Dan Wheldon’s Unnecessary and Awful Death

October 17th, 2011

Las Vegas crash

Here we go again. Dan Wheldon, a highly talented, respected and loved race driver dies in a horrifying crash that should have been prevented. IndyCar racing has now claimed six drivers since 1996. Six were injured in this 15-car crash alone. Driver Alex Zanardi lost both his legs in a crash in 2001.

Sunday’s IndyCar 300 race in Las Vegas was just another example of how U.S. open-wheel racing has persistently become more dangerous. In the words of ex-Formula 1 world champion Jody Scheckter (whose son was in the race), the drivers are “wheel to wheel all the time.” IndyCar racing is unsafe, “the most dangerous form of motor racing at the moment.”

The problem is too many cars, all running flat-out on circuits that are too short so that the cars are all bunched up all the time.

The field at Las Vegas was 34 cars running on a short 1.5-mile oval with progressively high banking, sometimes four abreast at speeds of 220 mph—much faster than Formula 1 cars.

Then there was the matter of the $5 million offered by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard to anyone who started at the back of the grid and could win. Wheldon accepted this so-called GoDaddy Indy Challenge, to be split with a fan.

Paul Tracy's car

Paul Tracy's car

Mark Blundell, former IndyCar driver, doesn’t think that was really a factor in the multiple crash. I wonder. But he called the race a “recipe for disaster. …These kind of cars shouldn’t be running on these kind of circuits.”

Another problem is that IndyCar racing is losing money with low fan turnout.

Maybe the situation will change, as there are newly designed cars coming in 2012, and there will be less racing on oval tracks, more on street and road courses.

I love what the Brits call motor racing, but IndyCar has a history of management disasters, and it looks like this is just the latest and worst.

Do you think IndyCar racing can be saved? Is more Formula 1-style racing the answer?

—jgoods

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