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Dan Wheldon crash: Drivers say track had them worried

October 17, 2011 | 12:57 pm

Fiery-crash

Several drivers said they were concerned about safety before Sunday's IndyCar Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where an accident claimed the life of popular two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

The race, which marked the end of the season, was barely underway at the 1.5-mile oval track when the accident occurred. The track was cramped, with a 34-car field, and Wheldon was in the back, running 25th. Then his in-car camera captured a shot of smoke and confusion and cars spinning up ahead.

At that point, Wheldon's car struck another car, went airborne, crashed into the fence at Turn 2 and caught fire. The flames, the cars spinning out, and the rubber and debris flying everywhere made the scene seem reminiscent of something from the sci-fi movie nightmare "Terminator," several witnesses reportedly said.

Photos: Dan Wheldon's fatal car crash

The tight corners on the Las Vegas track left little room for error, or little room to get out of the way in the face of chaos, critics said.

"This is not a suitable track," 2011 season champion Dario Franchitti was quoted as saying on the Sports Illustrated website. "You're just stuck there and people get frustrated and go four wide, and you saw what happened. One small mistake from everybody and it's a massive thing.''

During practice runs Sunday, there was concern about the straightaways, as well as the steep banking, according to CBS News: "We all had a bad feeling about this place, in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat," driver Oriol Servia was quoted as saying.

Sports Illustrated writer Bruce Martin, who was covering the race, confirmed the same. "There was total concern about everything," Martin told CBS, explaining that the vehicles themselves were susceptible to danger given the track's layout.

"On a high bank speedway, they're able to go flat -- that means flat to the floor with the accelerator -- and by doing that, there was no separation of the field," Martin said.

That type of bunching up leaves little room for error.

Wheldon, a popular figure on the racing circuit, was 33. He leaves behind a wife and two young sons. His death is certain to throw a spotlight on IndyCar racing safety in much the same way that Dale Earnhardt's 2001 death led NASCAR to embrace a safety overhaul.

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-- Rene Lynch

Photo: Dan Wheldon's vehicle, front left, collides with another at Sunday's IndyCar Series race in Las Vegas. Credit: Las Vegas Review-Journal

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