“The boys and I are doing well, and they’re thriving, they’re happy. But it has been a long road.”
Susie Wheldon is finding her way. In the 10 years that have passed since her husband Dan was taken at the 2011 IndyCar season finale in Las Vegas, she’s adapted to life as a single mother with young sons on the same career path as their father.
Wheldon can be found in a new role these days, having transitioned from being the spouse of a racer to the parent of racers. She gives and guides, sacrificing for Sebastian, 12, and Oliver, 10. She can be found most weekends sitting trackside, watching her kids compete in kart races somewhere across the country. Like their dad, the new generation of Wheldons have a knack for winning.
Susie was never anything as simple as Dan Wheldon’s wife; she was his partner, a businesswoman, half of an IndyCar power couple. Today, she lives with great focus and purpose. It’s a legacy from their relationship, one of the commonalities that drew the two together.
That focus and purpose have also given Wheldon a framework to move forward.
“And there’s been many struggles,” she says as the sound of kart engines sing in the background. “As a young mom, and mom of two small babies; at the time, Sebastian was two and a half, Oliver was seven months old, and that in itself was tough as a young mother trying to figure all that out. And then losing Dan added to just how difficult everything was.
“But I’ve really leaned on a lot of amazing people, and a lot of those people are in the racing community. Just the amount of support that I felt from them during those weeks and months and years after were crucial. I’m so grateful to have had that support; I know not everybody does, and obviously, the support of my family and Dan’s family, who I’m still very close with.
“But it hasn’t been easy. I always want for people to be able to remember Dan, and certainly, I love that he’s still remembered and celebrated. But the boys and I are what remains from that. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re doing it.”
As her sons have gone from infancy to nearing their teenage years, Wheldon has also grown and changed over the last decade. In dutiful ways, she’s become a different person since that fateful day in Las Vegas.
“When you have an unexpected loss, you do go through a period where you don’t even know what you’re going to do or how you’re going to get through the next day,” she says. “The biggest motivation was obviously my kids. Were there days that I didn’t want to get up? Yeah, but I did.
“What you do learn is it changes somebody forever; I’m not the same person you knew 10 years ago. You evolve over time, and I think what it’s taught me the most is to trust myself. Not having somebody that you can you partner with on life and the boys, and to held decide what’s the best decisions for them. Everything now falls on my shoulders. I do have a strong support system that I can talk to and lean on, but everything is up to me, and that can be very overwhelming at times.
“I certainly don’t know all the answers, but looking back, I know how much Dan trusted me. He trusted me so much and I have to really believe that in myself. I’ve learned to trust myself more as the years go by. You just have to live and let things happen.”
Wheldon’s existence is built around nourishing others. Selfishness is not within her nature, but with all the pressures of life to bear, she knows placing a greater emphasis on self-care must become a priority. Consider it a work in progress.
“I really thrive in that role of taking the backseat, arranging the details, making sure everything’s great for somebody, and that really is the truth,” she acknowledges. “Dan and I lived a really fast-paced life, and when he was racing, I was keeping all of those balls in the air, juggling, and going from place to place. We literally had a minute-by-minute schedule. Every single race was where every minute was accounted for. It worked for us because I understood that role and what that really meant when we were married. I really enjoyed that and giving to others in that way.
“And then now, are there times when it’s like, yeah, do I want some time for myself? Or am I tired? I definitely have those moments, and I’m learning how to not feel guilty. There’s obviously the mom guilt that you feel when you when you’re away from your kids and you need that break so bad. So it’s finding that balance, just finding time for myself to connect with friends. I enjoy running, and working out, and things like that. So that really fills me up and keeps me going.
“But right now, I’m in a season in my life where my kids do demand most of my time. I’m focused on them and what they’re doing and I’m OK with that. It gives me a lot of joy to see them on the track and to see them progressing and developing as drivers and just as little humans. It is a big sacrifice, everything that I’m doing, and also sacrifice on their part as well. But that’s the season that I’m in right now.”