Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wheldon's Death Reinforces Racing's Sole Truth

Let us never be fooled again. Auto racing is not now -- and never will be -- safe.

Dan Wheldon’s tragic death on Lap 12 of the IZOD IndyCar Series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway confirmed that unassailable fact yet again Sunday, casting a horrible, chest-tightening pall over what should have been a day of triumph and celebration.

IndyCar had not suffered a death since 2006, when Paul Dana lost his life in a practice crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway. NASCAR has been fatality-free since Dale Earnhardt crashed to his death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. In that time, SAFER barriers, HANS devices, improved helmet and seat technology and car construction have made the sport safer than at any point before. But make no mistake about it, auto racing is not safe, and it never will be.

As long as men and women strap themselves into objects capable of eclipsing 200 miles per hour, horrible things can – and will -- happen. Until the laws of physics are repealed, the immovable force will always trump the unstoppable object. And when it does, racers will die.

Some seek scapegoats at times like this; a convenient someone at whom to direct their anger, heartbreak and remorse. Not long after the announcement of Wheldon’s passing, some pointed an accusatory finger at IndyCar, saying the Brit would not have been in Sunday’s race were it not for the $5 million bonus offered by the sanctioning body for any non-IndyCar regular capable of winning the 2011 season finale.

That criticism is both ill-timed and misguided. Dan Wheldon competed Sunday, not because of a $5 million bounty, but because driving race cars was what he loved most. Wheldon lived to race, and he strapped into his #77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry this afternoon, knowing -– as every racer does -- what could happen. Just minutes after the green flag was unfurled, tragedy struck in the form of a horrendous, multi-car crash in Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s second turn. Wheldon’s car climbed over another and took flight, impacting the catch fence cockpit-first and exploding in a hideous maelstrom of shrapnel and flame. It was an unsurvivable wreck; one that extinguished one of Open Wheel racing’s brightest lights, and also the illusion that this sport can ever be truly and completely safe.

Less than a month ago, former CBS Sports auto racing commentator Ken Squier chastised NASCAR for fostering the illusion of safety in its particular form of motorsport. "They don't want to talk about risk,” said Squier to’s Ed Hinton, adding that when he was young, “I couldn't understand how anybody could get all wound up watching guys in a baseball park scratching themselves and spitting tobacco. When the guys I admired drove down into the corner, the issue was whether they would come out alive on the other side. This is the one sport where -- if you are committed to it and play it at the highest level -- you take the highest risk. If you're going 200 miles an hour… right on the edge of control, that's a risk."

Squier was correct then, and his words seem even more prophetic today.

“We push ourselves and our teams to win these races and championships,” said Dario Franchitti, who clinched the 2011 IndyCar crown Sunday. “It’s what we live for. We try to block things like this out of our minds, but when I think about Dan right now, I ask myself, `Is this worth it?’ Absolutely not. Dan’s gone.”

“We try not to think about it,” said Tony Kanaan, one of Wheldon’s closest friends in the sport. “But today, we are forced to think about it. He was one of my greatest friends and teammates. I must be getting old. I’ve been through too many of these (situations).”

Sunday’s race was cancelled following the announcement of Wheldon’s death. But before folding their tents and wandering away to the comfort and solace of family, Wheldon’s fellow drivers mustered the strength to re-fire their mounts and circle the track in a five-lap salute to their fallen comrade, as a bagpiper’s mournful rendition of “Amazing Grace” echoed through the speedway.

It was a poignant, tearful testimonial. And sadly, it will not be the last.

Say a prayer for Susie Wheldon tonight; left to raise two-year old Sebastian and seven-month old Oliver without her husband. Say a prayer for the IndyCar family, as well, as they begin the solemn business of convincing themselves all over again that the sport we love is worth the terrible price it often exacts.


  1. Nice column Dave.

  2. Well said Dave. It was very hard to watch the tribute laps and I have no idea how those drivers were able to do it...but for Dan they did and I'm sure that's what made it possible for them.

  3. Brent Charlton8:46 PM

    Very well written Dave. We get complacent as we watch drivers walk away from horrendous crashes and are shocked when, suddenly, they don't. Crashes happen and we talk about how safe the cars have become as we watch them walk away until, suddenly, they don't. Before each race, I watch wives, mothers, and girlfriends hug their guy or gal before they're strapped in and think, "God, please don't let that be their last hug." Each weekend as the green flag falls, I mumble to myself "be safe guys." Such a tragedy, and such a painful part of the sport we love.

  4. Anonymous8:47 PM

    Well said Mr. moody.

  5. Well said Dave. It's been a crushing day in motorsports. Dan was one of the men that was testing the next generation of Indy cars, a car that is reportedly set to prevent this type of incident from happening. But as we know too well, keeping these cars from taking flight will be a chore in and of itself. A higher power must have wanted another racer, to burn the turns and take the checkered.

    RIP Dan Wheldon.

  6. Mike McGowen8:51 PM

    Thank you Dave

  7. Anonymous8:53 PM

    Amazing writing Dave. Race fans were lulled into that false sense that racers can't be killed with all the safety innovations you mentioned. Unfortunately we learned differnt today.

  8. Thanks for this.

  9. Anonymous8:54 PM

    Nice job Moody. God bless his wife and precious little children, his entire family, friends, team & fans. Brings back memories of when we lost Dale Sr. Godspeed Dan.

  10. Well said Dave.

    My heart hurts tonight, and my prayers go out to his family.

  11. Anonymous8:56 PM

    Very nice Dave and thank you for all the times you had him on the channel when it was on 123. He was a great guy and while be missed.

  12. Anonymous9:15 PM

    Very well written, Dave. Thank you. Dan will be missed by racing fans everywhere.

  13. Lee Dubois9:16 PM

    Thank You Dave Moody for this outstanding story. Thoughts and prayers go out to Dan's Family and the Entire Racing Community. Lee Dubois

  14. Nicely said Dave. It hurts the hearts of all racing fans. And I cry for his sons and his wife. ( and entire family). Taken too you've, too soon

  15. Sorry...

    Too young, too soon

  16. Anonymous9:22 PM

    Very well written Dave,Just about says it all.Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.Rick majors

  17. Anonymous9:23 PM

    Very well put Mr. Moody. RIP

  18. Very well said, Dave. I also appreciated your tweets during the race and the aftermath, particularly this one about the five lap salute:

    "This is the most incredible thing I have ever seen in racing. Damn that it had to happen."

    To see Dario, Tony and others heartbroken and crying was pretty hard to take.

  19. Anonymous9:26 PM

    Thank You Mr. Moody for a well written article.
    RIP Mr. Wheldon

  20. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Attn. Drivers, I will gladly watch a boring race if that means you will be going home that night to kiss your wife and child(ren)

  21. Anonymous9:32 PM

    Well said... >>Let us never forget that motorsport can be fatal. Those I grieve for the most are those left behind: Family, friends, team-members, and all the rest who knew and cared about Dan Weldon.<<<
    “Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports ... all others are games.”

    - Ernest Hemingway

    RIP Dan Weldon - 1978-2011.

    Two-time winner: Indianapolis 500; Winner: Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

  22. Thanks for this Dave, we do all need to remember that these guys go out on the track week after week For the love of racing and our entertainment. All of the feelings in my gut that I felt on that cruel Febrary evening came rushing back as we saw Weldon's car on the flatbed Covered with the yellow tarp. My prayers go out to the Weldon's and to all of the drivers that I enjoy watching. God speed and THANK YOU Dan!

  23. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Moody- you have said it well. I met Dan at WDW this year. He was so happy. Thats how I will remember him. Thanks for remembering hi. This way.

  24. Well written and poignant. Thank you, Dave.

  25. Anonymous9:37 PM

    I must reiterate the comments made by most, very well written Dave, thoughts and prayers to the Wheldon family, friends and fans. I was not an IRL fan but a racing fan and this has hit us all hard.

  26. Watching dario and tony and the other drivers strap themselves back in those cars and too see the raw emotion from danica afterwards was hard too take. We need to remeber our heroes are all too mortal. Thanks for saying it so eloquently

  27. robbie t10:02 PM

    well said Dave you really do have a way with words its just such a deep dark day when you lose a talent and personality like Dan....RIP Dan

  28. Anonymous10:02 PM

    Dave your words through tweet or column help me to go on as a race fan, for without a deeper understanding it would feel impossible to have thoughts of becoming emotionally involved with the sport I love so much.

  29. Whether you like a driver, or hate a driver, this is the part of the sport, that we truly hate to see happen. RIP Dan Wheldon

  30. Brad Bauer10:09 PM

    One of your best Dave, just wish you didn't have to write it. The motor sports world will mourn the loss of yet another racing legend. RIP Dan, may god be with and bless your family

  31. Thanks, Dave. As a DW fan, all around race fan, and SCCA formula driver, I needed it tonight.

  32. As someone who works in motorsport and loves every minute of it - not a day goes by that I'm working a circuit that I'm thinking of my safety and the safety and well being of everyone else. Our goal is to go home.

    Today, Susie Wheldon doesn't have that privilege of welcoming home her beloved from the track.

    Race tracks and motorsport events where someone has passed away are sombre and heartbreaking. I've been there. Every motorsport death - both at and away from the track - is a huge loss to the motorsport family. Thoughts and prayers to Susie and the kids. New Zealand is thinking of you. xx Rest in peace Dan, you will be missed.

  33. Anonymous10:42 PM

    Well said Godfather. There is no one better to put it in persepective than u. Thanks for all that u do for the betterment of motosport. Please pass on my condolences to the Wheldon family.

    twitter: @brownhick

  34. Very well stated Dave!! They do this by choice and know the risks...which if you think about it, is relatively low...even compared to getting in your car and driving to and from work each day, driving somewhere on vacation, or even going somewhere on Friday or Saturday night. A close friend of mine has known Dan for a few years and had nothing but good things to say about him. He was actually at Indy this year with Dan when he won...and now his friend and a great driver is now gone, leaving a family behind. Maybe IRL should put the 2.5 million he would have gotten for winning this race in a fund for his children.

  35. Anonymous11:33 PM

    What you said is so very true. Every Time there is a hard crash the analyst comment on how safe the cars are now. Don't believe they_ really think someone can be seriously injured, but my heart stops.

    I'm a NASCAR fan, but keep up with all forms of racing and am really thankful for NASCAR's safety when I see F1, Indy, Sports car, off-road.... crashes.

    A day like today is why it makes me so MAD when you have a bunch of idiots who cheer when a driver they don't like crashes, as they did with JJ Sat. night.

    My heart hurts with the rest of the racing community.

    ~~GOD, please give Dan's wife, little boys and the rest of @IndyCar an abundant amount of LOVE~~


  36. Well said Dave. However that have been in fact 4 deaths in NASCAR Touring Series since Dale Sr died. Marcelo Núñez & Carlos Pardo in the Mexican Corona Series as well as Tom Baldwin Sr & John Blewett III in the Whelen Modified Tour.

  37. Nice article Dave you do a good job.

  38. Brian "MotorMouth" Goudge8:37 AM

    ...very reflective with an appropriate/timely connect to Ken Squier's thoughts. I appreciate that someone so close to the racing scene can reflect upon the reality of the risks taken by racers.

  39. Very well said Dave. These guys know the risks going in and they still do it because it's what they love. We love some drivers and hate others, but we should never take for granted what any of them do to entertain us.

    Rest in peace Dan.

  40. kathy5:49 PM

    Dear Dave,

    My deepest sympathys goes out to the wheldon family and everyone @ indy racing. I seen the whole crash unfold as I was watching the indy race in las vegas saturday. everytime I see wrecking like that I pray to god that everyone is ok and I see them moving or climbing out of the cars.

    I hope people have woken up and smelt the coffee now knowing how dangerous racing is. All those people that go to the races just to see crashing should go the demo derby's instead. I love to go to the races just to see a clean race and knowing that those drivers are going home safe and alive and not in a pine box.

    It is bad enough that people die everyday on our interstates and highways but when you have these drivers that strap into these cars or hop on the bikes going 195-200+ mph on the tracks, Hoping that they have a safe ride, they come out it alive is a blessing to all.

    No one wants to lose a driver and bring their young children up alone trying to tell them what happened to daddy or mommy is real hard. so please people let go watch a clean safe race and those drivers go home safely not to watch crashing wondering if that driver is ok.

  41. I didn't cheer when JJ wrecked-it scared the heck out of me. It always scares me when there's a bad wreck. RIP Dan Wheldon & may God be with your family. Those little boys will never know their daddy. That breaks my heart.

  42. PaePhone10:23 AM

    As always, a wonderful piece Dave. Now there is yet another loss, but this time in MotoGP. :'( Have we reached our limits? It isn't for me to say. I will remember Dan the way I met him kind and polite. He had a smile you could never forget. I still remember Adam Petty and Eric Medlen also. You don't forget!