NOTE: Cross posted at GoingPro2011.com
Race-car driver and 2011 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon died yesterday. He was only 33 years old. He had a wife and two very small children. He was very well-liked and very well-respected in motor sports. He was simply one of the nicest guys in the business.
What’s memorable for me about this young man’s death is that I was there. I witnessed it. I was covering the IZOD Indycar World Championships in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.* I’ve been around racing my entire life and I can tell you it was easily the most horrific crash I have ever seen. The minute it happened I had a bad feeling about it. Unfortunately, I was right.
Less than an hour before the 15-car, fire-filled crash that took his life, I made a quick portrait of Dan. During a pre-race celebration that left smiles on everyone’s faces, Indycar did the driver introductions. I – along with several other credentialed photographers had a few seconds to photograph each driver during their introductions.
When Dan came off the podium and over toward me he was smiling. Then he altered course since he was asked by a fan with a camera to give the thumbs up. Being the nice guy he is, he accommodated the fan.
The few seconds I had made it difficult to do the picture justice but, in these situations you do the best you can do. I decided that going for something fun was my best bet. Fortunately, Dan does look happy and the image shows his fun personality. Little did I know that minutes later Dan Wheldon would be dead.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Photography is a sacred and important thing. The pictures we make may be the last we take of any given subject. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. We all owe a death. Both the photographer and the photographer’s subject will pass on. It just makes sense that we should do our very best to make every photo count. There are NO insignificant photographs – period. None. They all matter. They’re all important one way or another.
I wish I had more time to make a great shot of Dan. But I am glad I captured something that represents what I knew of him. He was a friendly, sincere, happy young man with a great outlook on life and a whole bunch of talent. I tried my best, given the situation, circumstances and time constraints to make a good photo. I still can’t believe it’s the last one I’ll ever get to make of Dan Wheldon.
Dan knew the risks of racing and I assume he was at peace with the danger he faced. I know that while his life was short, he lived a big life and hand major impact on lots of people all over the world.
I seek (as well as I can under the circumstances) to honor his memory by sharing this last photo I made of him. I ask you to honor his memory by remembering that every single click of the shutter is important and precious and noteworthy. I hope you’ll remember this story and make every click count. You have no idea if it’s your last click or the last one your subject will ever hear. Photography matters!
I wish the Wheldon family well. I send my best wishes to his family, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and their extended racing family.
I will close by quoting Dan’s team owner – Sam Schmidt. It’s one of Sam’s favorite Bible verses:
James 1:2:3 — “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
*I wrote a series of posts (which I’ll run later) about photographing motor sports. For now, I just want to honor Dan’s memory.