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IndyCar driver Wilson dies

IndyCar driver Justin Wilson has died from a head injury suffered when a piece of debris struck him at Pocono Raceway. He was 37.

IndyCar made the announcement on Monday night at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The sanctioning body said that Wilson died while surrounded by his family. The driver is survived by his wife, Julia, and their two children.

"This is a monumentally sad day for IndyCar and the motorsports community as a whole," IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said in a statement at IndyCar.com. "Justin's elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility — which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock.

"As we know, the racing industry is one big family, and our efforts moving forward will be focused on rallying around Justin's family to ensure they get the support they need during this unbelievably difficult time."

Wilson, a popular British driver who lived in Longmont, Colo., was hit in the head during Sunday's race by a heavy piece of the nose that had broken off the car of Sage Karam, who had crashed into the wall. After being struck, Wilson's car veered into an interior wall at the track, and he was swiftly taken by helicopter to an Allentown, Pa., hospital.

The last IndyCar driver to die because of an on-track incident was Indianapolis 500 champion and St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon, who was killed in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas after his head hit a post when his car went airborne.

Wilson was the 12th car to pass through Karam's crash scene. As he approached, the nose section appeared to bounce several times along the track. It came down in the open cockpit of Wilson's car, then shot straight back into the air.

Racing legend Mario Andretti on Monday called the incident a "perfect storm" of events that "probably wouldn't happen again in a million years."

The accident reignited the debate about the safety of an open cockpit. A year ago, IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe was left with a concussion when he was hit in the head by debris. Wilson was part of a driver council created to address such concerns.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the winner of Sunday's race and Wilson's teammate, said that canopies over the cockpits should be explored.

"We've seen some concept renderings of something that resembles a canopy — not a full jet-fighter canopy — but something that can give us a little protection but keep the tradition of the sport," he said.

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