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IndyCar has released the initial findings of its investigation into the October crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that killed Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon.
Speaking at a Thursday morning news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar officials said no one factor was to blame in the crash but the accident was the cause of a "perfect storm" of variables.
Here's a brief summation of the news conference:
• The surface at Las Vegas didn't have traditional grooves, and thus drivers were able to use the entire track with no limits. That created dangerous racing conditions in the pack, because there was no reliable or predictable line in which cars would travel.
Since these conditions were difficult to replicate in practice and testing, IndyCar in the future will make sure it races at tracks where there is a limit to the amount of surface the cars can use.
• Despite LVMS being perhaps unsuitable for IndyCars, officials said not all high-banked ovals are viewed the same. Each track will be judged individually as to whether it is fit for IndyCar racing.
• Wheldon was traveling 224 mph prior to the crash and had slowed to 165 mph at the time of impact. When he ran into the car in front of him and went airborne, his car turned at an angle in which it collided with a fence post. The post "intruded" into the cockpit, officials said, and directly struck Wheldon's helmet. Wheldon had no other injuries aside from the blunt force head trauma, which killed him.
• After the crash, there was much speculation that since the fence posts were on the inside of the fencing at LVMS, it may have contributed to Wheldon's death. IndyCar's investigation ruled out this scenario because the car was traveling at such a high rate of speed that the impact with the post would have resulted in the same outcome whether it was on the inside or the outside.
That said, officials would prefer to see the poles on the outside of the fencing if they had a choice.
• The investigation found that other factors, such as the size of the field, the experience level of the drivers and Wheldon's starting position, were not solely to blame in the crash. In addition, the crash itself was the result of a typical racing incident.
Dan Wheldon will be honored with a public memorial service at 4 p.m. Sunday in downtown Indianapolis, IndyCar announced on Tuesday night.
Wheldon, 33, was killed Sunday in a horrific crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Englishman was a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner (including this year's race) and was a former series champion.
The public memorial will take place at Conseco Fieldhouse, the arena where the Indiana Pacers play their home games. If you can't attend, the Versus TV network will televise the service live from 4-5 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday.
In related news, IndyCar announced a trust fund has been set up for Wheldon's family (he left behind wife Susie and two young sons).
Below is the address for the Dan Wheldon Family Trust Fund if you'd like to contribute:
Fifth Third Private Bank
Attn: Dan Wheldon Family Trust
251 North Illinois St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
The two other drivers hurt in the crash at Las Vegas Motorspeedway that killed Dan Wheldon were released from the hospital on Monday, according to an IndyCar Series press release. Drivers Pippa Mann and JR Hildenbrand were both held overnight at University Medical Center.
Mann suffered the more serious injury of the two. She required surgery to clean and assess a serious burn on her right pinky finger. The recovery will likely take 2-3 weeks and she is expected to make a full recovery.
Hildenbrand suffered a severely bruised sternum in the accident and was held for observation.
The accident involved 15 of the 34 cars in the race and cost Wheldon his life. Dario Franchitti has gone on record saying that he did not feel the 1.5-mile oval was an appropriate venue for IndyCar racing.
"I said before we tested here, having driven a stock car here, this is not a suitable track," Franchitti said. "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."
Jimmie Johnson spent Sunday afternoon sitting at home, glued to the IndyCar Series TV broadcast from Las Vegas.
His mouth, he said, was wide open after seeing the replays of Dan Wheldon's fatal wreck and the massive, fiery debris field that went along with the 15-car crash.
It had a dramatic impact on Johnson, he said.
"Knowing Dan and his wife and two kids, and then I'm sitting there with my daughter running around in the backyard, I was torn up yesterday," Johnson said. "I mean, I know Dan...or knew Dan. We just stared at the TV for a long time yesterday with long faces. Just really sad."
Wheldon's wreck was another in a long line of frightening IndyCar crashes on ovals – though this one turned out to be tragic for the Indianapolis 500 winner.
Because of the ease in which IndyCars can get airborne, Johnson said it's time for that series to stop racing on oval tracks.
"I wouldn't run them on ovals," he said. "There's just no need to. Those cars are fantastic for street circuits, for road courses. The ovals at those speeds...there's very little crumple zone around the driver, it's an open cockpit and then you add open wheels – it's just creating situations to get the car off the ground at a high rate of speed. And you can't control the car when it's off the ground.
"I hate, hate, hate that this tragedy took place. But hopefully they can learn from it and make those cars safer on ovals somehow. I don't know how they can really do it. Myself, I have a lot of friends that race in that series, and I'd just rather see them on street circuits and road courses – no more ovals."
Johnson always had a dream to one day run the Indianapolis 500. But when his daughter was born last year, he promised his wife to never climb into an IndyCar.
NASCAR, Johnson said, is much safer than IndyCar racing.
"We know what the risks are (in NASCAR), and the risk factor to driving an open-wheel car is multiplied by 10," Johnson said. "Yes, that threat exists. But I feel like NASCAR has worked hard to keep speeds down, we have devices on the vehicles to keep them on the ground. We don't have those types of crashes.
"I'm not saying the perfect storm couldn't take place and we couldn't get a couple off the ground. ... But I just don't see our cars having the same issue. I don't see the chance (being) anywhere in the ballpark as those open-wheel cars."
But Johnson, whose unprecedented streak of five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships is in doubt after a hard crash of his own on Saturday night, had praise for the drivers who choose to run in the IndyCar Series.
"Their average was 225 (mph)? I've never been 225 mph in my life – and that's their average around an oval," he said. "They are brave men and women that drive those things."
For some of us, seeing a fatal crash like the one that claimed Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon's life on Sunday would be enough to question the wisdom of getting back into a race car again.
But just a day after Wheldon was killed, NASCAR drivers showed up without hesitation for an electronic fuel injection test this morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
How did they do it? By dealing with Wheldon's loss in a different way, according to veteran driver Jeff Burton.
"Racers have a way of having a, 'Well, that can't happen to me' mentality," he said. "It's pretty interesting how racers kind of put that aside, as hard as it is to do this close to an event like that. Once you get in the car, a lot of that stuff goes away. I guess the day it doesn't go away is the day you need to leave it."
Burton, standing in the Charlotte garage, said getting back into a car after an incident like the IndyCar crash in Las Vegas actually makes drivers feel comfortable.
"As silly as it sounds, that's the medicine we want," he said.
In instances such as the Wheldon crash, Burton said drivers' families are affected and are more likely to question their loved ones' careers than the drivers themselves.
"There's no way my children don't watch that and see that; my parents and my wife, my brothers (too)," he said. "They all see that and hear about it. It's hard on everybody. It makes you think about things you don't want to think about."
Wheldon's loss was felt around the motorsports world, even though open-wheel racing and NASCAR are completely different. Burton said all drivers are "part of a fraternity."
"You have a passion for it and you love it – it's in your blood," Burton said. "(The risk) is something you understand, but at the same time, you want to do everything you can to minimize the opportunity for catastrophic events."
Burton said safety is not a "goal" – because it can never be achieved – but instead he viewed it as an "effort" that drivers and officials must constantly evaluate.
But as they pursue more safety advancements – both in the cars and on the tracks – Burton said fans shouldn't expect drivers to suddenly race any differently in light of Wheldon's death.
"I mean, we race," he said. "It's what we do. We can choose to ride around for 490 miles and go for the last 10 miles, but that's not what any of us are about. Obviously, it's risk vs. reward, but you gotta go. You can't just ride around and wait.
"We're racers, and that's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to go race."
Just 17 hours after Dan Wheldon's fatal IndyCar Series wreck in Las Vegas, a dozen NASCAR drivers climbed back into their race cars for a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That group included Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father – seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt – was killed in a 2001 wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500.
Though Earnhardt Jr. expressed sadness at Wheldon's death, he also said it wasn't difficult to come back to the racetrack after seeing another driver killed.
"I drive race cars for a living," he said. "That's what I'm prepared to do."
Asked if he was satisfied with the level of safety in NASCAR, Earnhardt Jr. said there was no answer to that question.
"Racing is just a dangerous sport," he said. "It's a dangerous thing to do. It can never be safe enough, but I like my chances."
Earnhardt Jr. knew Wheldon through their mutual sponsorship by the National Guard. The drivers had met several times.
"He was really a great guy, really nice person and very friendly," he said. "Just a real pleasure to be around. So it's a tough deal. I can't imagine how his family and everybody in that series is dealing. I imagine it's pretty tough."
The driver declined to comment on what Wheldon's family might be experiencing, saying the question was too personal. Overall, though, he said he was "ready to go back to work."
"We've got things we've got to accomplish today," he said. "Try to see what we can get done."
Following the death of Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, IndyCar announced Monday it will not hold the 2011 Championship Celebration that had been scheduled for tonight at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.
That's no surprise, but it's the right move since a black-tie party would seem inappropriate on the day after Wheldon was killed in a tragic crash during what was supposed to be the season finale.
The race was canceled after 11 laps – it will apparently be wiped from the books – and drivers paid tribute to Wheldon with a five parade laps as the track's public address system played the sounds of bagpipes and "Danny Boy."
IndyCar said information for Wheldon's public memorial will be released at a later date.
"No words can describe my feelings as I reflect on my memories of Dan," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said in his first statement since announcing Wheldon's death. "His infectious smile, bubbly personality and big heart made Dan one of the most caring people I had ever met. You could never ask for a better ambassador to a sport.
"Dan represented IndyCar with the upmost respect and integrity. Dan will not only be immortalized as being a great racer but also a wonderful person. My prayers are with Susie and his two children in this very difficult time."
Open wheel racing on a lot of oval tracks with banking is a seriously dangerous proposition, but to many, there seemed to be something especially dangerous about the final race of the IndyCar Series season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. On Lap 11 of the Las Vegas Indy 300, a fiery crash took out 15 cars, sent multiple drivers to the hospital, and took the life of former Indy 500 winner and IndyCar Series Champion Dan Wheldon. One of Wheldon's fellow drivers, Oriol Servia, used some blunt language when describing what he thought of the track.
"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. And if you give us the opportunity, we are drivers and we try to go to the front. We race each other hard because that's what we do...We knew if could happen, but it's just really sad."
Wheldon had an opportunity to win $5 million if he won the race from the back, while Will Power was chasing down Dario Franchitti for a championship and Danica Patrick was competing in her final IndyCar Series race. The race was always going to be contentious and aggressive. That, combined with a big field and a track with high banking produced a terrible crash that took a man's life, and IndyCar is going to have to seriously reconsider which tracks they should conduct races at in the future.
Some two hours after a 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the final IndyCar race of the year, CEO Randy Bernard announced his passing at a brief press conference. It was the worst-case scenario in racing, and a nightmare for all those involved, the thousands in attendance and the many watching at home. The images of the crash were jarring, made worse by the outcome of the wreck and Wheldon's passing.
A short time after Wheldon's death was announced, the remaining drivers chose to take to the track for five more laps in his honor. The race was already called -- a joint decision by the governing body and drivers -- but amid an eerie silence Wheldon's friends and fellow drivers paid tribute.
Here is the full wrap-up video from the race, provided by IndyCar. It includes the announcement of Wheldon's passing, the tribute laps and comments from many drivers.
As the minutes dragged by with no word of Dan Wheldon's condition, the faint hope he had somehow survived Sunday's terrifying IndyCar Series wreck at Las Vegas seemed less and less realistic.
ABC's television cameras showed a shot of Danica Patrick crying. The drivers quietly shuffled into a meeting room at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, then emerged with solemn faces and tears in their eyes. Tony Kanaan sat on the pit wall and broke down.
At home, viewers watched with a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs that only grew deeper. After the worst crash many fans had ever seen, it didn't seem likely Wheldon would be OK.
But some of us still held out hope. After all, there had been so many times in the last 10 years – both in IndyCar and NASCAR – when drivers walked away unscathed from horrifying crashes. And so maybe, just maybe, Wheldon was going to pull through.
He was gone, though. With a deep breath, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard announced Wheldon's death from "unsurvivable injuries" shortly after 3 p.m. local time on Sunday.
The motorsports community was helpless and heartsick over what was taking place before their eyes. No! Not Dan Wheldon! This couldn't be happening. The 33-year-old had been the feel-good story of the season just five months ago, winning the Indianapolis 500 in a major surprise.
And now he was dead, leaving a wife and two young sons behind.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Not for Wheldon, and not for IndyCar.
All season long, the Las Vegas finale had been one of the primary focuses of Bernard's new IndyCar agenda. He initially offered a $5 million prize for any non-IndyCar driver to win the race, but settled on Wheldon after the England native spent the season unemployed (and no other takers could be found).
Sunday was to be a joyous 2011 finale for the series. Not only was the championship on the line, but Wheldon would start in the back of the field and be challenged to get to the front before the checkered flag waved.
In addition, there was word he had a ride lined up for next season. The cheery, affable Wheldon had even more of a reason to smile than usual.
But by now, you know what happened next. Wheldon drove into a wreck that had already begun to happen in front of him, and his car went airborne. It twisted at a sickening angle toward the catch fence and slammed into it, bursting into flames.
The driver was extracted and airlifted to a local hospital, but his injuries were too significant to overcome.
Though the wreck was as bad as it looked, it was still stunning to actually learn Wheldon was gone. Some of us in racing have developed an "Ah, he'll be fine!" attitude whenever we see a crash these days – particularly those of us who have only started following motorsports in the last 10 years.
NASCAR has not seen any fatalities since Dale Earnhardt's Daytona 500 wreck in 2001; the inexperienced Paul Dana was the last IndyCar Series driver to suffer a fatal crash before Wheldon, that coming in 2006.
If Michael McDowell can survive his NASCAR crash at Texas and if IndyCar drivers can walk away from wrecks that leave their car scattered all over the track – the biggest driver injuries typically seem to be bruises and soreness – we tend to view accidents without much fear.
HANS devices, SAFER barriers, sturdier builds and more secure cockpits. It's all lulled us into a false sense of security.
While racing may be "safer," it will never be "safe." All too often, we only pay lip service to the dangers of the sport: Yeah, something bad could happen, but it probably won't.
On Sunday, though, it did happen. Dan Wheldon, one of the sport's great champions, is gone.
We all could have done without the reminder.
It took just 11 laps for tragedy to strike at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday. Just 11 laps into the final race of the season, a mass of metal and fire enveloped the track as cars were sent scattering in all directions. In total, 15 cars were caught up in the wreck, and Dan Wheldon lost his life due to "unsurvivable injuries."
Like many drivers, Danica Patrick was worried about the speeds and close-quarters driving at Las Vegas ahead of the race. With a huge field, one car bigger than that of the Indianapolis 500, ripping around at over 220 miles per hour, there was little room for error. One mistake could, and did, cause the big one.
"I was really nervous coming into today," Patrick said before knowing Wheldon had died. "Then it happened. It was like a movie scene they try to make look as gnarly as possible. Chunks of fire were everywhere and we were driving through it."
Dario Franchitti echoed Patrick's sentiments about the inherent dangers at the track.
"Within five laps people started to do crazy stuff," Franchitti said immediately after the accident. "I wanted no part of it. I love hard racing, but that to me is not what it's about.
"I said before this is not a suitable track. You can't get away from anybody. One small mistake and you have a massive wreck."
But Pop Off Valve's Tony Johns said it best following Wheldon's passing. Now is not the time to fight the battle; it's a time to remember Wheldon.
Again, though, that is a battle to be fought another day. It WILL be fought, because there are some who are already digging their trenches and readying their barrages to defend their positions. But I do not have the stomach for it. All I can think of now is Dan Wheldon's family and their sorrow, and the fact that the light and happiness that Dan brought to their lives - indeed, to all of our lives - has been lost forever.
The discussions will come, and changes should be made, but there's time for this all to play out. For now, the attention is, rightfully, on Wheldon, the family he leaves behind and the life he led.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was tragically killed in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, and reaction is pouring in from around the racing world.
Here are some of the comments we've collected so far:
Sam Schmidt, owner of Wheldon's No. 77 car:
"Dan Wheldon was a tremendous competitor, a great racer and an even better person. It was an honor to have him be a part of our team. All of us at Sam Schmidt Motorsports are deeply saddened by his passing. On behalf of everyone at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, our prayers go out to all of his family, especially his wife, Susie, and their two children."
Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president:
"We are incredibly saddened at the passing of Dan Wheldon. He was a great champion of the Indianapolis 500 and a wonderful ambassador for the race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all of motorsports. Most importantly, he was a fantastic husband, father and man – a good friend to so many in this sport.
His memory will live forever at the Speedway, both through the magnitude of his accomplishments on the track and his magnetism off the track. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his entire family, team and fans."
Andretti Autosport, Wheldon's former team:
"It is with extreme sorrow that we have lost one of our champion drivers today. Dan was an Indy 500 Champion and an Indy Series Champion with Andretti Autosport – and one of our closest compeditors. Dan brought such enthusiasm and and passion to the sport not often seen in motorsports.
We will remember Dan's tremendous racing accomplishments with our team as well as his infectious personality. We would like to express our deepest sympathy to Dan's family, racing team and his friends today. Dan is one of IndyCar's greatest champions."
Danica Patrick, via Twitter:
"There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for suzi and the kids that god will give them strength."
NASCAR chairman Brian France:
"NASCAR offers its deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Dan Wheldon, his teammates, and the entire IndyCar Series community for their tragic loss today. They will be in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time."
Tony Kanaan, via Twitter:
"No words to describe the pain. See you on the other side my dear friend. You will be missed."
Scott Dixon, via Twitter:
"My dearest friend Danny boy. Thank you for everything! Your an amazing driver and man. I will miss you so badly. Luv ya mate"
IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, via Twitter:
"Rest in peace Danny boy, we'll miss you my friend. Everyone please keep the wheldon family in you thoughts and prayers."
Marco Andretti, via Twitter:
"I looked up to you both as a racing driver and a person/friend. You will be forever missed. RIP Dan Wheldon."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
"I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Wheldon at the National Guard Youth Challenge dinner about five years ago, and we crossed paths several times since then, mostly through our mutual partnership with the National Guard. His success as a racer speaks for itself, but I will remember him as a true professional who was friendly, respectful, and genuine. On behalf of everyone at JR Motorsports, I send condolences to Dan's family, team, and friends in the racing community."
Please feel free to add your own tributes to Dan below in the comments section.
Dan Wheldon passed away on Sunday in a fiery, 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The crash jolted the race world and left many struggling to make sense of what just happened. And there just aren't any answers.
Wheldon was writing before the race and sharing his thoughts with USA Today in a series of blog posts. The last came on Saturday as his team made its final preparations for Sunday's race. He talked about his crew, the work being done to prepare for Sunday and hypes the race up as an amazing show.
This is going to be an amazing show. The two championship contenders, Dario Franchitti and Will Power, are starting right next to each other in the middle of the grid. Honestly, if I can be fast enough early in the race to be able to get up there and latch onto those two, it will be pure entertainment. It's going to be a pack race, and you never know how that's going to turn out.
He ended his blog as one would expect: by looking forward to the race and promising to put on a show.
As long as I can find some speed and keep up with the pack, I'll do everything I can to put on a show.
It's all so eerie to look back on now. Just one day ago, those were his words. His blog post served as a window into his mind as the race approached. His thoughts and concerns were centered around finding more speed and being able to work his way through the pack as he chased $5 million.
A day later, he was gone in an instant after a horrific crash that nobody will soon forget.
In a moving, emotional display, the IndyCar Series drivers conducted a five-lap salute around Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday after learning of Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon's death.
Wheldon, who passed away shortly after a fiery wreck that saw him go airborne and hit the catchfench, was remembered with five parade laps as the cars drove three-wide.
With the sound of bagpipes playing on the public address system and Wheldon's No. 77 as the only number on the speedway's scoring pylon, crews and family members gathered at the edge of pit road to watch the five-lap memorial.
ABC television images showed some fans looking stunned and others crying and hugging each other for emotional support.
IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard announced the race will not be completed after Wheldon's death.
Dario Franchitti won the 2011 season championship, but that result seems to be meaningless in light of what happened to Wheldon.
Dan Wheldon, the bright-eyed and oft-smiling Indianapolis 500 winner and former IndyCar Series champion, died Sunday after injuries suffered in a fiery crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wheldon was 33.
Early in Sunday's Indy 300 – the much-hyped championship race for the IndyCar Series – Wheldon went airborne as part of a 15-car crash and flew cockpit-first into the catch fence.
The England native was participating in the season-ending race despite not having a ride for most of the season. After his upset Indianapolis 500 victory in May, Wheldon had struggled to find a job.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard helped put together a deal for Wheldon, though, with $5 million on the line. Wheldon would start in the back for the Las Vegas race and come through the field – if he won, he and a fan would split the money.
Instead, the day ended in sickening tragedy. Wheldon's crash was one of the worst in memory, and he was airlifted to the hospital immediately afterward.
Shortly after 3 p.m. local time, Bernard told reporters Wheldon had died.
"IndyCar is sad to announce Dan Wheldon has passed away due to unsurvivable injuries," Bernard said.
The drivers are planning a five-lap salute in Wheldon's memory.
We'll bring you more reaction to this devastating news in the world of motorsports as the evening progresses.
Dan Wheldon's condition is still unknown after he was involved in a fiery 15-car wreck at the Las Vegas Indy 300 on Sunday afternoon. He was transported to a local hospital by helicopter. Three other drivers were also hospitalized with less severe injuries: Pippa Mann and J.J. Hildebrand with dizziness, and Will Power with back pain.
Many of the drivers participating in Sunday's race admitted it was one of the most serious wrecks they've ever seen.
"I'll tell you, I've never seen anything like it," Ryan Briscoe said. "The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere. So it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt because there's just stuff everywhere. Crazy."
Davey Hamilton's description of events was just as chaotic. "All I could see was cars flying. Without a doubt the worst thing I've ever seen in my racing career. It's sad, man, sad," he said. "It's been 10 years, more than 10 years, since my accident at Texas. We're all a bunch of friends here, this is my family, and I was fortunate enough to come back. As I tried to tell everybody when I got hurt, when you put on a helmet and a firesuit, it's probably pretty dangerous. We accept that as racing drivers."
Paul Tracy was one of the 15 drivers caught up in the wreck. "Just a horrendous accident," he said. "Lot of prayers right now for Dan, because it's going to be a long recovery. They're scrambling in there right now. There's 20 doctors in there."
Danica Patrick said it was the worst she's ever witnessed. "I've never seen such a mess in my entire career on the race track," she said. "Really concerned about Dan right now."
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