EMBERTON, England — The clock tower in the heart of this tiny village first began calling to the men working in the rolling fields in the 18th century. But today it is a reminder of how time hasn't really changed this community of stone houses 57 miles north of London.
Some years ago, Kate Whiting and her daughters were asked to pose for photographs around the tower by a reporter who was doing a story on the hometown of Dan Wheldon, the famous race car driver.
"He was doing some kind of article on where Dan Wheldon had been brought up," Whiting said. "He kept having us cycle around the clock tower so he could get good shots. It was quite bizarre, really. But we were all so proud of Danny."
Early Monday, the residents of Emberton watched replays of the horrific crash Sunday in Las Vegas that killed Wheldon, 33. Metal and broken parts were strewn all over the track from the 15-car pileup, and the heartbreak has traveled across the Atlantic to this farming community that grieves for the very private family that lives in the only gated house on High Street.
Wheldon left family and friends in Emberton many years ago to build a racing career as a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. He eventually settled in St. Petersburg with his wife, Susie, and two sons, Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, seven months.
News of Wheldon's death did not start circulating around this community of 600 until Monday after news reports and reporters descended upon his birthplace.
"Daniel was born to be a racer and (Sunday) left us doing what he loved to do," said Wheldon's father, Clive, flanked by sons Ausrin and Ashley outside the family home Monday.
"The family would like to thank everybody for their overwhelming sympathy in such a difficult time," Clive Wheldon said. "Words cannot describe how much our family will miss him. He touched so many and the world is a better place for him having been in it."
Residents of the village say Dan and his family had little interaction with people in the community where he began racing by driving go-carts before his 10th birthday.
The Wheldons' house sits facing a graveyard and the All Saints Church that was built around the 14th century.
"We open and shut the church. Nobody has told us yet. Did you hear there was going to be a memorial service?" Elizabeth Turner said. "We haven't heard, either.
"It's a terrible tragedy and we've watched the terrible crash. We didn't know them because I think they're quite private people and they didn't join in the village activities. Your heart just goes out to them, really."
The activity has picked up at the Bell and Bear pub, where men talk about Wheldon's life. "I knew them more when they were young lads," said Dennis Lewts. "The news just came through and I didn't get the news until Monday morning. It was stunning, because people knew the family. . . . It's all terribly sad."