#RIPDanWheldon: A Tribute to the #Indycar Twitter Community, by Angie King

posted on 10/25/11 by Meghan Wilker

The following post was written by Angie King, a longtime friend and supporter of ours. She reached out to us after witnessing Dan Wheldon's crash in Las Vegas and was interested in writing a post about how Twitter introduced her to Indycar and how it affected her life in the days afterward. It's a powerful story about how social media connects us as human beings — both in our mundane, everyday lives and during the course of extraordinary events.


As surprised as you are to find a blog about Indycar on the Geek Girls Guide, it was equally as surprising to me to become an Indycar fanatic. After years of resisting any sort of sports fandom, this year I found myself obsessed with Indycar. It was a natural progression; something I didn’t question yet was a little embarrassed by around friends.  Mostly because I couldn’t explain it.

Since witnessing the fatal crash that took driver Dan Wheldon’s life on October 16 in Las Vegas and experiencing more grief than I could ever have expected, I started reflecting on why I feel so connected to Indycar. Besides the excitement of the sport, the talented and colorful drivers, and sharing a passion with my husband, I realized that Twitter has a played a big role. It’s one of the reasons my interest in Indycar grew into a passion this year, it helped me get through the 2 hours of waiting between the crash and when they finally announced Dan's death, and has helped me grieve and cope with his loss in the time since.

To say I was surprised by the breadth and depth of the Indycar Twitter community is putting it lightly. After working in the interactive marketing world for a number of years, this is the first time I’ve experienced the true potential of social media. I’d thought the global, egalitarian, virtual community was purely idealistic. But in Indycar, they’ve made this goal a reality. Drivers, fans, media, and thought leaders all interact with each other like one big family.

#Indycar
I first learned about the Indycar Twitter community while watching races on Versus TV with my husband. The Indycar commentators devoted entire pre-race segments to driver tweets. The weight put on things happening off the track on Twitter intrigued me. I started following a driver’s list (@indcyar/drivers-indycar) so I could be in-the-know before the TV crew reported on it trackside.

Some memorable moments from the drivers this year on Twitter include:

  • After a terrible race in Toronto, Will Power (@12WillPower) tweeted to the driver who’d taken him out: @dariofranchitti hey princess thanks for that nice tap today–appreciate it.” Dario (@dariofranchitti) and Will were in the middle of a contentious championship points battle, and this little rant on Twitter intensified their rivalry.
  • When three-time Indianapolis 500 and season five Dancing with the Stars winner Helio Castroneves (@h3lio) went on a Twitter rampage after receiving what he felt was an unjust penalty for passing under yellow during the Japan race, he paid for it dearly. Near the end of a multi-post tweet, he called IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart a "circus clown,” a comment which cost him $30,000 in league fines.
  • Driver interaction with fans is a daily activity on Twitter. They often retweet fan requests to celebrate birthdays and respond to fan questions or comments, if not directly, then via a mass tweet. Many drivers used Twitter as a contest medium, giving away hundreds of pit passes to the Las Vegas finale to fans (including me!).

But it’s not just the drivers that I love on Twitter. I also started following the #indycar hashtag with fervor. The fans, bloggers and media personalities that use this hashtag provide article links, insight and commentary that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. And the best part? I feel welcome to interact with them, even though we’ve never met, and will likely never meet. Being a fan and having opinions is the only requirement to being accepted into this worldwide community.

#vegasindycar
My new #indcyar friends got me educated and excited for our trip to Las Vegas for the World Championships, with many posts tagged with #vegasindycar. In return, I promised those that couldn’t make the trip that I’d keep them updated on my experience. But 140 characters were not enough to express the sheer thrill of meeting Dan Wheldon on qualifying day.

A fan favorite, Dan had won the Indy 500 (for the 2nd time) earlier that year. His vibrant personality, golden boy good looks, and reformed-playboy-turned-family-man core would send any girl’s heart a-flutter. Thanks to a new friend on the inside, I got to meet Dan, shake his hand, and see that incredible smile in person. It was only a moment, but it’s a moment I will cherish. Because less than two days later, Dan was dead.

#PrayersforWheldon
Seeing the horrific 15-car crash live was like watching a horror movie in real life. We’ve seen bad crashes on TV before, but both my husband and I got sick to our stomach after witnessing this one. The track announcers reported that every driver involved was in good condition, except one: Dan Wheldon. Soon he was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital. But no one, not the track announcers or the IMS radio broadcast we were listening to on our scanner, had any details.

Naturally, I turned to Twitter for information. During the 2 hour wait, I saw everything from worry (#prayersforwheldon became the trending hashtag), to speculation (someone had seen driver Danica Patrick crying), to hope (Ashley Judd {@AshleyJudd}, wife of driver Dario Franchetti, tweeted that Dan had left the raceway unconscious, but with stable vitals; fans retweeted her post, clinging to this shred of hope from someone in -the-know).

However hopeful others were, I kept looking back at driver Tomas Scheckter’s (@tomasscheckter) tweet. The only driver involved in the crash who had posted anything to Twitter immediately following, his post was grim: “Leaving track don't want to hear news seen enough / Walked past something I pray never to see again.” And sure enough, about 2 hours after the crash, CEO Randy Bernard announced Dan’s death. 

#RIPDanWheldon
After we left the Las Vegas Motor Speedway that afternoon, my husband and I tried to console ourselves with drinks and gambling back at our casino. But in between each hand of video poker, I was refreshing Hoot Suite on my phone to see what drivers and other fans were posting. The trending hashtag had quickly changed from #prayersforwheldon to #ripdanwheldon. It was heartbreaking. We called it an early night, but the next morning before our flight home, I was back on my phone catching up with everyone’s reactions on Twitter.

Following the posts from drivers, fans and others has been heart wrenching, consoling, and frustrating in the week since Dan’s death. The frustration comes from posts reflecting comments made by people outside of the Indycar community and in the mainstream media who have been sensationalizing the crash and condemning the sport. For example, when Star Jones criticized the safety of Indycar in the wake of Dan’s death on The Today Show, the #indycar community (rightfully) threw a fit. And much was made over NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson’s (@JimmieJohnson) comment that Indycar shouldn’t race on ovals.

Many posts are both heart wrenching and consoling. Especially from the drivers, who have been reacting in their own personal ways: 

  • Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan), former teammate and close personal friend of Dan’s, has mostly been posting photos of the two of them together, remembering happier times.
  • Will Power, JR Hildebrand (@JRHildebrand ) and Pippa Mann (@PippaMann )—the only other drivers brought to the hospital for minor injuries in Las Vegas, were mostly silent the week following the crash, only surfacing to say they are fine, thanks for the kind words, but save your prayers for the Wheldon family. (Dan left behind a wife and two young sons, not to mention his parents and siblings in the UK.)
  • Driver Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal), tweeted the day after the crash that he intended to auction off his race helmet to benefit the Wheldon family. Over the week, his gesture snowballed into what is now a massive cross-disciplinary sports and pop culture memorabilia auction, complete with its own Twitter handle: @DWheldonAuction.

#lionheart
And then there’s the 100s of news and tribute articles tweeted and retweeted in the #indycar stream. I can’t possibly describe or link them all, but many have brought me to tears (including this one). Overall, I feel an overwhelming sense of a community pulling together to get through a very difficult time. The strongest sentiment—next to one of sympathy for Dan’s family—is one of continued vitality and life in Dan’s honor.

Many tribute tweets are now tagged with #lionheart, referring to the image Dan Wheldon had painted on the back of his race helmets: a mural of King Richard the “Lionhearted,” who was known for his bravery and heart. The consensus on Twitter is that Dan’s legacy will not be how he died, but how he lived. With an energetic, friendly, caring and playful approach off the track, and a focused, determined and fearless drive on the track.

The optimistic posts in the face of trauma remind me to greet each new day with the enthusiasm Dan showed in his final tweet. Just one word, the color of the flag that starts the race: “@DanWheldon Green!!!!”


If you feel inclined to support Dan Wheldon’s family or his passion for curing Alzheimer’s (a disease his mother was diagnosed with), there are a number of ways to contribute. Visit DanWheldonMemorial.com for details.

For more information on Dan Wheldon and his tragic death, Speed.com has posted comprehensive recap of articles that are worth a read. Read their Dan Wheldon Coverage Recap



Angie King manages content and social media for Bachmans.com, a Minnesota-based floral, gift and garden center. Outside of work, she's a pop culture addict, jewelry maker, urban farmer, Rock Band and Las Vegas enthusiast, and a novice Indycar fan. Her Twitter handle is @angiewarhol.



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