INDIANAPOLIS – Susie Wheldon received a long standing ovation Saturday during the public driver meeting for the Indianapolis 500.
Dan Wheldon's wife accepted the "Baby Borg," a replica of the Borg-Warner trophy, on behalf of the two-time Indianapolis winner who was killed in a crash during the October season finale race at Las Vegas. Susie Wheldon held her 3-year-old son, Sebastian, while accepting the trophy, and she did not speak during the ceremony.
"Everybody knows how much he loved the Indy 500," said James Verrier, vice president of Borg Warner. "His image appears on the trophy for his victories for 2005 as well as last year, and he holds a remarkable record here at the speedway: Six top-four finishes in his last eight starts.
"I think we all know Dan would have been so excited to be here today to receive his second Borg-Warner award. But I also ask you to honor Dan by celebrating his life, his win and also to welcome his wife, Susie."
The 33 drivers in the field were the first to stand, and were followed by fans in the stands for an ovation that lasted more than one minute and included cheers and whistles.
She was also presented with a plaque from The American Dairy Association to commemorate Wheldon's win last May. The award is a reminder of Louis Meyer, who originated the tradition in 1933 of drinking milk in victory lane.
The driver meeting was mostly ceremonial. Firestone Racing presented the winning car owner's ring to Bryan Herta, Steve Newey and Sam Schmidt, and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Gary Garfield remembered Wheldon's emotional celebration last year.
"I will personally always remember last year after he won the race, seeing his smile, the incredible energy he had was contagious," Garfield said. "That's the picture I will always keep in my mind as I remember Dan."
Four-time and defending series champion Dario Franchitti was presented with his champions ring during the driver meeting, and Josef Newgarden received his Indy Lights championship ring.
"Josef's story is exactly what the road to Indy is all about," Garfield said. "Josef won the Firestone Indy Lights championship in 2011 and that brought him to a full-time ride this year in the IndyCar racing series."
Indy 500 legend Andy Granatelli presented IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard with the "Unsung Hero" award, and praised Bernard for doing more to promote IndyCar in his 27 months on the job than anyone had done in the last 27 years.
After the 33 drivers were presented with their Indy 500 rings, race director Beaux Barfield closed the meeting by reviewing procedures for Sunday's race.
"From my experience here, these guys totally rock, and I think they're going to give you a good show tomorrow," Barfield said.