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.