INDIANAPOLIS — There’s no such thing as Dan Mania.
Not yet, anyway.
Dan Wheldon might someday change that through the force of his personality, which is brash except when it’s brasher, and his skills as a race-car driver, which are tremendous except when they’re even better.
Wheldon won the Indianapolis 500 last year, but that feat turned into a relative side note to Danica Mania, the media- and fan-driven obsession with Danica Patrick.
Patrick finished fourth and became the lead story on ESPN and newspapers across the country. Wheldon’s first became second-best.
Making light of his stature, and a point in a process, Wheldon showed up at the Texas Motor Speedway two weeks later wearing a T-shirt that said “I Actually ‘Won’ The Indy 500.”
And, yet, Wheldon spent the rest of the year praising Patrick for the attention she brought to the sport. Then he went on to win five more races and the Indy Racing League series title in dominating fashion.
Soon after the 2005 season, he jumped from Andretti Green Racing to Ganassi Racing.
Catch Wheldon if you can. He won’t stay in one spot long.
“I’ve always been one to shake things up,” he said. “I hate to be boring.”
Many adjectives have been applied to Wheldon, an import from England who’s half-Irish and full of confidence. Boring would not be among them.
Wheldon, 27, says what he thinks. He minces no words. Yet he manages to walk the tricky line that allows him to be cocky yet likable.
Nothing captures Wheldon’s personality and confidence better than his decision to leave Andretti Green for Ganassi. It changed the entire IRL landscape for the points champion and Indy 500 winner to move to another team after his finest season.
In switching to Ganassi, Wheldon joined a team with past success, but recent struggles. Ganassi had only one race win in the previous two years. Andretti Green won 19 of 33 races over the same span, with Wheldon taking nine of those wins.
Wheldon’s will to win pushed him to pass Patrick late in the Indy 500 last year, and combined with his demeanor, gives him a chance to become the sixth repeat winner in race history. Castroneves was the last in 2001 and 2002.
“Having won it, I think it’s given me a lot more confidence,” Wheldon said. “Perhaps not just at the racetrack, but everywhere as a person, too.”
If he pulls off another win, the primary focus will be on Wheldon this Sunday. There might even be a touch of Dan Mania.