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Safer IndyCar chassis will be named for Dan Wheldon

In the weeks between his second Indianapolis 500 victory and the crash that took his life, St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon tested the new IndyCar chassis that will debut next season.

That chassis will now bear his name.

Italian racing company Dallara announced Tuesday that it would name its new car-frame design after Wheldon, who died in a fiery 15-car crash at Sunday's season-ending Las Vegas Indy 300 race. He was 33.

"He deserves that," Dallara president and founder Gianpaolo Dallara said.

Wheldon debuted the new machine in August in Ohio. His schedule was free because he didn't have a full-time ride during the season.

Dallara's new chassis includes more safety features, according to IndyCar. A longer, wider cockpit would create more protection for the drivers. Three inches of foam rest behind the seat, and another 1 1/2 inches of foam pad the bottom of the seat.

Other changes, including more protection over the rear wheels, would reduce the risk of cars going airborne as four cars, including Wheldon's No. 77, did during the fatal wreck. But it's unclear whether the new chassis would have saved his life.

IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips said Wheldon's testing was crucial in developing the new car that will memorialize him and protect drivers in the future.

"You couldn't ask for a more willing or better participant," Phillips said. "His input was just fantastic; it was all about making a better product and a safer car for the drivers and a better show for the fans.

"It's very difficult not having his continued presence to carry it through. He'll be sorely missed."

Tributes for Wheldon continued to pour in from the racing community.

Driver Graham Rahal solicited helmets, racing suits and other gear from other drivers via Twitter for an auction. Proceeds, he said, would go to Wheldon's widow, Susie, and two children, Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months.

Two half-gallons of milk sat next to cards, flowers and candles at a memorial in front of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Wheldon twice gulped the ceremonial beverage in Victory Circle.

Wheldon's car owner, Sam Schmidt, mourned the loss of his driver at a news conference Monday evening in Las Vegas.

Schmidt was 35 — two years older than Wheldon — when he was paralyzed from the neck down at an Indy Racing League wreck during practice at Orlando in 2000. Schmidt, like Wheldon, had two small children at the time of the crash.

"Since my accident I've met literally thousands of people with similar accidents to mine, and generally speaking not one of them was living their dream," Schmidt told reporters. "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was having a great time in the car. He passed 10 cars in the first 10 laps, and he was going for it."

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@sptimes.com. Information from IndyCar.com, AutoSport.com and the Indianapolis Star were used in this report.

Safer IndyCar chassis will be named for Dan Wheldon 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 11:10pm]
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