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IndyCar driver Justin Wilson dies after being struck by debris

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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died Monday from injuries sustained in an accident during Sunday's IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway. He was 37.

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles announced Wilson's death Monday night shortly after 9 p.m. ET at a news conference held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Can't even begin to describe the loss I feel right now," Wilson's younger brother, Stefan, tweeted. "He was my brother, my best friend, my role model and mentor. He was a champion!"

Wilson was knocked unconscious when a piece of debris from Sage Karam's car struck him in the head. Karam, leading at the time, spun and crashed into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 179. The crash sent debris flying, a section of Karam's nosecone hit Wilson and caused him to crash straight on into an interior wall.

Safety personnel immediately responded and extracted Wilson, who was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pa. An IndyCar statement released Sunday night said Wilson suffered a "severe" head injury and was in a coma in critical condition.

Wilson, a native of Sheffield, England, is survived by his wife Julia and children Jane and Jessica.

"Justin was a loving father and devoted husband, as well as a highly competitive racing driver who was respected by his peers," Wilson's family said in a statement.

Standing 6'4, unusually tall for an IndyCar driver, Wilson had an affable personality and was well-liked within the garage. He moved to the United States in 2004 to compete in the defunct Champ Car World Series and transitioned to the IndyCar Series in 2008 when the series merged. Wilson won seven times in 173 combined Champ Car and IndyCar starts.

"Justin's elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility, which made him one of the most respected members of the paddock," Miles said. "Anyone who follows our sport knows Justin is one of the most well-respected, highly regarded and loved people in the entire paddock. He will be missed."

Said IndyCar owner/driver Ed Carpenter: "Obviously, Justin was a great professional driver and extremely good at his craft. Beyond that, he was a great guy. One of the few, if only, guys that really was a friend among everyone in the paddock, amongst the competitors, and respected for the way he carried himself."

Wilson's death is the first IndyCar fatality since Dan Wheldon was killed in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The winner of that year's Indianapolis 500 died after his car took flight and his head hit a post.

Wheldon's death sparked numerous safety initiatives within open-wheel racing, most prominently IndyCar designing rear bumper guards to prevent cars running over the back of another and getting airborne. One safety component not utilized were cockpit canopies to prevent objects from impacting drivers.

Ryan Hunter-Reay -- Wilson's Andretti Autosport teammate -- won Sunday's ABC Supply 500 and said afterward in the winner's press conference that he has seen designs of a "boomerang looking device" that would act as a shield and offer protection.

"Unfortunately, it's only natural that when there is a situation like this, a dire situation, that breeds innovation," Hunter-Reay said. "You know, it's unfortunate, but I think that's the way life is in general. I think that's the way everything works."

The next IndyCar race is scheduled for Aug. 30 at Sonoma Raceway.