The Tragic Death of Indy Racing League Driver Dan Wheldon


Today, Sunday October 16 2011, was supposed to be a joyous day at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The IZOD Indy Racing League series was supposed to crown a Champion and one driver and a lucky fan had a chance at splitting $5 million, $2.5 Million to the driver and $2.5 million to the lucky fan. The Driver would have to start at the back of the field and then win the race for the total pay out of $5 million.

But, on lap 11, 2 cars barely touched. The one car continued on and the other car started to spin, as the flow of air was disturbed from going over the front wing of the car. Thus causing a lack of down-force. As this car started to spin other cars started to “check up” or slow down, other cars turned towards the inside lane. Other cars had no where to go and could not slow up in time. Starting a 5 car pile up. One car got temporarily airborne and then as it landed caught fire.

As cars started to try to avoid the first few spinning cars, that caused other cars to crash into each other. One car ended up getting airborne, pirouetting and hitting the outside wall and then catching fire. This car was Will Power’s car. This was the second part of the 15 total car pile up and involving 7 or 8 cars.  The in-car camera shots that are shown are of Will Power’s car going airborne after hitting the left rear wheel and tire of another car.

As the rest of the field was trying to avoid the crashing and spinning cars, some of them on fire, Dan Wheldon’s car hit the back end of another car sending it airborne. Wheldon’s car flew for a couple hundred feet then landed very hard, bounced became airborne again hitting the outside wall and catch fencing and was then hit by another car, with the nose of that car striking Wheldon’s car approximately in the cockpit area or driver’s area.  I cannot tell if it was struck on the side: more of a T-bone affect, in under side on the car, or on top – directly in the cockpit.

When the accident happened, I thought: “Most if not all of the drivers would walk away from this accident and everyone will be okay.”  Even when I saw the Helicopter start to warm up, I thought: They are probably flying one of the drivers to the hospital because the injuries are most likely burns due to all of the fire from the fuel.” But when they showed the one ambulance go directly to the infield care center and showed the helicopter and all of sudden, everyone from the care center was not saying anything about the condition of any of the drivers. That is when I knew one of the drivers was seriously injured.

When no word came from the infield care center about the condition of any of the drivers involved in the accident for over an hour, That is when I became worried. Then they finally said that one of the drivers was Flown to the hospital and 3 others were taken by ground ambulance, but did not mention any names! The only name anyone knew about and was really concerned about was Dan Wheldon. Because the Drivers who were involved in the accident and were okay had said they were very concerned about Dan.

As time went by and still no word. 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour. Still no word on the condition of Dan Wheldon. No update on possible injuries? I started to think: “He did not make it. Or else we would have heard something by now!”  The announcers were mentioning different bad accidents in racing history in the IRL/CART/Indy past and also mentioned NASCAR. That is when my memory turned back to Dale Earnhardt at Daytona. Same type of situation: no word from the infield care center on possible injuries or what the driver’s condition is.

Now it is 1 hour 15 minutes still no word. 1 hour 20 minutes word comes out: ” Drivers are to report to the Media Center for a Drivers’ Meeting.”  I think: “That is odd. Either they are going to; “Lay down the law” or tell everyone that Dan Wheldon has died.

It is 1 hour 45 minutes, then 1 hour 50 minutes, then 2 hours 5 minutes; when Suddenly word comes out!

“IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute in his honor. It will take place in approximately 10 minutes.”

I was not surprised that the announcement had come saying he had died. I was saddened by it, because it happened to such a well liked and loved person. It is just one of those unfortunate things that happen in auto racing. It is always unfortunate when someone sustains fatal injuries in an wreck during a race, qualifying, practice, while working at the race, or while attending the racing event. Racing is an inherently dangerous sport. People especially drivers, crew members, course workers, and yes even sometimes fans get injured and/or even killed at races.

From a fan’s perspective, most people like to see the crashes as long as no one is hurt!  People are intrigued by the crashing cars, the flying debris, the squealing tires, the smoke and flames! But when someone gets hurt or even dies, that takes all of the fun, excitement, and enjoyment out of watching the thrilling action on the track. It makes us realize that these drivers, crew, course/track workers, and officials are people too and that they have families that love and care about them, as much as we love and care about our families.

From analytical perspective, I am curious as to what happened. How did the driver sustain the injuries that ultimately led to his/her death? What were the forces involved? How can we make the cars safer? How can we make the track safer?  Finding out exactly what happened, can then lead to preventing future injuries and deaths not only at the race track but also on the highways and streets that we all drive on everyday and ca also make the cars we drive safer.

From a drivers perspective, Dan knew the risks when he strapped into the car. He knew he could potentially get serious burns from a fire. That is why he and all drivers put on fire protective clothing. He also knew that there is a risk of head and neck injury in a wreck. That is why all drivers wear the HANS device. They also know that there is a chance they could sustain serious injuries in a wreck. That is why they trust their lives to the Homaltro Safety Team and the team of Doctors, EMT’s, Paramedics, Nurses, and Fire Fighters that travel to every track and at every event! The Driver knows, that when he/she straps in to that car there is a chance that they may die! How ever small that chance my be, they also have to trust each other, because even if one mistake at high speeds of even a inch can have disastrous results! As was proven on Sunday October 16, 2011 with the death on Dan Wheldon.

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About groffeaston

I like all kinds of music, like to hunt, play my guitars and bass guitar, cook, read, nature watch, watch TV, watch sports, Play computer and video games.
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