In a horrifying scene that was documented from several angles and even a driver’s perspective, Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a massive 15 car pile-up at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday, Oct. 17. In a plot twist reminiscent of the types of fairy tales you only find in sports, Wheldon was racing in only his third race of 2011, after being fired from his previous racing team, Panther Racing. He had won one of his previous appearances, the Indianapolis 500, which is considered the Super Bowl of IndyCar. Wheldon had not led the Indy 500 until making a move on the last turn of the last lap for the win.
Wheldon was only driving in the Las Vegas 300 because of a publicity stunt involving a $5 million prize to any non-series regular who could win the final race of the series. One of the conditions of the promotion was that Wheldon start at the rear of the 34 car field. After only 11 laps, Wheldon had advanced 10 positions to 24th place when disaster struck.
After the race, Michael Andretti revealed that Wheldon had signed a multi-year contract to replace driver Danica Patrick and would’ve raced full-time in 2011. Wheldon was 33, and is survived by a wife and two sons, one of which was born in March. Here is what some of the drivers associated with IndyCar had to say via Twitter about Dan Wheldon and the accident.
“INDYCAR is sad to announce that Dan Wheldon passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dan and his family.” – IZOD IndyCar Series, @IndyCar
“There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for suzi and the kids that god will give them strength.” – Danica Patrick, @DanicaPatrick
“What a tremendously sad day, my thoughts are with the entire Wheldon family… Dan’s passion for IndyCar racing will be sorely missed….” – J.R. Hildebrand, @JRHildebrand
“So sad that @danwheldon was taken from us…Thoughts and wishes are with his family…I knew already,but motorsport can be so cruel! ” – Michael Conway, @Mikeconwayindy
“By far the saddest day of my racing career. Never though my generation would pass through a loss like this. @danwheldon we will miss you” -Sebastian Saavedra, @sebsaavedra
“I thought I would get to the hotel and maybe wake up from a bad dream…. shit just unreal.. I will miss that accent…” – Sebastian Saavedra, @sebsaavedra
“What people should know is the entire @indycar field is a big family. The team members, drivers, officials etc. It’s one big family” – Graham Rahal, @GrahamRahal
“I have no words for what has happened , RIP Danny” – Paul Tracy, @paultracy3
“Sadness turning to anger now , indycar needs to put the 5mil in a trust for dans kids !!!!” – Paul Tracy, @paultracy3
“Rest in peace Danny boy, we’ll miss you my friend. Everyone please keep the wheldon family in you thoughts and prayers.” – Dario Franchetti, @dariofranchitti
Dan Wheldon was enjoying his life right up to the time it ended, doing what he loved to do best. Two of his last few tweets speak volumes about how much he loved to race and can serve as a reminder to us all that you never know if you will see tomorrow, so it is best to do what you love today. Half of the $5,000,000 pot was intended to be split with a lucky fan if a non-regular won.
“Big day today, $5,000,000.00 at stake!!! Heading to the track” – Dan Wheldon, @danwheldon
“Green!!!!” – Dan Wheldon, @danwheldon