Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dan Wheldon ... Championship Winning Driver, 2-Time Indy 500 Winner, Motorsports Color Commentator, Ambassador to American Open Wheel Racing

Dan Wheldon when he was riding his wave of popularity at the beginning of the 2006 season (photo of 2006 Indy Downforce fan club promo, with signature - similar to the 2003 trade show handout). The previous year he had won the Indy 5oo and the 2005 IndyCar Series Championship over Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish, Jr., Dario Franchitti, and Scott Sharp. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2011)

Dan Wheldon ... Championship Winning Driver, 2-Time Indy 500 Winner, Motorsports Color Commentator, Ambassador to American Open Wheel Racing

There was a time, not long ago, that Dan Wheldon was just like any other aspiring driver with some talent, lucky to be associated with a young, but experienced racing team, stood in an exhibition hall, next to a nicely painted Jim Beam logoed car, to sign autographs on images of himself standing next to a race car printed on light cardboard. This image of Dan Wheldon happened at a trade show in Las Vegas a few years back (2003) before he became the championship winning driver, 2-time Indy 500 winner, motorsports color commentator, and ambassador to American open wheel racing Dan Weldon people have become familiar with over the last half decade or so.

Dan was working a promotional appearance at the Las Vegas Convention Center highlighting the fact that he had just became a member of the Andretti Green Racing organization (replacing Michael Andretti as a driver) in the Indianapolis Racing League (now named IndyCar Series) and there he stood next to his Jim Beam Special Dallara happy to meet and greet people as he shook hands and handed out signed promotional printed images of himself in a similar pose. Being a race car driver isn't all "rockstar" glory ... it requires a lot of hard work.

This year has seen a growth in the stature of the gentle, and unassuming British character (the public, promotional persona), who has not only won the 2011 Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but has taken to working races behind the microphone.

Last weekend, the IndyCar Series (ICS) visited the cornfields of Iowa to run the 9th race in a 18 race season. The Iowa Corn 250 is run on a very tight, banked turn, .875-mile oval that, at race speed, takes only about 19 seconds to lap, and through this very fast lap action, Dan Wheldon proved himself as capable an announcer as he is an accomplished driver.

To those who watched the broadcast, carried by VERSUS cable channel for a unique Saturday night-time presentation, Dan Wheldon embraced the fast paced, event-filled three hours as if he'd been doing this microphone stuff for years. The broadcast pre-race featured a Formula 1 style pit lane interview walk with famed auto-writer Robin Miller and Dan, each taking a row of the two-row staging of the cars along pit lane. On the broadcast, first Robin, and then Dan (back and forth) would walk up to drivers, car owners, and engineers and create a quick one or two question interview that proved to be extremely entertaining. It's always fun to be able to catch a Ganassi or Penske off guard, especially since they rarely ever are, but this was the feel and pace of the segment - fairly smooth and spontaneous. Dan was really in the commentator zone when he was interviewing Dario Franchitti, when he said "This is my job" ... Dario graciously retorted "Oh no its not. Ahhh, you know where your job is ... [on the track]!" It makes one ask, just who was caught off-guard now?

During the race, however, is where Dan Wheldon really shined. Even though the cars were going around the oval at under 19 seconds a lap, Dan had the uncanny knack of having the broadcast presence of almost slowing down the action at moments so that the viewer felt as though they were in the cockpit and had the control of the car while it circled the track. The action did not slow down on the screen, Dan did not talk slowly, but the explanation and engagement with the viewing audience in Dan's style, translated itself to a kinda' audio slower (not slow) motion.

Forces have a funny way of working their way into situations. The fact that Dan Wheldon isn't driving for another ICS season championship in 2011 is a tragedy and all American open wheel racing fans see this. Until this situation is rectified, the same American open wheel racing fans may at least be able to have more color commentary from Dan Wheldon in future ICS races this season.

... notes from The EDJE

(Article first published as Dan Wheldon ... Championship Winning Driver, 2-Time Indy 500 Winner, Motorsports Color Commentator, Ambassador to American Open Wheel Racing on Technorati)

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