There’s No Way To Prepare For Racing’s Tragic Consequences

Charlotte, NC (October, 17, 2011) – Everyone involved in the sport of auto racing knows its inherent risks, but nothing can ever prepare you for events like those that unfolded Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

A horrific crash on Lap 11 of the IndyCar Series event took the life of Dan Wheldon. Wheldon, the 2011 Indianapolis 500 champion, was airlifted from the track to University Medical Center in Las Vegas where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

While the loss of one of open wheel racing’s top drivers will be hard to overcome, the more lasting scar may be trying to reconcile the frightening circumstances of his demise.

Simply stated, the 15-car wreck may have been the most devastating in the history of IndyCar racing. In our more than 50 years of following the exploits of the ‘Big Cars,’ we’ve never witnessed a more violent accident.


It was surreal to see multiple cars flying through the air at more than 200 miles per hour, each belching fire as their gas tanks – full of fuel early in the race – erupted upon contact with the outside retaining wall. Large, burning chunks of debris littered the racetrack to the degree that one driver who was in front of the melee described it as a scene from the movie ‘Terminator’ after driving through the crash site under caution one lap later.

Again – nothing can ever prepare you for this.

As with every motorsports fatality, there is sure to be fallout. Crusaders will come out of the woodwork alleging that IndyCar racing is too fast, too close. Some will point fingers at the track finding flaws in the speedway’s perceived role in the tragedy. Others will blame the drivers who collided to set off that incredible sequence of events. There are even those who will say Wheldon sealed his own fate as replays will show he apparently charged into the wreck, not rolling out of the gas despite being well behind where the accident started.

Meanwhile, the accident is sure to have significant impact on the IndyCar Series. The greatest racing league in the world for more than 60 years, big-time open wheel racing in America has struggled to find traction since the league fractured in the 1970’s when the United States Auto Club (USAC) and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) carved up the division in a fight to see who would control the sport.

The schism allowed other forms of motorsport – most notably NASCAR – to speed on by in fan and corporate marketing popularity. Sunday’s Las Vegas event was actually promoted by embattled IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, who rented the track from Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

Bernard, who stated he would resign from leading the series if the race wasn’t an unqualified success, could never have anticipated Sunday’s catastrophic events. It is unlikely he will return to the series next year leaving others to pick up the pieces and move forward with the division.

While Sunday’s events will certainly change the face of IndyCar, they more importantly again reminded all of the grim possibilities that exist each and every time the green flag falls at an auto race.

It’s something everyone accepts but nobody ever gets used to.

NASCAR Notes –

Matt Kenseth ruled the race, but in typical fashion, all the talk was about someone else after Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kenseth, one of NASCAR’s most unassuming stars, saw his victory Saturday overshadowed by the perils of defending five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson’s late-race crash derailed a recent charge toward the top of the point standings leaving him in eighth-place after the race, 35-points out of first with five ‘Chase’ events remaining.

Johnson’s wreck, along with continued acrimony on the team’s radio transmissions with crew chief Chad Knaus, made good theater for the motorsports media minions covering the event.

Lost in the shuffle was Kenseth’s dominating performance and his ascension to third in the 2011 Cup point standings, just seven markers out of first. Kenseth, the 2003 champion should be used to the snubs by now. Rarely
in the spotlight off the track, Kenseth has ‘quietly’ fashioned an amazing career on it winning 47 times – 21 times in Cup and 26 in Nationwide competition.

Johnson’s quest for an unprecedented sixth-straight Cup title is undoubtedly newsworthy and is sure to continue to draw headlines – win or lose – this season. In the meantime, you can be sure drivers like Kenseth are more than happy to stand aside and allow Johnson to suffer the media arrows because it is looking more and more like one of them – and not ‘Five Time’ – is going to be standing next to the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy this season.

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