Woody: Waltrip Says ‘Fear’ Hung Over Vegas
In the wake of Dan Wheldon’s death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday, Darrell Waltrip says he hesitates to “second-guess” the IndyCar Series’ decision to race there – but that it was probably a bad idea.
“I know those guys were apprehensive going into that race,” says Waltrip, a retired three-time NASCAR champion who early in his career considered racing Indy cars. “There was some fear.”
Gary Baker, who has spent four decades in racing as a driver, track owner and team owner, said, “Las Vegas Speedway is a great track but its too dangerous for IndyCars. Those cars are designed for flat tracks and road courses, not for banked tracks and side-by-side NASCAR-type racing. When those wheels come into contact, you’re lost. Danger is part of the sport but there are steps that can be taken to keep it to a minimum.”
Waltrip, who lives in the Nashville suburb of Franklin and got his start at Fairgrounds Speedway in the late 1960’s, compared the situation to that of the Fairgrounds track when he began racing there.
“That track was banked 35 degrees and the speeds were breath-taking,” he said. “We knew
they were too fast for a track that size (five-eights mile). They eventually ground down the banks – after a driver got killed. Unfortunately in our sport that’s often what it takes to get safety innovations done.”
Waltrip said “it’s easy to become complacent in our sport. Take what happened to Jimmie Johnson Saturday night at Charlotte. He was involved in a terrible crash but walked away without a scratch.
“We see that and we tend to forget just how dangerous this sport really is. We go for a while without a fatality and we think we’ve got it all figured out. We get complacent. Then suddenly we get a huge wakeup call like Sunday’s, and we have to start all over again.”
The remainder of Sunday’s race was canceled after the crash and Waltrip’s Williamson County neighbor Dario Franchitti was awarded his fourth IndyCar championship. But there was no celebration as Franchitti fought back tears while being consoled by wife Ashley Judd.
“One minute you’re joking around during driver intros and the next minute Dan’s gone,” Franchitti told the Associated Press.
Scott Borchetta, a Nashville music producer and retired racer who remains active in the sport as a sponsor, was a close friend of Wheldon’s and was track-side when the 15-car crash occurred.
Borchetta issued a statement:
“Dan Wheldon was a dear friend and an incredible race driver. His family and friends were with him at the track and he was surrounded by love. He was doing what all true racers love best. There is a massive hole in my heart but I am blessed to have shared in his life, his family and friends and his mighty racing accomplishments.”
Cliff Hawks, vice president/general manager of Nashville Superspeedway, became acquainted with Wheldon during the IndyCar Series’ races at his track.
“What impressed me about Dan was how well-liked and well-respected he seemed to be by his fellow drivers,” Hawks said. “Those two traits don’t always go together, but in Dan’s case they did. Everybody seemed to genuinely like him.”
Hawks said Wheldon “was very accessible to fans, the media and to all of us at the track. He was always accommodating, willing to do whatever we asked of him to help promote the Nashville races. He was a very personable, likeable guy. I was sad to hear about what happened.”
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment