Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dan Wheldon crash points to the dangers of racing

The death of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt led to sweeping safety improvements in NASCAR, which has not suffered a fatality since. Now, 10 years after his death shook all motorsports series to their core, IndyCar has been devastated by the loss of Dan Wheldon.

Wheldon, 33, for several years a St. Petersburg resident and one of the most well-liked drivers in the paddock, died Sunday after his car became ensnarled in a fiery 15-car pileup, flew over another vehicle and landed in a catch fence just outside Turn 2 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Wheldon's death was a stunning loss at a time when improved cars, better safety equipment and energy-absorbing walls had created a sense that, while racing was still dangerous, it was not nearly as deadly.

Wheldon started last in the 34-car field, the largest of the season. The Indianapolis 500 was a 33-car field at a track one mile longer than Las Vegas.

A crowded field, with cars racing two and three wide on a fast oval, leaves no room for error. Many drivers jockeyed early for position. After the accident, veterans openly wondered why so many drivers were so impatient less than a dozen laps into a scheduled 300-mile race.

"One mistake can take 15 people out, and that's what happened there," driver Tony Kanaan said. "I've never seen such a mess in my entire career."

There were concerns about the type of racing IndyCar would put on at Vegas well before Sunday.

"I said before we tested here, having driven a stock car here, this is not a suitable track," driver Dario 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."

"This is incredibly sad," fellow driver Oriol Servia said. "We all know this is part of the sport. … 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."

In a phone interview with the St. Petersburg Times last week, Wheldon spoke well of the 2012 car, which he had tested extensively and which he said was "30 percent safer" than the cars which IndyCar has used, with modifications, since 2003. The series was also a major part of developing the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier which Wheldon hit Sunday.

"We have made huge strides (in safety for 2012)," Wheldon told the Times last week.

Dan Wheldon crash points to the dangers of racing 10/16/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 16, 2011 10:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Matt Baker's takeaways from Florida State-Louisville


    1. One of the many hard-to-believe stats about FSU's underperforming defense: DE Brian Burns led all freshmen nationally with 9 ½ sacks last year; his first one this season came midway through the second quarter Saturday.

    TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 21: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs the ball into the endzone for a touchdown during their game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) 775042617
  2. Late fumble, field goal send Florida State to another loss


    TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher didn't have an explanation for the turning point in Saturday's 31-28 last-second loss to Louisville.

    Louisville's Lamar Jackson gets past Florida State's Matthew Thomas to score in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC102
  3. Bucs-Bills: Tampa Bay's fatal habit of falling behind


    TAMPA — Okay, all you road scholars, why do the Bucs keep falling behind in games not played at Raymond James Stadium?

    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) recovers a fumble during the first half of an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  4. Nicked-up Lightning vs. Penguins tonight



  5. What we've learned from the Bucs' and Bills' playoff droughts


    Is it possible for the Buccaneers and Bills to be any farther off the NFL's radar? You get the feeling schedule-makers didn't think twice about putting this one down for 1 p.m. Sunday — the let's-hope-no-one-notices time slot.

    [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]