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Locals remember Wheldon as humble friend | News

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Locals remember Wheldon as humble friend
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St. Petersburg, Florida - Speed brought Dan Wheldon fame and fortune, but the racer endeared himself to many people in St. Pete, because he so easily shed the trappings of stardom.

At The UPS Store in the Northeast Shopping Center, workers wish they could just box up their grief and ship it away. "Sadness for the family-a lot of sadness," says owner Gina Farnsworth of Monday's mood.

One of Wheldon's helmets is on display in the store, but most often displayed here-Wheldon's easy smile. "Every day, 'Hi, cheers', he was always happy and upbeat, very positive about everything," says Farnsworth.

Photo Gallery: IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon dies in 15-car crash

Store employee Connor Gordon also knew Wheldon from parking cars at the Vinoy Hotel. He says the racer drove fast cars and was also quick with a joke. "Oh yeah, when he tells you to keep the rubber on the tires when  you're taking it down to the garage-that's just the kind of guy he was," recalls Gordon.

At Tour De Pizza, there's a Wheldon poster on the wall, an unused ticket to the ill-fated race and some fond memories. "He was a great guy, a very humble guy-never seemed to want the attention," says Matt McClellan, who provided food for a Wheldon party after his second Indy 500 win.

Another Wheldon hangout was the Einstein Bros. Bagels on 4th Street North.  Nearly every day you'd find him there eating a power bagel with peanut butter.  Clerks knew Wheldon so well, news of his death brought tears.

"He was real friendly," says clerk Danielle Swede. "Never stuck-up... never. I never knew he was a professional race car driver when I first met him."

Flowers and cards stack up on the steps of Wheldon's Snell Isle home and while the racing world mourns the loss of a young, rising star-around here, people mourn the loss of a nice guy.

Her voice breaking with emotion, Farnsworth says, "He was a friend to all of us."

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