On Sunday afternoon, the motorsports community was saddened by the unfortunate death of 2005 IndyCar Series Champion and 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in a horrific 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon was launched into a roll on Lap 13 after he ran over EJ Viso’s car and rolled into the catchfence in Turn 2 before coming down into the track surface upside down. Two hours later, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard announced the 33-year-old had died of “unsurvivable” injuries from the incident. Wheldon leaves behind his wife, Susie, two sons, and a loving contingent of family and friends heartbroken along with the racing community.
_Editor’s Note: For those who have not seen the crash, the replay can be viewed “here.”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sn08nh7zoto Viewer discretion is advised._
Wheldon, although not able to run the full Izod IndyCar Series schedule this season due to a lack of sponsorship, was one of the most highly respected drivers in the Izod IndyCar Series paddock. Being unable to race more than a handful of events, Wheldon had spent much of the 2011 season enjoying some of the other aspects of the sport. He was the primary test driver for the new Dallara chassis that will debut in the Izod IndyCar Series next year. Just recently, he tested the 2012 car with the single-turbo Honda engine at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and seemed to be very enthusiastic about the 2012 season and what it could hold.
After he failed to get a ride for the Firestone Twin 275’s at Texas Motor Speedway following his victory in the Indianapolis 500, Wheldon stepped into the broadcast booth to substitute for Wally Dallenbach, who had Sprint Cup commitments with TNT. Despite almost no TV experience (he’d helped out on one Firestone Indy Lights broadcast earlier in the year), Wheldon was a very good color commentator, easily able to use his knowledge of the current and future machinery of the series and his own personal experiences to improve Versus’ telecast. At the time, I compared Wheldon’s performance to when TNN and TBS had a rotating second analyst spot in the booth in 1994 after Neil Bonnett’s untimely death at Daytona, most notably Darrell Waltrip during the Spring race at Dover for the Busch Grand National Series before he gained his penchant for on-air hyperbole. I definitely thought that Wheldon had a future in the broadcast booth as an analyst, if he wanted it. At this time, he didn’t. Wheldon definitely would have preferred to have a seat in one of the cars, and admitted as such on-air. However, it is very likely that Wheldon would have ended up in the broadcast booth in some way, shape or form after he retired.
When tragedies such as this occur in motorsports, the outpouring of support and condolences is always substantial. This is no different with Wheldon’s untimely death, which is the first notable fatality in a major racing series since the explosion of Twitter. Some of the Izod IndyCar Series drivers did some interviews after the announcement of Wheldon’s death was made in Las Vegas, and the reaction was striking. Here, you had some drivers literally crying through the process, something that I honestly cannot recall seeing before (at least, not during interviews). Many of the Izod IndyCar Series teams have issued press releases expressing grief over the sad circumstances, while other drivers and motorsports personalities have taken to Twitter to express their emotions. Even non-motorsports personalities like LeBron James have chipped in with their condolences. Something like what happened Sunday sadly transcends motorsports. As of 2:45am Monday morning, Wheldon’s death was still the top story on ESPN.com, despite Sunday being a normal fall day with 12 NFL games.
After the massive crash and subsequent two-hour red flag for crash cleanup, as well as repairs to the SAFER Barrier, catch fence and the track surface, Bernard announced Wheldon’s death to the assembled media at the track. At that point, it was also announced that the drivers had voted to not continue the race. As the race did not reach the halfway point, it will go down in history as a fully cancelled event, handing the championship to Franchitti. The five-lap tribute to Wheldon was unanimously agreed to by the remaining 19 drivers whose cars were able to continue. The No. 77 was illuminated to the top of the scoring pylons and the remaining fans in the grandstands stood and applauded while a bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace” played in the background.
Wheldon is survived by his wife Suzie and two young sons, Sebastien and Oliver, along with his parents, three brothers and one sister. We here at Frontstretch express our sincerest condolences to the Wheldon family.
Also on Sunday, news broke that Rick Huseman, a longtime off-road racer in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series and the CORR (Championship Off-Road Racing) Series, was killed in a plane crash near Barstow, California along with his brother Jeff and an unidentified third person. According to “KTLA”:http://www.ktla.com/news/landing/ktla-deadly-daggett-plane-crash,0,1104232.story (Editor’s Note: The KTLA link contains an aftermath picture of the plane. Viewer discretion is advised), the plane was flying from Las Vegas, where the Huseman’s had been for Saturday night’s Monster Energy Cup to Corona, California when it suffered some sort of mechanical issue. The plane went down while attempting to make an emergency landing at Barstow-Daggett Airport, coming up short of the airport by five miles.
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