6:11 PM EDT, October 16, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS - With a nearly empty shop behind him, time can fly by pretty quickly during the Izod IndyCar Series off-season.
For Ed Carpenter, that feeling encompasses a year.
"It seems like the year went by pretty quick," said Carpenter on Tuesday, thinking back to a day he wouldn't mind forgetting.
Of course, it's tough to do so. It was on October 16th, 2011 that Dan Wheldon was killed in a fiery 15-car crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the IndyCar World Championships. His number 77 car got airborne late in the wreck, sending the cockpit into the catch fence and causing fatal blunt head trauma.
"Its tough to think about," said Carpenter on October 16th of this year. "Dan was something special to our sport and he was a good friend of mine."
Many drivers would say the same in a literal sense and fans a bit more spiritual since Wheldon was one of the most charismatic drivers in the history of the series. The champion of the 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500 embraced the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its fans at unprecedented levels.
Proof of that was seen days following his death when hundreds placed momentos at the gate of the speedway in a makeshift memorial for Wheldon. Even more attended a public memorial for the driver on October 23rd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a show of support.
"He loved IndyCar racing, he loved the Indy 500, especially with the year he had coming off an Indy 500 win," said Carpenter of Wheldon and the amount of tributes he had following his death. "I wasn't surprised. The IndyCar community is such a tight-knit group anyway.
"To lose a champion, a series champion, a 500 champion, was a big deal."
For many fans both regulars and die hards so was safety following the first fatality in a race in series history. Ironically it was Wheldon who was testing a new IndyCar chassis in the weeks before the Las Vegas race, one lauded for its safety.
The manufacturer of the machine Dallara would name the chassis after Wheldon, dubbing it the "DW12." Carpenter says it not only represents the efforts of Wheldon but also the overall commitment to safety by the IndyCar Series.
"Dan was a big part of testing this car that was already coming out that has new safety innovations," said Carpenter, pointing to one of the chassis in his north side shop. "I think IndyCar has been at the forefront for innovating new safety things and keep our cars as safe as they can be."
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