Dan Wheldon’s Unnecessary and Awful Death

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.

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A Pause for IndyCar Champ Dan Wheldon

Dan Wheldon

It’s always difficult to choose a topic after such an intense weekend of auto-related news and events. Unfortunately, the biggest news this weekend was the tragic death of IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon, who died in a massive accident yesterday during the Las Vegas Indy 300.

It makes other news and developments feel trivial, so I’d like to devote this post to the 16-time IndyCar race winner, 2003 rookie of the year and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Dan Wheldon was among the most talented drivers in motorsports.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard issued a statement after the race saying that IndyCar “is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries.” The race was stopped, but drivers chose to salute Wheldon with a five-lap run in his honor.

Wheldon, who won this year’s Indy 500 race, was 33. Our condolences go out to his wife and his young children.

The 15-car wreck in Las Vegas raises the question of whether racing has simply gotten too fast and too dangerous. Drivers were hitting speeds in excess of 225 mph during practice, speeds that are unsafe no matter what car is involved. As of this moment it’s hard to understand how pushing the limits of speed is worth human life.

But that’s an argument for another day.