Dan Wheldon Killed In IndyCar Wreck In Las Vegas

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2011

Dan Wheldon, who won this year's Indianapolis 500, was killed in wreck during the season-ending IndyCar Series race at Las Vegas on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Driver Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific wreck that occurred just after the start of Sunday’s season-ending IndyCar Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Fifteen cars were involved in the wreck. Several launched high into the air and some burst into flames during the wreck, which occurred with the cars going over 220 mile per hour.

The fate of injured driver Wheldeon, age 33, had remained unknown for several hours after the wreck. His car had been covered with a yellow tarp after the wreck leading to speculation that Wheldon was serverly injured.

Then, INDYCAR chairman and CEO Randy Bernard sat in front of a microphone in the media center and said,  “IndyCar is very sad to announce Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.”

Wheldon, the winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500, was extricated from his destroyed race car and taken to the infield care center at the track.

From there, he was transported to a hospital in Las Vegas.

Several other drivers suffered more minor injuries.

The race is the final event on the 2011 schedule. Two drivers – Dario Franchitti and Will Power – remained in contention for the series championship.

Track workers give thumbs up to drivers as they take a five-lap salute to Dan Wheldon, who was killed in a wreck earlier in the day.

Power, 18 points behind Franchitti at the start of the race, was involved in the wreck. His car was destroyed and that handed the championship to Franchitti.

In his announcement, Bernard announced the race would be canceled and that drivers would take a five-lap salute to Wheldon.

Several drivers were in tears as they suited back up to take the salute laps. As the cars circled the track three abreast, bagpipes played Amazing Grace over the track’s public address system.

The wreck turned the portion of the track where the wreck occurred at the 1.5-mile oval into a smoldering debris field.

The field was red flagged. After an hour and a half, the drivers were called to a meeting with IndyCar officials.

As drivers emerged from the meeting, they refused to talk to the media but their body language told the story.

Wheldon, a native Emberton, England, was the winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500. It was his second Indy 500 victory.

His first 500 victory came in 2005 when he was driving for the team co-owned by Michael Andretti.

In a statement released late Sunday, Andretti said: “It is with extreme sorrow that we have lost one of our champion drivers today. Dan was an Indy 500 champion and IndyCar Series champion with Andretti Autosport-and one of our closest competitors. Dan brought such enthusiasm and passion to the sport not often seen in motorsports. We will remember Dan’s tremendous racing accomplishments with our team as well his infectious personality. We would like to express our deepest sympathy to Dan’s family, racing team and friends today. Dan is one of IndyCar’s greatest champions.”

He won 16 IndyCar Series races. Wheldon won the 2005 series championship. He finished second in championship points in 2004 and 2006.

He was married and had two children.

Condolences poured in from large numbers of those in the racing fraternity.

Said Dale Earnhardt Jr. of NASCAR, “I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Wheldon at the National Guard Youth Challenge dinner about five years ago, and we crossed paths several times since then, mostly through our mutual partnership with the National Guard. His success as a racer speaks for itself, but I will remember him as a true professional who was friendly, respectful, and genuine. On behalf of everyone at JR Motorsports, I send condolences to Dan’s family, team, and friends in the racing community.”

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement, “NASCAR offers its deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Dan Wheldon, his teammates, and the entire IndyCar Series community for their tragic loss today. They will be in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.”

NHRA Pro Stock driver Erica Enders said, “What a shame. He was a talented race car driver. It puts a lot of things in perspective. Motorsports is one big family, and we’re hurting right now. It’s just a sad day. My team and I send out our condolences and our prayers to his family and crew. We’ve lost too many drivers in NHRA, and we unfortunately know what they’re going through.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2011
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