Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes…

How do you measure, measure a year…

In daylights, in sunsets In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

I kept waiting for the moment when I could sit down and just write this, with dry eyes and clarity of thought. I thought that moment was now, but just like a few hours ago, and a day ago, and a week ago, and a month ago, the minute I began to type… the second I let my guard down…Β  my throat tightened and my breath quickened, and my eyes betrayed my stoic resolve, spilling hot tears down my cheek once again.

Such has been my routine for much of the past year. But I will push through, and empty my brain. Maybe it’s like a pressure valve, once released it will relieve some of the pent up emotions.

A year. One year. All at once it feels like a lifetime ago and yet at the same time like it was only an hour ago. I’ve got one of those freakish savant memories for most things, and that day is no different. I remember everything. Every thought, every emotion as it all unfolded. I remember where I was, who I was with, what I was drinking, conversations I had, conversations I didn’t have, conversations I couldn’t have.

I remember feeling connected to thousands and yet desperately alone.

I remember in the weeks that followed wondering how or even if I would convince myself to ever go to a race track again.

The Year of remembering Dan… trying to forget, and finding my way back…

All of a sudden it was March, and I found myself in St. Petersburg, Dan’s adopted home, to kick off 2012. New year, new car, new season.

It’s hard to describe the energy that weekend. Subdued excitement? Reserved competitiveness? Confident trepidation? The whole weekend seemed a contradiction. There was a real sense of community and gratitude, and yet something was slightly off.

It felt good to be all together again with my friends and colleagues, and to get back to “normal” after the long, sad winter. Whatever “normal” was going to be now going forward. But this wasn’t the usual season kick off. Emotions were settled barely below the surface, and the performance of both the drivers and the new car had giant question marks hanging over them. But it went off without a hitch. It was a good, clean, non-controversial, and consequently, non-eventful (boring) race. But it was exactly what it needed to be to calm the nerves and quiet the naysayers. There was a little magic however, or perhaps serendipity when Helio won, his car coming to a stop across from the sign dedicating the street to Dan’s memory. It felt right.

It felt right to be there. It felt right to “enjoy” it. It felt right to celebrate.

Then came Indianapolis. This was the toughest one for me. For most. Dan was everywhere, literally and figuratively. Tickets, and posters, and billboards, and tributes, and interviews, and articles, on and on and on. Then Susie, and the kids… It was almost too much. It was too much. I spent much of the weekend hiding and wiping the tears spilling down my cheeks from under my sunglasses. By the end of the weekend, the general consensus from everyone was “enough is enough!”. We were all emotionally exhausted. From the drivers, to the crews, to the families, to the fans. We couldn’t have that scab picked off even one more time at this point, lest the wound ever be given a chance to actually heal.

It was time for a shift in thinking. Time for a shift in focus. Time for a shift in priorities.
Time to move on.

It was only then I that I started to allow myself to get “into it” again.

To cheer. To “rage”. To be critical. To be complimentary. To celebrate.
To be in the moment.It’s like starting a new relationship. You hold off as long as possible out of respect for past loved ones, but eventually you allow yourself to really truly love again.I remember standing on the back side of the track in Detroit on Saturday afternoon, the cars whipping around the corner towards me, the sun hitting the water behind them, the throaty engines mixed with the din of the crowd cheering. I was smiling, and shooting, and giddy with excitement for the race. It was at that moment I realized I had fallen in love with racing again.A fantastic season of epic battles and surprise contenders followed, and carried me through the busy summer into September, when I again began to protectively withdraw a little. With the ominous finale looming in the distance, I had an unshakable underlying feeling of impending doom. Fontana already bore the scars of unbearable heartache for my open wheel family. Would the… could the universe be so unthinkably cruel to rip the rug out from under us again in such an eerily similar fashion?Logic told me no, but my anxiety coming into the weekend was off the charts.
So many thoughts unspoken.
I HATED that Josef was racing that weekend. Confident, personable, young phenom driver, with a hand injury, driving at Fontana, in the finale race of the season.
Oh how tempting to the evil hands of that bitch fate…

But alas, it all went off without a hitch. In fact it was an exciting nail-biter to the very last lap.
And as the checkers waved, the tension of the race, the weekend, and the entire season released in a combination of a huge cheer and a quiet cry alone at my computer. 2012 was in the books and nobody died. *and exhale*

I guess in a way I’m glad there was a divide between the season finale and…
this day.

Everyone deserved to celebrate and debate this fantastic season we’ve just witnessed and participated in, distanced from what would surely have been a bunch of maudlin “looks back” had the finale aligned with this undeniably sad anniversary. This way everyone gets their moment. We all had time to celebrate, and now we can take a moment to remember. I won’t say grieve. We’ve grieved enough. Sure we are sad. Sadness is like a muscle memory, especially on anniversaries, but now is a time to marry our memories, both happy and sad, into Dan’s legacy moving forward.

Looking back over the last year, I feel like I lost my “innocence”. We all did. Rudely shaken from our complacent little bubble.

I felt a lot more realistic and a bit more cynical. My eyes were open and my heart closed for much of it. I feel like the curtain was pulled back on my magical racing “OZ” to reveal an evil little wizard with no power.

That said, like Dorothy, I also realized that my love of racing and the power to reignite the magic of being at the track wasn’t dependent on anyone else, good or bad, but rather it was in my control all along.

*click click* … There’s no place like home

Today I celebrate and miss you Dan… #lionheartforever

Dan Wheldon

8 responses to “Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes…

  1. Love it Meesh, beautifully written.

  2. As always, your words are appreciated. Can’t wait to hug it out again in Indy perhaps.

  3. beautifully written meesh… yet here I sit bawling, reading it again and again…some day we will meet have a beer and talk indycar stories in person…

  4. The very best of reads Meesh. Straight from the heart.

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