Dan Wheldon died yesterday in the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Prior to the actual race “drivers had raised concerns about the extreme speeds being recorded at the Las Vegas track, which has high banks that allow racers to maintain speeds gained on the flats, especially with 34 cars packed onto the oval track.” (Christian Science Monitor)
Still much like the phrase on Broadway, the race must go on. It did for 11 laps and then it was over. So was the life of Dan Wheldon who despite his decreased race schedule this season was as popular as ever for the sport. Wheldon, the 2005 IRL Champion, won the Indianapolis 500 this year and also won the event in 2005. He was the lone drive eligible for a $5 million payday had he won the race but Wheldon wasn’t in the race just for the money. He was at Las Vegas Motor Speedway because he wanted to race.
In an interview with Fox Sports former Formula One racer Scott Speed cited the difference between the top tier Indy teams and the rest of the field as one reason he opted not to participate in the event. “ . . . If you take the level of preparation with the premier cars in NASCAR compared to the start and parks, it’s night and day. And that same contrast happens between the top three Indy teams (Penske Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Autosport) — then there are cars that are a few steps down and the cars that are below that. The difference is dramatic.”
AJ Allmendinger had a similar thought on the race. “Hopefully, we learn something from this. First, Dan needs to be remembered before everybody jumps on IndyCar, then there needs to be action. There doesn’t need to be 34 cars; it’s a ticking time bomb. Obviously, with the new car coming in, it needs to be safer, but there are tracks that they don’t need to race at.”
Immediately some pounced on racing. Citing the speeds the cars travel and safety concerns it seemed as if everyone was looking for someone to blame.
This isn’t the first death in racing. Paul Dana was the last Indy driver killed in a crash, following an incident at Homestead in 2006. The last death in NASCAR was in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt crashed during the Daytona 500.
In baseball minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed in the ninth inning of a game in 2007 when he was struck in the neck by a batted ball.
While not a NFL player, just today yahoo.com’s homepage featured a story about a high school football player who died at the age of 16 following a hit to the head that caused bleeding of the brain. Just this year Derek Sheely of Frostberg State (NCAA) died following a helmet to helmet hit during practice.
The last major boxing death came in 2007 when Lito Sisnorio died following repeated blows to his head. Let us not forget luger Nodar Kumaritashvili who died during a practice run for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
The fact is death happens. Sports while sometimes an escape from the troubles of our minds can’t hide from it either. We can’t stop death from happening, we can only invent new measures of safety to hopefully minimize it.