The jumpsuits and casual revelry of IndyCar drivers were replaced with suits and somber attitudes as racing’s best took their turns in St. Petersburg, Fla., saying their final goodbyes to Dan Wheldon.
Less than a week after the 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the racing legend was laid to rest. In the time since the crash, more information has come forward to show that it could possibly have been prevented.
Everything that wasn’t meant to be in IndyCar racing was present in that afternoon’s IZOD IndyCar World Championship. Driver Danica Patrick made an eerily prophetic statement a few days before the race.
“The track is so smooth, we will be three-wide out there,” Patrick said. “The race will be crazy and the crashes spectacular.”
Patrick and other driver’s words must have fallen on deaf ears of racing officials because after just 11 laps, the crash that everyone feared actually happened, and the Indy 500 Champion became the second driver to die in an IndyCar race.
How could people ignore the perfect storm of factors leading up to the race that afternoon? There was not just one reason to reevaluate the race but many.
The lineup included 34 cars. That made it the largest field since the 1997 Indianapolis 500. Several of the cars in that race did not even make it to the green flag.
The design of the track gave each car the opportunity to run at nearly the same speed. Packs of cars — experienced and inexperienced drivers next to one another — raced at 220 mph with not much room to maneuver and virtually no reaction time.
The fact that the cars were so bunched together on a track that is nearly a mile shorter than a track made to hold a 33-car race meant a chain-reaction crash when Wade Cunningham hit James Hinchcliffe’s car.
These were just a few things that contributed to Sunday’s crash. It seems so obvious that there were issues that needed to be addressed before the 34 drivers got in their cars.
Maybe the drivers should have made more serious claims about the track conditions. Maybe racing officials should have known that the chance to run a wild race came with the ultimate price: the life of one of the best drivers in the series.
After the ash on the track settled, racing officials must have known that a mistake had been made. Eight days later, more than a dozen drivers, the IndyCar CEO and the series’ president of competition all attended a meeting to discuss how to make the sport safer.
IndyCar drivers know every time they get in their cars, they might be risking their lives, but there is a difference between calculated risk and the risk the drivers had Oct. 16. That risk was brought to give fans a better show, and it backfired.