Dan Wheldon started just three races in the 2011 IndyCar racing season.

He won the Indianapolis 500 this year, a race course he flat-out owns, after rookie JR Hildebrand crashed into turn four. Wheldon walked away with his second Indy 500 title in nine attempts this May. The Englishman hit the podium at Speedway, Indiana three other times in his brief racing career.

One of the premier events on the sporting calendar lands on Memorial Day weekend for those 200 laps and 500 miles of pure speed. It’s a race past its prime, but still holds a very special spot in my heart. My brother and I look forward to the race every May and we select drivers in a head-to-head competition. It’s our special race-within-the-race. Some folks flock to the beach on that holiday weekend. Bob and I crank up the HDTV for the premier day in auto racing. I would always pick Wheldon.

Wheldon died on the 11th lap in the IndyCar World Championship on Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas. In line for a bonus of $5 million, the 33-year-old took up a challenge by IndyCar to drive in the final event of the season. IndyCar offered any driver a boatload of cash to see if they could beat the pre-qualified drivers. The objective was to drag away NASCAR racers to IndyCar and make this a spectacle. They both succeeded and failed at the same time.

IndyCar let 34 machines start the race, one more than the 33 that start the Indy 500. It’s the largest field I’ve ever seen for an open-wheel race. When you factor in the daytime start time of the race with the lightning quick speeds, a potential disaster waits on every turn.

In many ways, Wheldon’s death reminds me of the death of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna. The three-time World Champion died at an unsafe race course the day after a fellow F1 driver passed away during qualifying. Senna was so struck by the loss of Roland Ratzenberger that he spent time leading up to the Italy race talking about updating safety concerns in F1. Leading the race on the 7th lap, Senna got caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was just 34.

Death is a part of life. Just not on lap 11. There’s too much time left in the race.

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One Response

  1. The other drivers described the horrific scene of flying metal and fire as something out of a Terminator movie.

    A terrible loss for racing, its fans and everyone who knew Mr. Wheldon.

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