Dan Wheldon rally: Welcome home celebration for Indianapolis 500 winner at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg today

6:27 AM, Jun 7, 2011   |    comments
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May 29, 2011; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indy Car Series driver Dan Wheldon celebrates after winning the 95th running of the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

St. Petersburg, Florida -- A victory celebration for the local driver who took home this year's Indy 500 gets going Tuesday afternoon. St. Pete's Dan Wheldon won the prestigious race in dramatic fashion.

Jannus Live will be full of fans cheering on the man who pulled off that magical, stunning win just over a week ago.

The welcome home celebration will start at 5 p.m. at Jannus Live, on 2nd St. N. in Downtown St. Petersburg. At 5:30, after Mayor Bill Foster delivers a proclamation in his honor, Wheldon will join in a question and answer session on stage.

A live concert by Jeremy Thomas Band will finish off the event. It's hosted by the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and it's free. Optional donations will be accepted the local chapter of Wheldon's charity of choice, the Alzheimer's Association.

Wheldon won his first Indianapolis 500 back in 2005. That's the same year he won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and moved to St. Pete. So he definitely knew how to put himself into a position to win this Memorial Day weekend.

What a whirlwind for a guy. In 2009, Wheldon finished second in the Indy 500. In 2010, he finished second -- again. And in 2011, it looked like he was destined to be runner up once more.

Rookie J.R. Hildebrand had the lead and was one turn away from the immortality that comes with winning the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." But as he tried to pass a slower car that had dropped out of competition, Hildebrand made a very mortal mistake.

His car was too high as it came out of the last turn. As the finish line came into view, Hildebrand's car continued moving up the track, closer and closer to the outside wall. In an instant, the right side of his car burst into a mix of dust and machinery as it collided with the concrete wall.

Dan Wheldon swooped in from second place. He passed Hildebrand's mangled car as it slid along the wall. Wheldon took the win and celebrated in Victory Lane.

After a traditional drink of milk, followed by a splash poured on his head, Wheldon started touring to country as the Indy 500 champ. Monday night, he headed to the Late Show with David Letterman.

Between jokes and questions, Dave reminded Dan that the team he drove for at Indy was a one-off deal; it will not race the rest of the season.

That means despite winning the Indianapolis 500 twice, and 14 other races in his career, Dan Wheldon currently has no race car to drive.

"An unemployed champion," Wheldon chuckled. But he said the $2.6 million payout he'll split with his team makes for an impressive unemployment check.

Wheldon is looking for a ride for this weekend's races at Texas Motor Speedway. Drivers will be running two IndyCar races back-to-back on the same night.

If he cannot find a team to drive with, Wheldon has reportedly worked out a deal to provide commentary on TV during the races.

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Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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