INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Susie Wheldon somberly celebrated her late husband’s Indianapolis 500 victory Thursday.
Seven months after Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific crash at Las Vegas, Susie and their two children came to Indianapolis to accept the champion’s ring.
“He loved Indianapolis Motor Speedway so much,” she said softly as cameras clicked. “I’m proud to be here with our two children, Sebastian and Oliver, and to represent him as a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.”
Wheldon didn’t take questions during the brief ceremony, but did thank racing fans for showing love and support following the fatal crash.
After posing for photos with the track owners and the ring, two-time Indy winner Dario Franchitti, a close friend of former teammate of Dan Wheldon, walked into the room, gave Susie Wheldon a hug and urged her to try the ring on. She did it with her customary smile.
Series officials said it was believed to be her first trip back to Indy since the city’s public memorial service in October.
The 14-karat gold ring includes one full karat of diamonds with Wheldon’s name on one side of the ring. It was made by Herff Jones and is valued at $5,000.
Wheldon won Indy in 2005 and won it for the second time last year when race leader JR Hildebrand crashed on the last turn of the last lap. Wheldon passed the skidding car in the final straightaway and Hildebrand finished second.
Though Wheldon won’t be here this weekend, his presence certainly is being felt.
“You know he was pretty good around here, but every time he was here, he’d be like ‘Oh, look at the flags blowing’ or ‘Oh, they changed the pictures in the Pagoda,” said Tony Kanaan, another close friend and former teammate.
Fans will get to see Wheldon’s No. 98 car in the Pagoda Plaza this weekend and are being asked to display the cardboard sunglasses that will be handed out for Sunday’s race on laps 26 and 98 — representative of the two winning numbers Wheldon had at Indy.
Team owner Bryan Herta will take the No. 98 car that won last year’s race around the oval during pre-race ceremonies. Ryan Hunter-Reay is wearing a special helmet in honor of Wheldon, and Kanaan is bringing a new pair of sunglasses to the track Sunday, too.
“Hopefully, you guys will understand,” Kanaan said, drawing laughter. “I said the two toughest races would be here and St. Pete because that’s where he lived and this one because he’s the defending champ. I hope after this race we can put some closure on this, but it will be very emotional.”
Espeically when Susie Wheldon shows up for the public drivers meeting Saturday.
Just like it was during the ring ceremony.
“Dan will always be remembered and loved by his racing fans as one of the of the most competitive drivers at the 500,” said Herff Jones representative Ken Keltner. “Dan Wheldon will always be remembered as the champion of champions.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.