Cars were “shattering like glass plates”

One journalists perspective on the IndyCar tragedy

The crash at the IndyCar race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday took the life of racer Dan Wheldon.
Tom Donoghue
Mike Smith

I love fast cars, the smell of burning rubber and the thrill of seeing talented athletes push machines to their limits. I find it exciting to watch close competition and aggressive driving that can make me ignore my seat for hours.

But I don’t attend races to see wrecks. That’s why I get perturbed when people say that fans go to races just to see cars smash into one another. No fan wants that. Fans usually identify with a driver, and there isn’t a fan alive who wants to see his or her favorite driver hurt or killed. Fans want to see their favorite driver win.

The late Dan Wheldon.

The late Dan Wheldon.

Tucked back in the corner of every racing fan’s mind, there’s the knowledge that any lap of any race holds the potential for something to go terribly wrong. That possibility became reality on Sunday in the IndyCar race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

I was sitting in the press box on top of the grandstands when the 15-car accident happened. Every journalist in the room let out a gasp as fire engulfed cars that were shattering like glass plates. It was the worst wreck I had ever seen in many years of attending races.

Shortly after the accident, we began to accept the possibility that Dan Wheldon had died when a yellow tarp was placed over the wreckage of his car and the motor on the medical helicopter in the infield was started. Everyone in the press box sat silently during the two-hour red flag period, waiting for word on the fate of Wheldon. I began to wonder about the wives of the other drivers. As a result of this day, would they be asking their loved ones to leave racing?

Now, as it should, the debate about safety in IndyCar racing will begin. The irony is that Wheldon had recently been busy testing a new, safer version of the car to be used next season.


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