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Wheldon honored by friends in death

Remembered as 'champion of our sport'


IndyCar drivers Tony Kanaan, left, of Brazil, Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, third from left, and Dario Franchitti, of Scotland, right, carry the coffin of fellow driver Dan Wheldon after funeral services Saturday, Oct 22, 2011, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Wheldon was killed Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, in a fiery 15-car crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Associated Press Enlarge

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Of all the indelible moments from Dan Wheldon's public memorial service -- fellow IndyCar drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan serving as pallbearers, his father carrying his racing helmet, and country music star Wynonna Judd singing two gripping songs -- the heart-wrenching letter from his wife cut deepest.

Susie Wheldon's letter to Dan left few eyes dry in the First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg.

Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, died last Sunday in IndyCar's season finale at Las Vegas. He was remembered yesterday not only as a champion but as a devoted husband, caring father, loyal friend, and beloved son.

Hundreds said goodbye to the 33-year-old Englishman-turned-Floridian during a service that included a eulogy by the best man at his wedding, Judd's rendition of "Amazing Grace" alongside a church choir and letters by his wife and sister that offered a detailed portrait of the popular, fun-loving and always tidy driver.

"My sweet Dan, my whole body is aching, down to the deepest part of my soul," Susie wrote in a letter read by family friend Michael Johnson. "I keep thinking this is a bad dream."

Susie wrote about how scared she is that she's going to forget things, how everything is moving so quickly and that she has to remember to breathe.

"My heart is scattered in a million pieces," she wrote. "I just want to wake up and hear your reassuring voice."

Wheldon left behind two young sons, 2-year-old Sebastian and 7-month-old Oliver. They were on hand for the service. Close friends and family members left the church and rode to the cemetery. Mourners filled the church, then watched Franchitti, Dixon, Kanaan, and Wheldon's three brothers load the casket. Some waved goodbye as the caravan drove away.

Team owners Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske attended the service, along with just about every IndyCar driver as well as some from other racing series.

Drivers Will Power and Pippa Mann, both hurt in the 15-car crash that cast a shadow across the sport, were still dealing with injuries. Power was hobbling from a back injury; Mann's right arm was bandaged. She had surgery on her burned right pinkie.

Many of them were planning to attend another service in Indianapolis today.

"It's almost indescribable," driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said. "This is something that I never really experienced in my life. I had a good conversation with Dan on Saturday night about everything that was going to come up. In 2012, we were going to be teammates [at Andretti Autosport].

"I just really looked up to him in many ways. He's a champion of our sport, he's everything you would want to be on and off the track. Good has to come of this; it has to. We'll all go on racing in his name. It's heartbreaking to see Susie and their two sons and the family."

Drivers and other mourners told stories about Wheldon on a video to be kept for his sons. The letters from Susie and Holly, as well as the eulogy by Wheldon's best man, would be a powerful addition.

Adrian Sussmann, the best man, spoke about how Wheldon went from the "Dream Team" at Andretti, which also included Franchitti, Kanaan and Byran Herta, to the "Little Team That Could," the one-car team Herta put together last spring that Wheldon drove to victory in the Indy 500 in May.

"It was a finish that even Hollywood couldn't have written," Sussmann said.

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