Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta was a sponsor of Dan Wheldon's winning car in this year's Indianapolis 500 and of his car in the recent, fatal Las Vegas Indy 300. Wheldon died in a 15-car wreck during the race on Sunday (Oct. 16). Borchetta was himself a truck champion at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. He spoke with CMT.com about his friendship with Wheldon.
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CMT.com: How did you and Dan Wheldon meet?
We met around the sponsorship of the Indy 500, so we met in May of this year and I had met him at a distance prior to that, but the friendship and the working relationship started in May of this year, in Indy.
How did the sponsorship connection come about?
The sponsorship of his car started with me and [Curb Records CEO and frequent race sponsor] Mike Curb. We were at a political function together and after the event, he and I were talking and I asked him if he were going to be on an Indy car this year. He said he was working on something and it could be a one-off with Dan Wheldon. He said you should do it with me. I said, "If you get Dan, then I'll do it, because I've been a big fan and he's been a great driver at Indy." It was really kind of casual. So Mike called a couple of days later and says, "Hey Dan's in, are you in?" I said, "Heck, yeah!"
Was Dan a country music fan before you met?
He did know about Taylor [Swift] when we met and he also was a big fan of Rascal Flatts and The Band Perry. He knew more about country music than I expected. He especially liked The Band Perry. We talked about country because he was always interested in it. His prior sponsor was military, and Dan always had a great love for this country and was fascinated by middle America. A big fan of it.
You were with him the weekend of the race?
We had dinner the night before the race at The Palms. We went to a party afterward -- me, my wife Sandi and Dan and his wife Susie, his brother, his manager, eight or 10 of us. And we just talked racing and music. The drivers were worried about the race. They knew there were a lot of drivers that weren't serious regulars, and it was a fast track and that track predominantly has big groupings of cars close together. He said, "You know, I hope nobody gets hurt tomorrow."
I had heard that he had some reservations about the race.
His car was fine. He passed 10 cars in 11 laps. There was nothing wrong with the car. He started at the back. That was part of the reason he came to do the race. That's part of why there was a $5 million purse on the line.
The difficulty lies in the fact that that track was built for NASCAR. Most of those mile and-a-half ovals were built for NASCAR. So when they have high banking like that, they're really fast and with the current configuration of Indy cars, they don't really have enough power to pull away from the other [cars] and the way they have the down force set up. So, while it makes for really exciting racing, it's really dangerous, obviously.
What will be your lasting memory of Dan?
Oh, winning the 500. It was just really fantastic. That was really great. As you know, he came to Nashville and was a presenter on the CMT Awards, and he spent two days with us. That's when we became really good friends. We really connected. And he loved it here [in Nashville]. He was so complimentary of Nashville that he talked about us to everybody. I got calls from everybody, saying, "Dan's raving about what all you guys did for him in Nashville." I was standing with him when he got in the car [at the race]. It was gonna be a great day.