Dan Wheldon mourned; IndyCar smashup puts spotlight on safety
Danger is a given in the world of motor sports, where cars often move at more than 200 miles per hour. But Dan Wheldon was among those dedicated to making it safer.
On Monday, his motor sports colleagues and fans were mourning the loss of the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, who died Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a fiery 15-car pileup. Well-known and well-liked for his convivial manner and sense of humor, Wheldon was killed when his car flew over another vehicle and hit a catch fence shortly after the start of the IndyCar race. (See video below.)
The 33-year-old was airlifted to University Medical Center. His death was announced about two hours later by IndyCar Chief Executive Randy Bernard.
"IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries," Bernard said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race."
Wheldon's 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. Those sweeping changes are credited for the fact that there hasn't been a NASCAR death since.
But Wheldon wasn't waiting for such a tragedy.
Wheldon had a side interest in helping test prototype cars that the IndyCar series will use starting next year. Many of the design changes on tap have been due to safety, and Wheldon quipped that he was the project's "“test dummy,” according to the Sporting News.
Meanwhile, racing fans around the world mourned the death of the British import who leaves behind a wife and two young sons. Fans flocked to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to offer mementos and messages. And fellow competitors took a moment to recall Wheldon.
"It's a black day for the sport. We came in here hoping for a good season finale and ended up losing a very close friend and a very good racing driver," fellow IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe told the media.
Dario Franchitti, Wheldon's former teammate and 2011 season champion, choked back emotion as he tried to put the loss into persepctive: "We put so much pressure on ourselves to win races and championships, and that's what we love to do, what we live for. Days like today, it doesn't really matter. I lost, we lost, a good friend."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
— Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Tributes to Dan Wheldon are left at the gate of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images