What was supposed to be a celebration of a successful IndyCar season turned deadly when a chain reaction collision sent 15 cars careening like flaming pinballs across the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sunday, Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon pronounced dead two hours later from his injuries.
The two-time Indy 500 winner was caught up in a massive pile-up triggered when two cars touched wheels and spun out of control, Wheldon’s car launching into the air and smashing into a catch fence designed to prevent injuries to race spectators.
Wheldon, who had been struggling to land a ride this past IndyCar season despite his string of victories, had started near the back of the pack but was rapidly working his way up through a field of 15 cars moving at speeds approaching 220 mph – fast enough that several drivers had complained of the potential risks prior to the race.
There was, “Not much room for error” on the 1.5 mile track, said driver Wade Cunningham, who was near the front of the pack when the accident occurred on Lap 11.
“It was like a movie scene which they try to make as gnarly as possible,” said Danica Patrick, who was in her last race in the IndyCar series.