Top Indy 500 performers remember Wheldon for humor, not tragedy


Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti is introduced before the 96th Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. Franchitti went on to win the race, the third Indy 500 win for the Scottish driver. Caitlin O'Hara Buy Photos

INDIANAPOLIS — The first Indianapolis 500 without Dan Wheldon brought together three of the funniest men in IndyCar.

And it finished exactly the way Wheldon would have wanted.

Dario Franchitti, Wheldon’s former teammate at Andretti-Green Racing, won the race. Scott Dixon, his former teammate at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, finished second. And his other AGR teammate and partner-in-crime in practical jokes, Tony Kanaan, finished third.

All of Wheldon’s buddies and jokesters were back together.

“I don’t think it could have been a better result for Dan,” Kanaan said of Wheldon. “He’s definitely making fun of Sato, I can tell you that, and he’s giving Dario a tap on the back for sure, and he was going to call me a wanker that I didn’t win this thing.”

It was like his family was reunited.

“Kind of like old times,” Franchitti said. “The three of us back and forwards. I thought, Dan is laughing at us right now going at it.”

And all three of his friends couldn’t refrain from telling jokes about that moment.

But when Franchitti entered the press room, one could sense just how much the fourth member of the group meant to these three men.

“The thing that really got me was the love the fans showed Dan,” Franchitti said.

Toward the end of his interview, Franchitti told a story about how he had planned to carjack Wheldon on his victory lap last year, but decided not to when he saw Wheldon sobbing.

He knew it meant too much to him. It wasn’t the time for practical jokes.

But Sunday was a time for jokes because that’s what Wheldon would have wanted, and the perfect people were there to tell them.

Despite the shifts in teams, all three of these men are still the same at heart, and they all remain good friends. In fact, Franchitti once referred to himself and Kanaan as a couple of school boys.

And there was plenty of friendly banter between Kanaan and Dixon in their press conference.

“That restart, I think it was jumped by quite a bit,” Dixon joked about the moment when

Kanaan passed him and Franchitti on a restart.

Kanaan also took jabs at Rubens Barrichello, the top finishing rookie, and Franchitti for their age.

“We can see old people do well here,” Kanaan said as he stared at Barrichello. “And look at Dario.”

Kanaan also called Barrichello the oldest rookie he knew and gave him a hard time about the advice he, Dixon and Franchitti had given him.

“Tell them what we told you,” Kanaan said.

“I cannot tell you what they told me,” Barrichello responded as everyone in the room started laughing at the innuendo.

Laughter. There was a lot of that from the day’s top three finishers.

“I think people like me here because I haven’t won yet,” Kanaan joked. “I became more famous for not winning this thing than actually winning.”

But aside from the laughter, these three are fierce competitors.

“I see the disappointment in (Dixon’s) face,” Franchitti said. “I see the disappointment in T.K.’s face. I think both those guys will get more championships and Indy wins. They’re just too good not to.

"When you beat guys like that, I take that as a big accomplishment because, God, they’re not easy to beat.”

Especially when all three raced for their good friend.

“For those of us who were close to Dan, we wanted it that little bit more,” Dixon said.

And in the final results, Wheldon’s three closest friends did manage to come out on top.

“It’s pretty crazy how it all lines up,” Dixon said. “I hope we put on a good race for the fans, and I’m sure he’s smiling down on us.”

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