He was a driver, a champion, and a marketing department all in one.

Donald Davidson will remember the latter part the most.

"I don't think I ever heard him get an interview where he didn't say 'The Indianapolis 500 is the greatest race in the world,'" said the Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian of Dan Wheldon. "More recently, he was doing it as a throw away line where he would sort of constantly remind you 'Because, after all, the Indianapolis 500 is the greatest race in the world.'"

Its one, however, that will lack it's enthusiastic defending champion in 2012.

Wheldon died in a 15-car accident on Sunday during the Izod IndyCar Series finale in Las Vegas on Sunday, and in the process became just the fifth Indianapolis 500 champion to die the same year he won in a racing incedent.

He joins Gaston Chevrolet (1920), Joe Boyer (1924), Ray Keech (1929) and George Robson (1946) to die racing after winning at indianapolis. Wheldon now joins this group, unable to defend a title which he captured twice in his racing career.

"He just genuinely loved the place," said Donaldson of Wheldon.

While the way in which he won't return to the Indianapolis 500 is something tragically unique, its not uncommon for champions not to come back the next year.

"Ray Harroun, the 1911 winner, retired in victory lane," pointed out Davidson when asked about those who've not come back as a defending champion. "In 1913 Joe Dawson, who won the race in 1912, was in a car but didn't make a qualifying attempt.

"So it was actually 1914 was the first year it (the Indianapolis 500) had a former winner in the race."

Over the past 15 years-when open wheel racing was split into two different leagues-its been more common. Al Unser Jr returned to try and qualify in 1995 but failed to do so in Penske's unusual struggles with engines and chassis.

Kenny Brack won the race in 1999 but moved to the CART series in 2000 and didn't make a attempt at a repeat victory. Juan Pablo Montoya went to F1 after his dominating win in 2000, Gil de Ferran retired after his 2003 victory, and Sam Hornish Junior departed for NASCAR after his thrilling 2006 victory.

Gone for the track, however, are the events to celebrate Wheldon like the revealing of his image on the trophy, his image on the 2012 Indianapolis 500 (usually bestowed upon the previous year's winner) as well as the ring presentation.