A car with Utah license plates pulled up to the St. Vincent Sports Performance parking lot Monday. Former Butler Bulldog Gordon Hayward got out, grabbed his workout bag and headed inside. Nearly every day you can see people like Hayward, preparing for his second NBA season with the Jazz, improving their skills inside the facility on the Northwest side of Indianapolis that opened in the fall of 2001.
Ralph Reiff, the executive director, came up with the idea for the program and remembers the early days well.
"Dan came in. It was all about winning the Indy 500 for Dan, and he didn't even have a ride at that point," recalls Reiff after partnering with Wheldon during the winter of 2002. But Dan Wheldon had a goal and believed that the folks at St. Vincent Sports Performance could help him achieve it.
"It was all about winning the Indy 500 every day he came in here, every time we interacted, he just had a sparkle in his eye about Indy."
It is not surprising that Dan Wheldon talked about winning the Indy 500 so often so early in his racing career. You couldn't do an interview with the British driver without him paying tribute to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and sharing his admiration for what he often called the Greatest Race in the World.
Though Dan Wheldon was not a household name when he started at St. Vincent Sports Performance, his affiliation with the facility was ground-breaking in a way for Reiff.
"Dan was OUR guy. So is Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher, Vitor Meira, you go down the line, we've just been blessed, but they all came here because Dan Wheldon came here. Dan was our first motorsports client. He twisted John Barnes' arm to get us to manage his pit crew, he did the same thing at Andretti Green. Dan Wheldon got St Vincent Sports performance involved in motorsports, no question about it.," said Reiff in a moment of proud remembrance Monday.
There were signs and momentos in the lobby Monday. Everyone in the facility shared a bit of the emptiness that so many are feeling this week following the accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Dan Wheldon didn't just go to St. Vincent Sports Performance to workout. He was a part of the family and had earned the respect of everyone around him.
"It's hard to put it into words, the legacy of Dan Wheldon. My shining memory of him always is this effervescence and vigor about how he approached his workouts and how he treated people. Everybody admired him and wanted to be around him," added Reiff.
To say Reiff's "idea" in the early 2000's has been successful would be an understatment. People like Gordon Hayward and countless other profressional, college, and high school athletes utilizes St. Vincent's services on a daily basis. While Reiff doesn't have to work quite as hard to recruit new clients these days, that was not the case when Wheldon first arrived with a belief and a dream that he could win the Indianapolis 500.
While business went on Monday, there certainly was an empty feeling inside the facility.
"To have a client, a friend that spent the last ten and a half, eleven years with, is just new territory for us, as an organization, how to act and deal with it. It is a very sad day, for those of us at ST. V's that have had the blessing to be around Dan and Suzie, his family, it's been a very reflective day."
St. Vincent Sports Performance one of many groups positively impacted by Dan Wheldon over the years
Ralph Reiff credits Wheldon for helping bring other athletes to his business
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