October 16, 2011

Dan Wheldon

Dan Wheldon 1978-2011
(Toshifumi Tozawa)

No, I'm not posting the crash, if you did not see it on TV, I'm sure there are plenty of other sites that happily traffic in that.

I'm not an oval racing fan, all I can say is that Formula One has worked tirelessly, many times against the grumbling of fans, to constantly improve safety, learning form mistakes and unexpected accidents. It seems to me, as an admittedly casual follower of Indy car racing, that all major accidents resulting in serious injuries in that series have had remarkably similar dynamics, a car flying into the catch fence. Why?

Our condolences to Dan Wheldon's family and his team and all those involved in Indy car.



  1. AC, I'm sure you understand that when open wheel cars touch wheels - they tend to get airborne..

    I suppose you could move the stands back a 1/4 mile or more.. that should give enough room for cars going ~225 to finish crashing before reaching a fence..

    Now, we might discuss tracks that are so smooth and wide that you can run three-wide at 100% throttle the whole race...



  2. Did I mention they catch on fire all the time too?
    Not good

  3. That's most likely oil fires. You can't avoid that with external radiators. There's really nothing you can do to prevent oil fires in those cars. I was bawling when they finally confirmed it. I was still hoping he would be okay, but I was in tears watching the tribute laps. I hope to meet Dan in another life.

  4. This is just awful. He didn't even have a full time ride. This was just a two race deal and only his third race this season. For some reason that makes it worse for me. Somehow even more unnecessary.

    I don't know if you can make it safe for these cars to run at mile and a half tracks at that speed. Indy is one thing, being so big, but things happen so fast on the banked NASCAR tracks.

    If they want to run ovals they should stick to Indy and the flatter tracks like New Hampshire and Milwaukee.

  5. How hard fate can be. I don't know for sure if next year's chassis, with that odd rear fender, will really work to stop cars getting airborne when they touch at those speeds, but dying for exactly that reason in the last race of the "old spec." cars makes it even harder to cope with.

    And then again, dying in a crash just months after winning an Indy 500 thanks to a stupid accident by a rival, it really seems that somebody is playing up there.

    Regarding the crash, I agree with the previous comment. The apparent reason is too high speeds + too many cars + too little space.
    The guys were racing like crazy and it was just lap 12, but you can't ask them not to do that. You just have to go where it's possible to go, and sack unsuitable tracks.

    Obviously I know it's easy to speak after that a tragedy has happened, let's just hope that the lesson has been learned...

  6. Makes you appreciate the work of Mosley, Ecctlestone and others. Too many teams, too many drivers with questionable credentials, tracks that guarantee media friendly pile ups.

  7. @AC: yep, that's right. Even if they keep being ambiguous, sacking some tracks for safety reasons and then allowing new city circuits like Valencia and Singapore. Anyway, they did an amazing job with chassis safety, it must be recognized.

    Anyway, if modern Formula cars have a weak point, that's the roll hoop. In this case it was just torn apart from the car, and left Dan with no protection.
    Something similar happened in F.1 some years ago when a car rolled and the hoop just sank in the soaked ground and was ripped off. After that, the FIA increased the safety requirements of that part. I don't know where IndyCar stands on this particular area...

  8. This was a terrible tragedy, just terrible. I felt sick watching it happen. It seems like you only realize all the things that can still go wrong in modern racing when they do. I don't know if even with the best type of safety he would have survived, as the physical aspect of his crash - hitting the fence sideways - was such an unlucky outcome. Let's hope that the new cars will reduce the possibility of something like that happening... And that fence, there must be a better way...


  9. So what was the actualy cause of death? There is no real conclusive information on it. Flying debris? Neck?

    You can never account for every possible situation. We don't live in a perfect world, simple as that.

    Safety in Motor Racing has come a long way, but will never be absolute.

  10. I felt sick watching the crash. I have seen Indy cars run at both ovals and road courses, and I think, now, that there's just no way to prevent these sort of crashes on the ovals...wheels touching at 220 mph is going to create carnage no matter what safety improvements you make to the cars, simply because at ovals, unlike road courses, there's no runoff area.

  11. They need to stop racing open wheel cars on ovals. I tuned in late yesterday to see if Dario would win the championship and I found this. I'm done with IRL. I'll never again watch open wheels race on an oval, this has happened to many times. It's not good competition, it's not a test of skill, it just gets good people hurt.

  12. @robweenerpi: the mainstream media already do enough to give too one-sided view of the motorsport related issues, so trying not to over-react is up to us, up to the motor racing lovers.

    IndyCar did the right thing in introducing the new cars with fenders, after years in which everybody seemed to ignore the fact that airborne accidents were undoubtedly the most gruesome ones in the modern era.

    So, that's one step in the right direction. The other one is avoid stupid mistakes, like racing at avg speeds that are good for Indy on 1.5 miles ovals. Obviously, removing people who is responsible for such idiot choices is mandatory as well.

  13. I wouldn't miss ovals. Heck in my mind ovals have as much to do with driving as power boating. Racing as a definition does not always describe competitive driving

  14. This came to mind:


    I wonder how that reporter feels today...


  15. Listen to yourselves. This was an awful end to a career that was essentially still just starting, BUT he won Indy twice and his bio is chock-full of accomplishments that aspiring drivers will look up to for decades. He died the way most dyed-in-the-wool race drivers would probably say they'd want to go - behind the wheel at speeds most of us never touch. Is it tragic? I guess it all depends on your point of view. Wheldon will be a HERO (all caps there, guys) and hopefully a turning point for the series.

    That said, no matter what you think about ovals, the fact remains that this is the only series in this country still pushing the open wheel formula. Beyond Indy you've got, what, regional karting? SCCA/NASA sanctioned events? If you think Indy will overhaul their existing format you're all nuts. It is all we've got and the ovals make up a good hunk of the schedule - and money. Until American fans step up and support this series, and insist on changes that will benefit both the drivers and fans, AND SPONSORS, we'll see incidents like this in the future. Don't stop watching. Watch more.

    Sadder than this accident would be losing Indy after all the drama of the last decade. Then the next biggest American racing series would be ALMS (don't get me wrong, that would be great) and NASCAR would still dominate. Consider the alternatives.

  16. I'd like to add that I grew up about 50 miles from Knoxville, IA and went to a good number of open-wheel sprint races over the years. While they don't reach the speeds Indy cars do, they go end-over-end...just about every race. They don't use catch fencing per se, actually it's usually a solid metal wall like 15-20ft high on the turn (or no wall and a lot of open space on the other side of the banking). Those shade-tree mechanic types still get hurt and die occasionally but it is rare to hear calls for change in a format that has existed for decades now. Maybe they should just race on dirt from now on...

  17. Dan lived more in 33 years than most of us will in 66... a true success story doing something we'd all love to be doing. My last in-person memory of him was following him through the Mid Ohio paddock on my scooter (he was on his) staying closely in his wake because the crowd was energized to see him coming and parted brilliantly, expediting our progress through their masses. In addition to clearing a path for me, Dan of course had the additional responsibility to wave back to all his fans.

  18. for the past 29 years, a number of fatal injuries have already occurred in American auto racing.. I think organizers of the said event need to work harder to ensure safety, not just for racers but for audience as well.

  19. I'll go on record in stating that I no longer subscribe to the idea that the point of motor sport is risking one's life. Is it really so hard acknowledge the endeavor has value far beyond merely tantalizing the general public with danger?

    Motor sport will always pose risk, but my hope would be that these unfortunate events do not happen in vain.

    I don't understand any form of automotive competition that does not rely on braking. Speed gets the headlines, feeds the myth, but in the end it's the challenge of getting into and out of corners quickly FROM speed that matters to me . . .

    and I'm at a loss to understand how cars launched into catch fencing are acceptable risks.


nRelate Posts Only