Dan Wheldon Crash: Does a Fatal Accident Change the Way Drivers Race?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2011

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 21:  A sticker in memory of Dan Wheldon, who was killed in a crash on October 16, 2011 during the IZOD IndyCar series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is seen on the helmet of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 MyLowe's Chevrolet, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 21, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The melding of man and machine in the throws of heated competition on a race track yields excitement, entertainment and reward, but the dark side of death and injury is always present.

A true race car driver does it because he or she is passionate about it. The cockpit of the car is their refuge, their office and hopefully the space that will keep them safe from all that can go wrong while racing.

Motorsports are dangerous regardless of whether it's with two or four wheels, straight-line, ovals, curvy circuits and paved or dirt tracks.

Drivers accept the inherent danger of racing and if they find fear seeping into the crevices of their minds, then they have picked the wrong sport to participate in.

To be a competitive driver, they must acknowledge that death and injury is a possibility every time they strap on a helmet. They must then compartmentalize that reality and not think much about it.

Professional racers in motorsports cannot go down to their local insurance company for medical, disability or life insurance. They must turn to the specialist who will accept the risk of what they do.

The tragic death of IndyCar star, Dan Wheldon, at Las Vegas last week brings the dangers of racing to the forefront and it was on the minds of the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers as they took to the high banks of Talladega.

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Each car honored Wheldon with a Lionheart decal, the image of the Lionheart Knight he had worn on each of his racing helmets.

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 21:  A sticker in memory of Dan Wheldon, who was killed in a crash on October 16, 2011 during the IZOD IndyCar series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is seen on the car of Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chev
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Only a week after the loss of Wheldon and prior to the Talladega Cup race, Marco Simoncelli, 24, was killed in a racing accident at the Moto GP in Malaysia.

There have always been deaths in auto racing, but with each death comes innovation in safety that will save and protect the drivers who continue to pursue the sport they love.

There are so many racing venues spread across the world, but especially when tragedy strikes, the racing community becomes smaller and tightly woven.

In auto racing, the sanctioning bodies, track promoters, and all who are involved in putting the cars on a track, constantly prepare for the worst and try to do everything possible to keep competitors safe.

The death of NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt, at Daytona in 2001 was a loss to the sport that remains fresh on the minds of many, though 10 years have passed.

The loss of Wheldon will sadly leave a similar imprint on those associated with the IndyCar series.

It is hard to say that there is an upside to a serious racing accident, but the resulting changes that take place, so far as safety, always come into play and that is a very good thing.

Before the Good Sam Club 500 got underway at Talladega, there was a moment of silence for Wheldon.

Surely, the drivers spoke a few more words of love to their wives or girlfriends and gave them a tighter hug.

Those with children may have given thought to Wheldon's two children that no longer have their dad with them.

Then the drivers got in their cars, strapped on all the safety equipment and prepared to go about doing their job of racing.

Thoughts of death and injury were far from the minds of the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers when they left pit lane despite being on a treacherous track that has seen some of the sports' most terrifying accidents.

Perhaps cooler heads prevailed in the beginning laps and a little more respect was given to other drivers, but then they got on with the race.

As tragic as the death of Wheldon was, it sadly is part of auto racing. The drivers will continue to race each other hard and nothing will really change because that is what race car drivers do.


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