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For Dan Wheldon, Indianapolis 500 win makes for sweet return to St. Petersburg home

TAMPA — With balloons and hugs from friends and family, Dan Wheldon was welcomed home at Tampa International Airport on Thursday, four days after he won his second Indianapolis 500.

"It's been a long month but a very rewarding month. It's fantastic to be back home," said the St. Petersburg resident, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, at the airport terminal. "It's been emotional. I had told some people a week ago how great it would be to bring the baby Borg (Indy 500's Borg-Warner Trophy) back to St. Pete. I was quietly confident I could, but to win it, and it be the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, the history and the tradition of that race is very special to me."

It has been a busy few days of celebration. Wheldon, wife Susie, and their sons Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 2 1/2 months, hadn't been home in three weeks.

Wheldon won Sunday when rookie J.R. Hildebrand lost control and put his car in the wall on the final turn of the final lap.

"We ran out front all day," Wheldon said. "I know it looked like we were potentially handed the victory, but certainly the facts of the matter were we definitely ran out front and had a strong car."

Wheldon doesn't have a full-time ride this season, and though he said he has gotten some offers recently, his plan is to stay with Bryan Herta Autosport, which gave him the Indy ride, and work on something for 2012 rather than run single races for other teams.

"To win my potentially one and only race of the season and have it be the Indianapolis 500 has certainly raised the bar," he said. "We need to focus and make sure when we come back to other races that we're just as strong. We could lose that momentum very quickly."

He has made appearances in Texas and New York, and will stay busy with the spoils of victory — a trip to Disney World this weekend, a late-night guest spot in New York with David Letterman on Monday and appearances with ESPN. St. Petersburg spokeswoman Beth Herendeen said the city is planning to honor him soon and is working on the details.

"I have a very busy schedule for a so-called unemployed guy," Wheldon said.

St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon, right, greets friend Jennifer St. Cin at the Tampa International Airport on Thursday.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon, right, greets friend Jennifer St. Cin at the Tampa International Airport on Thursday.

For Dan Wheldon, Indianapolis 500 win makes for sweet return to St. Petersburg home 06/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011 11:25pm]
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