- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (AP) - Of all the indelible moments from Dan Wheldon’s public memorial service _ fellow IndyCar drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan serving as pallbearers, his father carrying his racing helmet and country music star Wynonna Judd singing two gripping songs _ the heart-wrenching letter from his wife cut deepest.

Susie Wheldon’s letter to Dan left few eyes dry in the First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg.

Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, died last Sunday in IndyCar’s season finale at Las Vegas. He was remembered Saturday not only as a champion but as a devoted husband, caring father, loyal friend and beloved son. And one more thing: a neat freak.

Hundreds said goodbye to the 33-year-old Englishman-turned-Floridian during a service that included a eulogy by the best man at his wedding, Judd’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” alongside a church choir and letters by his wife and sister that offered a detailed portrait of the popular, fun-loving and always tidy driver.

“My sweet Dan, my whole body is aching, down to the deepest part of my soul,” Susie wrote in a letter read by family friend Michael Johnson. “I keep thinking this is a bad dream.”

Susie wrote about how scared she is that she’s going to forget things, how everything is moving so quickly and that she has to remember to breathe.

“My heart is scattered in a million pieces,” she wrote. “I just want to wake up and hear your reassuring voice.”

Dixon read another touching letter, this one from Wheldon’s little sister, Holly.

“I know a lot of sisters would describe their brothers as amazing,” Holly wrote. “But mine was truly one of a kind.”

Holly recalled having the “same compulsive disorder” as Dan and remembered spending late nights cleaning the floor and drinking tea together.

“My brother was born to race,” she wrote. “Dan without racing is like a cup of tea without milk, and Dan loved tea.”

She wrote about the great times they had on trips to the United States as kids and promised to “protect your family like you protected me.”

Wheldon left behind two young sons, 2-year-old Sebastian and 7-month-old Oliver. They were on hand for the service. Close friends and family members left the church and rode to the cemetery. Mourners filled the church, then watched Franchitti, Dixon, Kanaan and Wheldon’s three brothers load the casket. Some waved goodbye as the caravan drove away.

Team owners Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske attended the service, along with just about every IndyCar driver as well as some from other racing series.

“The past week’s been a tough one,” driver Graham Rahal said. “When it’s someone like Dan, it really puts it all in perspective. He was a guy that was certainly friendly with everybody on the circuit and everybody close. There’s just something about him. It’s certainly a tough loss.”

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