This is not what I wanted to have to write about in my second blog for the website, or have to write about ever. Unfortunately we lost maybe one of the most flamboyant, passionate and friendly members of our sport over the weekend. Dan Wheldon at the age of 33, tragically died from head injuries incurred in the massive 15 car wreck at the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championships in Las Vegas over this past weekend.
I was there for the race, and as soon as the green flag dropped my first thought was, “Wow! They are flying around this 1.5 mile race track, with 34 this is going to be an exciting race.”
As it turned out, it was exciting in the wrong way. On about lap 12, one car got a little loose in turns 1 and 2, and it triggered a whole chain reaction taking out several other cars, with a second wreck triggering from what looked to be all the debris on the race track.
It was a difficult scene to see from where we were sitting on the front stretch. All you could make out were cars flying everywhere with at least four of them airborne to some degree and we later found out, and as I’m sure most of us have seen in the pictures, that it was Dan Wheldon’s car.
I am not sure where to start when I talk about how many things were lost with the passing of Dan Wheldon – certainly a father of two young boys, Sebastian and Oliver, a husband and, terrific friend to anyone who ever shook his hand. I had the pleasure of meeting Dan at a karting event in Las Vegas about two years ago. He was just one of those people who made you feel like you knew each other like best friends, whether you had known him for five minutes or your whole life.
It’s mostly the shock that still gets me four days later as I am writing this. What keeps running through my mind is waiting those painfully long two hours after the accident, seeing the other drivers in tears and then Randy Bernard announcing the passing of Dan Wheldon, I too started to cry when I saw his picture with the dates 1978-2011.
There are so many questions left unanswered for everyone in the sport. What could have been? Should those cars have been allowed to go 225 miles per hour on a 1.5 mile banked track mostly designed for NASCAR? I know drivers were worried about speeds there, but I recall IndyCars testing at the track in Las Vegas one year ago when I was still living in town and those tests seemed to go well.
I don’t think it is right to point blame at anyone for the tragic events that happen. Unfortunately, that is still a part of this sport. The most shocking thing to me is that we have become so used to seeing these huge fiery accidents and the drivers all walk away unharmed. Then when something like what happened on Sunday occurs, it brings us back to the realization that we are all still human, very fast.
Not only is it hugely unfortunate that we lost a fellow driver, it is unfortunate for the sport. I know a lot of people were there on Sunday to see their first ever IndyCar race since the event was so hyped, and a woman on the plane home with me was saying how dangerous these cars were and how she was going to stick to watching NASCAR.
At the time, I didn’t have the patience to argue with someone of such ignorance. Do they miss the fact that it was a 15 car wreck and 14 drivers walked away from it? What was most frustrating was realizing that she was surely not the only person with that view on the race. What a horrible way to end a season, and I think the only thing we can take solace in is that Dan Wheldon passed doing what he loved to do the most: race.
RIP Dan Wheldon, 1978-2011.