Dan Wheldon tragically lost his life at a Las Vegas track that is set up for disaster and in a car that made the track lethal.
The track featured banked turns that allowed the IZOD IRL cars that are not set up to promote safety drivers to keep the pedal to the metal and speeds over 200 miles per hour, and in a 34 car field. This was a recipe for disaster.
Let's review each fatal factor—after a review of the deadly accident.
Fellow driver Oriol Servia had this to say, and was quoted on CBSNews.com, following the race:
"We all had a bad feeling about this place, in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat. We knew it could happen, but it's just really sad."
Sports Illustrated writer Bruce Martin was covering the race and added his insight on the cars on CBS' The Early Show, and I quote from the above linked article:
"On a high bank speedway, they're able to go flat—that means flat to the floor with the accelerator—and by doing that, there was no separation of the field. So you had a pack of 34 cars all racing in one large group. At a lot of the other ovals you have a little bit of separation. They start 33 cars at the Indianapolis 500—that's a two-and-half-mile flat oval. There's a lot of time for the cars to separate, for the good cars to get away from the slower cars.
"Here, all of the cars were able to run pretty much the same speed, which created a giant pack. There were times early in the race where they almost went four-wide."
The field was simply too large for a track that small. Martin also touched on this in his interview on The Early Show:
"Frankly, the size of the field, in my opinion, I thought was far too big for a mile-and-a-half track. A general full field for an Izod IndyCar series race on a mile-and-a-half oval is 26-28 cars. They had 34 cars on Sunday, that's a lot."
Auto racing is in a constant battle to find the line between driver safety and an entertaining and exciting race. The IRL clearly crossed that line in favor of having a race that was exciting.
Everything about this race was set up for disaster. The IRL was courting it in the hopes they could avert tragedy while putting on a spectacular race, and tragically those hopes came up far short.
This crash began on lap 11 of a 200 lap race.