IT was a star-studded affair at Daytona race track on Monday night when the world’s top racing drivers said farewell to their friend Dan Wheldon in the best way they could think of.
After the 33-year-old’s tragic death at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October, there have been out-pourings of grief from the motorsport world.
The Dan Wheldon Memorial Kart Race was arranged to remember and celebrate the life of the Emberton-born racer, with the money raised donated to the Wheldon family’s charity of choice, the Alzheimer’s Society.
“Dan would have been proud,” said his father Clive.
Among the 32 professional racing drivers taking to the Daytona track on Monday night were four-time Indycar champion Dario Franchitti, Formula 1 star Jenson Button, commentator Martin Brundle, touring car driver James Thompson and former Red Bull racer David Coulthard. Each driver was teamed up with members of the public who paid to take part in the relay race.
Johnny Mowlem, a friend of Wheldon who organised the race, paid tribute to the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and thanked the drivers for taking time out of their busy schedules to celebrate his life.
Mowlem said: “We’re here to remember Dan, give him a really good send off and have a great party. Dan would have loved it here tonight – he loved a good party!
“The overwhelming response for Dan’s Memorial Kart Race was truly moving. The event was sold out within just a few hours and although we increased the teams to Daytona’s maximum, it sadly wasn’t possible to fulfil everyone’s request to race. I can’t thank everyone enough for their support.
“It’s going to be a fantastic night and I am so pleased that Clive, Holly, Ashley, Elliott and Austen will be joining us. I hope we can do them, and of course Dan, proud.
“Everyone I asked to take part jumped at the chance and even the pro-drivers put their hands in their pockets to pay the entry fee – and getting drivers to pay for anything is impossible.
“I didn’t want the evening to be competitive, but having seen some of the drivers here and heard them talking to each other, I don’t think it can be anything but competitive!”
Jenson Button, who took part in the race, competed with Wheldon when they were younger, racing go-karts.
He said: “We grew up together and had so many great experiences together. It was an era of good drivers that have gone on to achieve a lot. Most of the time you couldn’t beat him, when you did it really did mean a lot. He’s the guy you’d get out of bed to race.
“He was a fun guy, he loved his racing, he worked hard, but he also played hard, that’s the way you have got to go through life if you have that possibility.”
The two-hour endurance race saw the drivers hop in the karts for a blast around the Daytona track, with Clive Wheldon’s team, featuring Button, eventually taking the chequered flag.
And such was the success of the night, Clive admitted there is scope to make the race an annual event.