PHOTO CREDIT: Ron McQueeney/INDYCAR.
The long wait is almost over, as IZOD IndyCar Series teams and drivers prepare to begin the 2012 season next Sunday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
But the excitement of a new campaign will be somewhat muted as St. Petersburg is also preparing to honor the late Dan Wheldon, who took St. Petersburg as his adopted hometown. Memories of the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, who was killed last October in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, will be plentiful leading up to and during race weekend.
Earlier this month, the City of St. Petersburg rechristened the corner of Albert Whitted Park and Bayshore Drive as 'Dan Wheldon Way,' and also announced plans to create a permanent memorial for Wheldon near the St. Petersburg street course. Wheldon won the 2005 edition of the race (see photo above) in a 1-2-3-4 finish for Andretti Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport).
For race weekend, the tributes to Wheldon will also include the sale of orange memorial ribbons for the benefit of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America according to Brand James of the Tampa Bay Times. The ribbons have also been printed on volunteer and staff T-shirts.
Finally, Wheldon's sister, Holly, has confirmed that she will have the honors of waving the green flag to start the race and presenting the winner's trophy in Victory Lane.
It is sure to be an emotional weekend coming up for everyone in the INDYCAR landscape.