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Dan Wheldon's Death Ends Tragic Day for Izod IndyCar Series in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 16:  The car of Dan Wheldon driver of the #77 Bowers & Wilkins Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara Honda (top left) bursts into flames in a 15 car pile up during the Las Vegas Indy 300 part of the IZOD IndyCar World Championships presented by Honda on October 16, 2011 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Eric SmithCorrespondent IIIOctober 16, 2011

This is the hardest article I've ever had to write.

With my regrets, I have to announce that the 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was fatally injured in an accident on lap 12 of the Izod IndyCar Series race today.

He was one of 14 cars to be caught up in melee in turn two.

Two rookies, James Hinchcliffe and Wade Cunningham, touched wheels and got Cunningham out of control.  Alex Lloyd hit Cunningham and stacked up the cars behind them.

Wheldon was one of three cars to get airborne, but he was the only one to get in the catch-fencing.

Will Power, J.R. Hildebrand, Jay Howard, Wade Cunningham, Townsend Bell, Tomas Scheckter, Vitor Meira, Charlie Kimall, Paul Tracy, E.J. Viso, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann, Buddy Rice and, unfortunately, Dan Wheldon were all involved in the fiery crash.

Will Power, Pippa Mann and J.R. Hildebrand were all taken to the hospital as well due to the wreck.  None of the three have life threatening injuries.

The race was red flagged due to damage to the fencing and the wall.

During the stoppage, select drivers had a meeting with race officials and then came out.  They brought the rest of the drivers in and best friends of Wheldon, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti, made the announcement to the rest of the drivers. 

Upon recommendation of CEO Randy Bernard, they decided to cancel the race after 12 laps and do a five-lap tribute to Wheldon.

Wheldon was a two-time Indy 500 champion, winner of 16 career races, and the 2005 series Champion.

He was in Vegas to do the $5 million dollar challenge from Randy Bernard.  If Wheldon won, he and a fan would split the five million dollars.

Wheldon had to start last due to competing in the challenge, and that played a role in carnage.  Because he tried to come through the field and because of the hard racing on a smooth, fast track, he found himself in trouble.

There will be questions in the days to come on this decision to make him start last, but that's another story for a different day.

This was the last race for the current car and, ironically, Dan Wheldon was the key driver for the new car starting next season.

Wheldon was the only driver testing the new car, getting it ready for 2012.  He will have his thumbprint on the series from here on out.

Wheldon is survived by his wife Susie and his two children.

Dario Franchitti is the series champion for the third consecutive year, but the championship obviously will not be celebrated.

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