Monday, October 17, 2011

Dan Wheldon dies during IndyCar Series season finale

It has always been known that motorized racing is a dangerous game. Regardless of all the rules and regulations, the hazard protocols and safety modifications made to the sport, at the end of the day, the risk involved is an unbelievable one to take. Unfortunately, car crashes are an integrated occurrence in the lap game. Sometimes tragedy hits the raceway and the world around it stops. It is then that we’re all reminded how much professional drivers are forced to surrender for the pursuit of entertainment. Yesterday in Las Vegas, we were reminded once more of this sacrifice as the reigning Indy 500 champion, Dan Wheldon, was killed in a fifteen car collision during lap 11 of the IndyCar Series season finale.

In one of the most devastating days in auto racing, English born driver, Dan Wheldon, was caught in the thick of a pile-up that scattered around turn two of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. According to ESPN.com, the contact that caused the accident came about when Wade Cunningham’s car swerved on the turn and Hildebrand drove over the left rear of Cunningham’s car. In the replay shown during the broadcast, it is clear that the initial contact came from Sebastian Saavedra, who rubbed against Cunningham’s front bumper, setting off the chain of events that led to the red flag accident. Within seconds, Cunningham was in the wall, Hilderbrand was airborne and many of the cars behind them were caught up in the collision. One of these was Wheldon, age 33, who had no time to react to the slew of flying car shrapnel and clouds of engine smoke. From there, Wheldon’s car flipped as he flew through the air and sailed into the catch fence, which is the reinforced fence separating the crowd from the track.

Rescue workers were quick to respond and can be seen in the replay waving madly for more help. Wheldon was pulled from the wreckage and airlifted from the track at 1:19 pm local time Sunday. He was then transported to University Medical Center, but his injuries were “un-survivable” as authorities stated. IndyCar Series CEO, Randy Bernard made the announcement of Wheldon’s passing and the speedway was soaked in silence. When his colleagues learned on the tragic news, their grief was instant. Driver’s openly sobbed on the track. The entire speedway filled with the still infused shock that one of their own had been lost. It was as if a part of IndyCar had been instantly lost along with Wheldon. Soon after announcing Wheldon’s passing, Bernard revealed that the race had been cancelled, but the drivers wanted to pay tribute to their brother in arms with a five lap salute. It was a moving testament, but nothing could do justice to the man that Wheldon was.

Many of his peers spoke highly of Wheldon as being a close friend and passionate driver. Dario Franchitti, who clinched the 2011 IndyCar title despite the tragedy, called him a “good friend” and a “charmer”. That was Dan Wheldon to a lot of people. An ambassador for the art of IndyCar, he was primed to take over Danica Patrick’s duties as the new Go-Daddy sponsored driver for Andretti Autosport next year; a contract he was set to sign following Sunday’s race. He leaves behind his devoted wife, Susie and two sons, Sebastian (age 2) and Oliver (six months old). He also leaves behind his legacy, spanning 16 wins over 9 years including a 2005 and 2011 Indy 500 championship as well as the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year and the 2005 IndyCar Series Champion. He was highly regarded and well respected in the sport not just for what he did on the track, but for who he was as a person, a family man and a spokesperson for the auto sport industry.

We will regret the years we’ve been robbed of Dan Wheldon’s magnanimous presence. A fun spoken, quick witted soul with a sparkling smile and a great respect for others, Wheldon will be remembered for what he brought to the IndyCar sport. A hard competitive edge, a cool running mentality and a big, beating heart unlike any other. As Formula One driver Jenson Button said of Dan Wheldon, “we’ve lost a legend in our sport but also a great guy.” He wasn’t like some of the hot headed, lead foots found in the NASCAR circuit today. He was something else. Something fierce on the track but gentle to the fans. A champion’s champion. A class act. Without Dan Wheldon, the world is at a loss today and everyday after.

Tyler Baker; OSM Writer

(Source : ESPN.com )

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