IZOD IndyCar fans filed into the Las Vegas Motor Speedway today to see 300 miles of racing to settle the overall points championship battle between Dario Franchitti and Will Power. Excitement was also in the air as Dan Wheldon would be competing from the back of the pack for a chance to win a $5,000,000 bonus if he could get his car to the checkered flag first.
The fans that gathered at the track and who tuned in on ABC instead witnessed the worst that can happen at a racing event. On lap 11 of 200 scheduled laps, a huge wrecked occurred in turn one and two of the track. At least 12 cars were involved in the wreck with cars flying through the air into the catch fence, cars slamming the safer barrier, and a number of cars in flames as they came to stop at the start of the backstretch. The race was immediately red flagged to allow the safety crew to attend to the drivers and the huge amount of debris that was deposited on the track. (see below for link to the accident video)
It was apparent by the amount of damage to some specific cars that some drivers may have been seriously hurt in the incident. As the coverage continued, a very sore and possibly hurt Pippa Mann was helped from her car. It appeared from the video that Mann may have at least broken an arm or wrist. Pippa is at a Las Vegas hospital and will be held overnight.
The greatest concern was for Wheldon who had a number of safety crew members working on his car. It was also apparent Wheldon may have been hurt badly since no close up shots were shown of the crew working on the car or the driver. Once Wheldon had been removed from the car, Wheldon was taken via helicopter to a local hospital for further treatment.
After a lengthy period of time that the race remained under the red flag and many drivers were interviewed, the IndyCar Series called all the drivers and owners to a closed door meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting when the drivers reappeared, many of them had on sunglasses and were visibly shaken and crying. Shortly after the drivers and officials came out of the meeting an announcement was made that we had lost the 2011 Indianapolis 500 Champion Dan Wheldon.
The rest of the race was cancelled and Dario Franchitti has won the season championship. In tribute to Dan Wheldon, the drivers strapped back into their cars and rolled around the track in a five lap tribute to Wheldon.
I have a passion for auto racing and love the excitement and thrills that come with the sport. We have become so accustomed with the increased safety in all forms of motor racing that when a driver is involved in an incident, he or she is suppose to step out of the car and wave to the fans. Today that did not happen. Dan Wheldon did not get the chance to step out of the car and wave. He did not get the chance to have a post accident interview where he would have thanked his sponsors, team, and for having the opportunity to win a boat load of money if he won the race today.
It was not a lack of safety or response that led to the loss of Wheldon today. In racing, things are going to happen that you never want to see. So many times that I get the opportunity to go to a race or watch a race on TV, I am excited and looking forward to getting together with good friends and being entertained. It is only when these incidents occur that I take a step back and think about how the men and women who strap themselves into machines designed to go as fast as possible are putting their life on the line to entertain us. So many times I have left the track with a smile after seeing great races, and sometimes shaking my head at having drivers I do not care for win the race. In the end, whether I like a driver or not, I always expect them to go home to their loved ones in one piece after providing an afternoon or evening of entertainment for not only me, but all race fans.
Thank you Dan Wheldon for a lifetime of memories that you have provided me and all of us at Troubleinturntwo.com. We all mourn the loss of Dan and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and children. We will miss Dan and the smile and great passion he brought to the IndyCar Series, whether it be as a commentator or driver on the track. Rest In Peace Dan.
Link to the video of the accident