“…everybody in IndyCar died a little today.” — Chip Ganassi

By on October 17, 2011

(with RSEN Rodney Meyering and Wendy Eckhardt)

(photo by Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE)

Dan Wheldon ran two Indy Car races this year that ended with a tale of ultimate victory and ultimate tragedy.  One he won, which happened to be the Indianapolis 500 and the other today, in Las Vegas, Nevada he lost, lost his life. 

The sporting world is deeply saddened by the passing of Dan Wheldon…….The entire Indy car sport lost a phenomenal competitor, friend and great talent with a televsion persona.   The news has hit the Tampa Bay Area hard as Wheldon made his home in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Wheldon is survived by his wife Susie, and two sons, 2-year-old Sebastian and 6-month-old Oliver.

Wheldon, who was a previous Indy Car Series Champion in 2005 did not open this season, 2011, with a ride but worked out a deal with Bryan Herta of Bryan Herta Autosport to run at the Brickyard.  Herta, a long-time veteran of the open wheel circuit, was a teammate of Wheldon at Andretti-Green Racing from 2003-2005.  Wheldon won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 racing with Bryan Herta Autosport. 

There was not a steady sponsor to support Wheldon in the whole Indy Car Series in 2011 so the 33 year old Wheldon secured a spot as an analyst for Versus.  Wheldon was immediately embraced by the media as a legitimate analyst for Indy Car but made it clear that he was not ready for a career on TV. Dan commented he was a race car driver.  He spoke openly on live TV that he wanted to race cars and when we have the sponsorship and the money we will race.  Wheldon with his competitive juices flowing knew he could always be an announcer upon retirement.   Wheldon at only 33 had a great personality and was impressive in the booth.

This weekend in Las Vegas Indy Car wanted to spice up the event so the organization offered anyone who was not a regular runner in the series who won, a $5 million bonus.  Possibly Tony Stewart, Juan Montoya or AJ Allmendinger would land in the winner’s circle.  Wheldon was considered a non-regular runner so he was eligible for the $5 million bonus.

The field ran 10 laps of clean racing but on the 11th lap, this track being a mile and a half oval,  you keep your foot on the floor and they did,

Danica Patrick is consoled after completing a five-lap memorial for Dan Wheldon. (photo by Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE)

things happened quickly.  Twenty years ago a crash this horrific would have produced multiple fatalities, although one life lost is too many it could have been worse.

As drivers make it into the Indy Series the question of experience and track design come into discussion.  We are sure this will be the topic of many meetings in the off-season for Indy Car. Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which sees the “taxi-cab series” , NASCAR,  run at 185MPH,  the Indy Cars reached 220 plus.  Indy car star Tony Kanaan set the pole this weekend at 222.078 MPH on a track that is not designed to use a brake.  If you do not run full speed at Vegas and brake it’s a recipe for disaster.

Car owner Chip Ganassi summed of the day in one short quote. Ganassi pictured here in March 2011 in St. Petersburg moments before the Grand Prix as he chats with legend Mario Andretti. (RSEN file photo by Rodney Meyering)

Danica Patrick, who was running her last Indy Car Series Race, said in a live ABC interview while the race was stopped for clean-up and repair, “There was debris everywhere, you could smell smoke and see the billowing smoke,” “I hope, I hope everyone is OK. I heard about Dan …, you just don’t want to be in that position.”

In an ESPN Indy Car report car owner Chip Ganassi said it best, “What can you say? We’re going to miss him, everybody in IndyCar died a little today.”

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