Dan Wheldon passed away yesterday after a horrible crash in the IndyCar Series finale in Las Vegas. I’m so, so sorry for his wife and their two children.
I wasn’t watching at the time, I was out buying groceries for my wife and child. I seldom watch the start of races live anymore as I’ll usually DVR it and catch up during cautions and ad breaks. So my intention was to get home and sit myself down infront of the TV later on.
I first knew something horrible has happened when I took the time to check Facebook, as I arrived in the store parking lot, and saw a lot of people posting about it. I sent a quick text to my wife to put on the channel and tell me if Dan Wheldon was OK.
She kept updating me, sending me messages about various drivers and information that someone had been airlifted away. I knew, judging by what people were posting, that it was bad.
I finished my shopping (just grabbing a few things, the stores are crazy before a Chicago Bears game) and then headed home, walking in to find my wife sat there watching the broadcast. I played the race from my DVR and saw the massive crash, then fast forward through to the live TV just in time to see a yellow sheet draped across Wheldon’s car.
Because of the fact that Will Power’s car was parked directly behind it, I could see that Wheldon’s car had no roll hoop. I knew immediately that this means Wheldon had probably been hit on the helmet by something. ABC played the crash a few times and watching it I didn’t immediately notice the hit that probably took his life, infact at first I looked at the cars of Pippa Mann and Will Power flying through the air and wondered how their injuries didn’t seem more serious.
It was then that I realized: This crash, whatever the fate of Wheldon, shows the levels of safety in the sport currently. The way that both Mann and Power were able to walk away, albeit with assistance, is incredible.
As time went on, we began to see the fate of Dan Wheldon on the faces of the teams and drivers. Most notably when seeing Tony Kanaan and team boss Jimmy Vasser together. When it was eventually confirmed, I wasn’t surprised he had passed, but I hadn’t seen why, or how… ABC then showed the crash again.
The first thing I said to my wife was that I don’t think it’s right of ABC to show the crash again now they know he had died, but they did it anyway and actually, it allowed me to understand why Dan was gone. It was only now that I saw him hit the post within the catch fencing and suffer what probably was the blow which killed him. I think, for me, this actually helps with the emotional process.
I’m the sort of person who needs to understand. When my grandfather began to go downhill at the end of his life, I read medical books on senility and the issues caused by aging. Yesterday, I needed to understand why someone I had never met face-to-face had died, too.
But today, that isn’t really the main thought in my mind. I’m thinking about the overall reason for the crash and why it hadn’t happened quite this badly before and I think it’s due to pack racing.
You’re always going to have big crashes and crashes where people die. Nothing will stop that. But when you have a smaller group of cars, you lessen the number of cars who will be involved and thusly, you lessen the number of drivers at-risk in that crash. It’s the same in NASCAR: You only get the “big one” at the tracks where they run in packs.
I hadn’t really thought about this very much before, and I’m not angry at IndyCar, the teams, the drivers or the fans for not thinking about it enough. But I now think that anywhere where IndyCar has to run in packs when racing, Indy cars should not be racing. It’s simple logic that the less cars involved in a crash, the less drivers can be injured, and you only see huge crashes (in terms of involvement) at tracks where you run flat-out.
It’s easy to say that now, I know. Dan Wheldon, I hope, will provide a safer form of racing in the future not only by his contribution to the 2012 Indy car, I also hope that the outcome of his passing will be the removal of IndyCar from any track where the gas pedal does not leave the floorboard. Pack racing and open-wheel do not mix.
Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.
He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.