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Fans, adopted city mourn loss of racing champion Dan Wheldon

ST. PETERSBURG — As the racing world struggled with the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, the city that adopted the 33-year-old racer was left asking: What now?

A memorial of flowers and cards appeared on the steps of Wheldon's Snell Isle home. A public remembrance will be held and broadcast from City Hall at Thursday's 3 p.m. council meeting. Mayor Bill Foster and the council will issue a resolution of bereavement in Wheldon's honor.

For those who knew him, that won't be enough. They're just not sure what would be.

Christine Sabo, the major gifts manager at Bayfront Medical Center, has worked closely with Wheldon and his wife, Susie. She said the hospital plans to honor his memory in some way. They're just not sure how they'll do it yet.

"Everybody's got their Dan Wheldon stories," Sabo said. "This is a huge loss."

Wheldon was killed in a 15-car crash Sunday during the finale of the IndyCar season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

A native of England, Wheldon lived since 2005 off Coffee Pot Bayou in Snell Isle with Susie and the couple's children, 3-year-old Sebastian and 7-month-old Oliver. In that time he has been embraced as one of the city's own.

Several flags in his neighborhood flew at half-staff Monday.

Both of Wheldon's children were born at the Bayfront Baby Place, prompting the Wheldons to publicly support the program at Bayfront Medical Center and donate $25,000, according to the Baby Place website.

Sabo has known and worked with the Wheldons over the past several years and called them "the most delightful couple ever."

On Sunday, Sabo said she intended to watch the final IndyCar race but missed the start and decided to wait for highlights on the news.

That's when her 14-year-old son called to her and told her someone had posted a message online: "Dan Wheldon, RIP." She was stunned.

More messages followed.

Throughout the day, social media sites lit up with tributes to and memories of Wheldon. Some, from Tampa Bay residents, recalled Wheldon's down-to-earth demeanor.

Mayor Bill Foster said he was watching the race when Wheldon's car went up in flames.

"It was such a shock," he said. "You just do everything you can do to embrace the family, and you pray."

Times photographer Joseph Garnett Jr. contributed to this report. Reach Marissa Lang at mlang@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

.fast facts

How to watch

the memorial

Call letters for St. Petersburg's cable TV station are WSPF-TV, which appears on Channel 35 on broadcast TV, Channel 615 on Bright House Networks, Channel 20 on Verizon FiOS and Channel 15 on Knology Cable.

Fans, adopted city mourn loss of racing champion Dan Wheldon 10/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 12:46am]
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