Indy 2011: Dan Wheldon Wins, J.R. Hildebrand Crashes On The Final Lap—Thrill and Agony (W/Update on Dale Jr.’s 600 Finish)

This was one of the most amazing Indy 500’s I can recall, from A.J. Foyt driving the pace car (in place of the odious Donald Trump) to the shocking finish. Honestly, watching the last laps I thought Hildebrand was going to win it on fuel strategy; Dario Franchitti was precipitously dropping back (and would finish 12th), and all J.R. had to do was negotiate turn 4….

He was trying to lap a slower car and found himself in the treacherous gray area above the groove; his car collected the wall, but Hildebrand kept his boot down and for a jaw-dropping moment it looked like this rookie could win on three wheels. But Dan Wheldon outdragged him back to the row of bricks.

Wheldon’s mother was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so his car sported the logo of the Alzheimer’s Foundation. In victory lane it was patently obvious that Dan was overwhelmed with emotion, not only for winning his second 500. This was deeply personal.

This race ought to serve as a reminder that major-league open-wheel racing still happens in North America; if all we’ve needed is heroes and their narratives, here’s a beginning well worth building on. If you missed it, you missed one hell of an auto race. The World (“Coke”) 600 will have to go quite a distance to equal this race. It really was amazing.

Update: Well, the World 600 did a lot to equal the 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr. almost had it won but ran out of gas in turn four on the last lap. Yet another last-lap drama; this season’s Memorial Day races should go down as some of the best in decades. No, really.


About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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