Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his car flew into the wall during a 15-car pileup on Lap 13.
Wheldon was 33. He was pronounced dead while being airlifted to the hospital. Wheldon, who was British, was the defending Indianapolis 500 champion and was competing in the final IndyCar race of the season.
“IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries,” said Randy Bernard, IndyCar CEO. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.” The drivers, many of them who said the crash was the worst they had ever seen, decided to end the race and drove a five-lap tribute to Wheldon. Drivers had also complained about the speed of the track in practice, when some were reaching speeds of close to 225 mph with ease.
“It was debris everywhere across the whole track, you could smell the smoke, you could see the billowing smoke on the back straight from the car,” said Danica Patrick, who made her final career IndyCar start at Las Vegas. “There was a chunk of fire that we were driving around. You could see cars scattered.”
Wheldon’s car co-owner, Bryan Herta of Bryan Herta Autosport, is from Santa Clarita, and the two remained close up until Wheldon’s death.
The pair had been chosen by IndyCar to test the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series prototype chassis. Bryan Herta Autosport was founded in 2009, and Wheldon won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 racing for Herta. Both Herta and Wheldon had been looking forward to testing the prototype together.
“Obviously I am very excited to continue with everyone that formed the Indianapolis 500 winning team at Bryan Herta Autosport,” Wheldon told SpeedTV in June.
“I am hoping it is a case of déjà vu this weekend,” Herta said about today’s race. “We are really excited to return with an almost carbon copy of our program at Indianapolis.”
Herta is a graduate of Hart High school in Newhall. And according to Jason Galvin, motorsports journalist and announcer at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, where two of Wheldon’s sponsors race weekly, Herta was quick to give credit to Wheldon for this year’s Indianpolis 500 win.
“Herta … has often given Dan credit for the Indianapolis win. The two had grown close, and had established a great relationship with Valencia resident Mark Borcheta’s Big Machine Records, a major sponsor on Dan’s car,” Galvin said in an email.
“The loss of Dan Wheldon almost parallels the loss of Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR and Aryton Senna in Formula 1. It has been more than 25 years since Indy Car has lost a driver of Wheldon’s stature, a Indy 500 Champion twice, a series Champion in 2005, and a ambassador for the sport. He will be missed. I am crushed.”
Sunday’s Indy Car Race was cancelled following Wheldon’s death. But, the remaining 19 drivers returned to the track to take 5 slow laps around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to pay respects to the two time Indy 500 champ.