In a day where Indy Racing League drivers were supposed to be celebrated and congratulated after another great year of racing, it quickly turned into a day of mourning and sorrow, as this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Dan Wheldon, lost his life on the 11th lap of the Honda Indy 300 at the Las Vegas Speedway on Sunday.
Wheldon was making just his third start of the season, as for most of the year, he was a tester and developer for a new chassis that the IRL will introduce in the 2012 season.
But, he was a part of what was known as the “GoDaddy Indy Car Challenge,” a contest made by the web based company, that if Wheldon-or one of the other four drivers involved in this contest- would have won the race, the driver and a fan would split a prize of $5 million.
However, no one would win the prize money, as on the 11th lap of the 200 lap race, Wheldon’s car struck the back of E.J. Viso’s car, sending Wheldon’s car flying through the air, crashing into the catch fence, where, on impact, it destroyed the roll hoop off of the chassis.
Wheldon did not survive the crash, and the impact was felt by the drivers who were in the race that knew and loved their fallen driver.
Tony Kanaan, a former teammate of Wheldon from 2003 to 2005 was barley able to put words together about losing one of his closest friends.
"I don't know what I can say to comfort anybody. I just pray that he rests in peace. Right now, I just want to give my support to his family. He was one of my best friends and one of my greatest teammates back in the day.”
The season’s championship went to Dario Franchitti, which was his fourth of his career, but instead, he had to field questions about the loss to one of his fellow drivers.
"Right now I'm numb and speechless," Franchitti said. "One minute you're joking around at driver intros and the next Dan's gone. We had a couple of fallouts over the way, but we were friends. Everybody in IndyCar Series considered Dan a friend. You saw the reaction. He was one of those special, special people from when he showed up first in IndyCar. And he was kind of brash, all that stuff, but he was a charmer. Then he became this loving family guy who is still charming, but he had this whole new side to him.”
So now, the question is, how can IRL fix this problem so that the league doesn’t lose another driver?
For starters, they can cut down on the speed, like restrictor plates do in NASCAR. But, what could have saved Wheldon’s life, may have been what Wheldon was helping develop and what will be rolled out in 2012.
According to the website indycar.com, the thing that Wheldon was testing out was something that was announced in a 3D renderings at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2010.
“The platform is a universal road/oval rolling chassis with an enhanced driver safety cell and an anti-wheel lock design that will be produced by long-time IZOD IndyCar Series partner Dallara Automobili at a state-of-the-art facility to be built on Main Street in Speedway, Ind. -- a few hundred yards from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League offices.”
Will this be enough to save future lives of racers? Much like after the Dale Earnhardt crash, NASCAR enforced all drivers to wear the HANS device.
Hopefully, what Wheldon was testing out and developing will add onto an already great legacy.
He’s already known as a two time Indianapolis 500 race winner; he may be known as someone who helped save lives with his influence on this new IRL car starting next season.