By Robert Green
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (Reuters) - Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was remembered as a champion, loving husband, father and brother during an emotional memorial service for the British racer on Saturday.
Family members, fellow drivers and racing fans attended the service for Wheldon, who was killed on October 16 in a fierce 15-car crash during the opening laps of the IndyCar season-finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"You were a true lionheart, my love. Thank you for sharing your love and your life with me," his wife Susie wrote in a letter to her husband which was read for her at the service.
"Those of us who have known Dan have been robbed of a rare treasure," Wheldon's friend Adrian Sussmann said. "Dan just loved people and they loved him back."
The service was held at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, where the Wheldons lived with their two young sons.
A church official estimated nearly 1,000 people attended, including members of the public who were invited by Wheldon's wife.
"We felt he was a neighbor. He represented so much of what was right about the sport," Robert Frank of St. Petersburg said as he waited with his wife Rita.
Wheldon, who grew up in Emberton, England, won the Indianapolis 500 twice, including the 100th anniversary race in May and the IndyCar Series driver's crown in 2005.
"I know my brother was born to race and born to win," his sister Holly said in a letter read for her by driver Scott Dixon, one of Wheldon's team mates.
A public memorial service will be held for Wheldon Sunday in Indianapolis by the IndyCar organization.
(Editing by Steve Keating in Toronto)