassi for three years.
“I remember when I first met him, he was young (compared to) Franchitti, Kanaan and Herta (his Andretti Green teammates),” Ganassi said. “You'd see Franchitti afterward and he'd say, ‘I don't know how Dan does it.' He was winning races and having all the fun. And then I got to know him a little bit, and when we signed him to come over to our team, I figured out why he won all those races.
“He won his first race with us at the 24 Hours of Daytona, then won Homestead. We understood what the guy had; he brought so much. I think he taught Dixie (Scott Dixon) how to win. A little bit of everyone died today.”
Andretti Autosport remembered Wheldon in a statement:
It is with extreme sorrow that we have lost one of our champion drivers today. Dan was an Indy 500 champion and IndyCar Series champion with Andretti Autosport – and one of our closest competitors. Dan brought such enthusiasm and passion to the sport not often seen in motorsports. We will remember Dan's tremendous racing accomplishments with our team as well as his infectious personality. We would like to express our deepest sympathy to Dan's family, racing team and friends today. Dan is one of IndyCar's greatest champions.
Sam Schmidt, who fielded Wheldon's car in this race, offered his thoughts on Wheldon's passing.
Dan Wheldon was a tremendous competitor, a great racer and an even better person. It was an honor to have him be a part of our team. All of us at Sam Schmidt Motorsports are deeply saddened by his passing. On behalf of everyone at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, our prayers go out to all of his family, especially his wife, Susie, and their two children.
Series sponsor IZOD added its own tribute:
“On behalf of everyone at the IZOD brand, our prayers and thoughts are with Dan Wheldon's family. We are very proud to have worked with Dan and consider him a true friend,” said Allen Sirkin, President, PVH Corp. “He was one of the best racecar drivers in the world and a wonderful ambassador for the sport. Dan's love of racing was only surpassed by his love and dedication to his family. He will be missed by all.”
Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president
"We are incredibly saddened at the passing of Dan Wheldon. He was a great champion of the Indianapolis 500 and a wonderful ambassador for the race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all of motorsports. Most importantly, he was a fantastic husband, father and man – a good friend to so many in this sport. His memory will live forever at the Speedway, both through the magnitude of his accomplishments on the track and his magnetism off the track. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his entire family, team and fans."
Mark Webber, Red Bull Formula 1 driver
"Rest in Peace Dan. I remember our early days in the UK in 1995/'96... Miss ya..."
Ryan Briscoe, Penske IndyCar driver
"I don't have words for the tragic loss of Dan today. He was a good man and will be missed by all of us."
Sarah Fisher Racing, IndyCar team
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Wheldon family. Today we lost a great friend and a true competitor. You will be missed, Dan!"
American Le Mans Series
"Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dan Wheldon. The world has lost a talented IndyCar driver and a great individual."
Alex Lloyd, Dale Coyne Racing IndyCar driver
"This is one of the saddest days of my life. Can't believe we have lost him. He was a true champion and a great friend."
Bobby Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan team boss
"The passing of Dan Wheldon today is a great shame. Dan was a great driver as evidenced by not only his Indianapolis 500 victories, but by his many wins and great performances in the racecar. But he was much more than a great driver. He was a good guy, good family man and really seemed to have a bright future not only as a driver but as a television personality as well. We had spoken to him very recently about his prospects as a driver for 2012 with our team and he was very enthusiastic about his future. He will be missed."
KV Racing Technology, IndyCar team
"The entire KV Racing Technology – Lotus organization extends its heartfelt condolences to the Wheldon family on this very sad occasion. Dan was a great champion and friend, a loving husband and father. He will be deeply missed."
Danica Patrick, Andretti Autosport IndyCar driver
"There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for Susie and the kids that God will give them strength."
Ryan Walkinshaw, Holden Racing Team boss
"I considered it a huge honor to spend time with Dan earlier this year at the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis when we met to finalize our agreement for him to join our team for the Gold Coast. What grabbed my attention most was Dan's character, he was an incredible person with a huge passion for life and love for his family. It is a very sad day for the Toll Holden Racing Team but, more importantly, it is one of true sadness for Dan's family. To them we offer our sincerest condolences."
James Courtney, V8 Supercar driver
"I first met Dan when I moved to Europe in karting in the mid-'90s, we knew each other a long time and considered ourselves friends. Today is difficult for those of us who have lost a mate but most of all, as a father of a young family, I am struggling with knowing Dan's wife Susie is now without her partner and their children, Sebastian and Oliver, will grow up without their father. It's Dan's family, all of his family, who I truly feel sorry for."
Tom Compton, president, NHRA
"The world of motorsports and everyone at NHRA is deeply affected by yesterday's tragedy in Las Vegas involving Dan Wheldon. On behalf of the entire NHRA family, our hearts and prayers go out to the Wheldon family and the entire IndyCar racing community. We are truly saddened by this tragic loss of such a great champion and person."
• Click here for to read IndyCar drivers' reactions to Dan Wheldon's passing that were posted on Twitter.