March 25 in Motorsports History: Castroneves honors Wheldon

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The 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was supposed to signify a new era of IndyCar racing.

For the first time since 2005, there were multiple engine manufacturers involved in the sport, with Chevrolet and Lotus joining Honda. All cars competing in the race also utilized a new chassis, the Dallara DW12.

But in addition to being the season opener for the IndyCar Series, the race weekend also served as a memorial of sorts to honor the driver for whom the new chassis was named.

Dan Wheldon, the winner of the previous year’s Indianapolis 500, served as the official test driver of the new chassis.

On the morning of Oct. 16, 2011, Wheldon signed a multiyear contract to race for Andretti Autosport beginning in 2012. Tragically, Wheldon was killed later that afternoon during a violent crash in the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With St. Petersburg as the host city of the first race since Wheldon’s death and his adopted hometown, Mayor Bill Foster and Wheldon’s widow Susie unveiled a new street sign a few weeks prior to the race.

The sign read “Dan Wheldon Way” and was placed in Turn 10, where Wheldon passed Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan to take the lead and win in 2005.

A few weeks after the dedication, the winner of that year’s race would park his car right at that spot.

Helio Castroneves started the 2012 season opener from the fifth position and remained in contention throughout.

The Team Penske driver took the lead on Lap 75 and retained it through the checkered flag, winning at the Florida street course for the third time in his career.

Podium finishers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon celebrate with Holly Wheldon following the 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

In his two previous victories at St. Pete, Castroneves celebrated by climbing the fence in Turn 1 to celebrate. But he changed things up in his third victory.

On the cooldown lap, Castroneves parked his car in Turn 10 and ran toward the fence. He climbed it and began to pat and point toward the “Dan Wheldon Way” sign as a tribute to his lost competitor. The crowd in the Turn 10 grandstand cheered.

You can never question God’s mystery,” Castroneves said about Wheldon’s death during his postrace interviews.

Wheldon’s sister, Holly, joined Castroneves and the other podium finishers in victory lane

“Honestly, I did not plan it, it was just the way it happened, and there was the sign,” Castroneves said. “But we’ve got to remember him as he lived, the way he lived and continue to pray for his family.”

Castroneves went on to win one more time in 2012, taking the checkered flag at Edmonton in July. The Brazillian finished fourth in the overall points standings.

Also on this date:

1979: A.J. Foyt won the Datsun Twin 200, the USAC Champ Car Series season opener, at Ontario Motor Speedway in California. Foyt also won the 200-mile USAC stock car race that took place at the track that day.

1982: Danica Patrick was born in Beloit, Wisconsin. In 2005, Patrick became the first woman in history to lead the Indianapolis 500. In 2008, she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race by taking the checkered flag at Twin Ring Motegi.

1984: Alain Prost won the Grand Prix of Brazil, which also saw the debut of a 24-year-old rookie named Ayrton Senna.

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NBCSN will present ‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ Monday

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With motor racing reckoning with its own issues of diversity and equality, “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” will tackle the topics of social justice with several athletes. The show will air at 8 p.m. ET Monday, July 13 on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic channel and on regional sports networks.

The roundtable discussions will be hosted by Damon Hack and feature Charles Barkley, Steph Curry, Jimmy Rollins and Ozzie Smith in one segment. The other segment will include Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Lynn, Troy Mullins and James Blake.

Race has been a major topic in motorsports this year.

NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its race after lobbying by Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the premier Cup Series. In Formula One, six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton has joined Black Lives Matter marches in London and also formed a panel on diversity. The lone Black driver in F1 also led 14 of 20 drivers taking a knee before the season opener in Austria.