As the 2012 Indianapolis 500 approached its climax, it was hard for anyone to shake thoughts of the 2011 champion Dan Wheldon from their minds. Three of his closest friends in the sport - Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan - were battling for the race win and the chance to have their likeness added to the side of Borg-Warner trophy alongside that of Wheldon.
"Kind of like old times, the three of us back and forward," said Franchitti after the race. "I thought, Dan is laughing at us right now going at it."
There had been a lot or memories of Wheldon throughout the day, including the sight of his 2011 Indy 500-winning car being driven around Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the race to the sound of a bagpipe lament.
"The thing that really got me was the love that the fans showed for Dan and the tribute that we were all able to pay him," referring to the moments on laps 26 and 98 when fans in the grandstand donned copies of Wheldon's trademark white-rimmed sunglasses to pay their own respects. "Susie came around the car afterwards, to see the reaction of how much he was loved. To me, that was a great thing to see. Yeah, made me happy."
After the race, Franchitti dedicated the win to Wheldon - and also to Michael Wanser, the six-year-old son of Target Ganassi team manager Barry Wanser who passed away from leukaemia just a couple of weeks after Wheldon himself died in the terrible multi-car accident in the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October.
There had been much speculation that Franchitti might call time on his racing career after the loss of Wheldon, and the Scot admitted that it had been a dark time for him.
"I think racing is emotion. Life is, as well, but racing I think really exemplifies that, if that's the right word. And Vegas was the lowest of the low. Fontana '99 and Vegas last year were the lowest of the low," he said, recalling the loss of another good friend in the sport, Canada's Greg Moore 13 years ago when he himself was still relatively new to the world of IndyCar.
"I think the reason we all got back in the cars, the reasons all the mechanics got back in pit lane, the fans came back to the races, is days like today, the emotion of something like today," he continued. "That's certainly why I got back in the car. There's not a feeling like standing in Victory Lane there. There isn't."
That victory had hardly seemed likely after a disappointing qualifying session a week before - ironically taking place right on Dario's 39th birthday. Not that anyone felt much like eating cake to celebrate afterwards.