October 21, 2011

Dan Wheldon Didn't Have to Die

By - Kris Fletcher

Funeral services for 2-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon will be held tomorrow at First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Photo by: Getty Images
It's a funeral that shouldn't even be taking place.

The husband and father of two died this past Sunday in a 15-car crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A crash that all the drivers saw coming.

"When I came around and saw the crash, it was horrifying," driver Ryan Briscoe said. "It was like driving through a war zone. Everyone can run so close in these open-wheel cars. There's no room for error. We all predicted something like this would happen. It was just inevitable."

"I said it before, this is not a suitable track," driver Dario Franchitti told reporters just after the accident. "You can't get away from anybody. One small mistake, and you have a giant wreck. Within 5 laps, people started to do crazy stuff. I wanted no part of it. I love hard racing, but that, to me, is not what it's about."

Photo by: Jennifer Stewart
Not a suitable track. Now Wheldon is dead at 33. A wife no longer has a husband, and two small children no longer have a father.

IndyCar fans will mourn Wheldon, but they also will say that this is part of the sport. But was this really just some unavoidable fluke? How could it be, when the drivers were waiting for it to happen?

Danger equals excitement in auto racing. This is a sport that sells danger. It's the edge that creates so much of the thrill that fans pay to see. However, when you have a track where drivers are going 3-wide, where they can't separate themselves from the rest of the pack, and are traveling in upwards of 225 miles per hour, well that just seems recklessly dangerous to me.

This race had basically been turned into a carnival in an attempt to save the sport. Indy racing is losing Danica Patrick to NASCAR, and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said that if ratings didn't go up from this championship race, he would hand in his resignation.

So, Bernard offered up a $5 million winner's prize to any driver who wasn't an Indy racer. It was a challenge to prove the "talent level" of Indy drivers. Five non-Indy drivers could enter.

Let me get this straight; cars would be going well over 200 mph, running side-by-side, all packed together, and guys like motocross racer Travis Pastrana, who I hear may have NASCAR aspirations, were going to be allowed to partake in it?


Luckily for Pastrana, he injured his leg beforehand and couldn't take part in the race. But regardless, this is IndyCar, a professional sport, not some game show. You don't just call anyone down to participate that wants to give it a whirl.

As it turned out, Bernard couldn't find five drivers from outside of Indy racing to compete for the $5 million. So after switching things around a bit, officials allowed Wheldon to be the lone man competing for the money, since he didn't have a team this year.

Now, he'll never have a team again.

Sometimes, there just isn't fault, other than the danger of the sport itself. I don't want to hear anything about occupational hazards this time around, though. Not now. Of course they exist, but that doesn't mean other reasons don't exist also. The race was always going to be too fast, too packed together and too crowded with 34 cars for something like this not to happen.

Granted, Wheldon knew how dangerous this particular race was, but he entered it anyway. He risked his life, even though he had a wife, a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old at home.

Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey
His wife is now a widow. Young Sebastian is never going to remember his dad, and baby Oliver will never know him at all.

This shouldn't have happened. But it did.

Dan Wheldon didn't have to die.


  1. So true. This made me tear up. Really well written.

  2. Exceptional post Mr. Fletcher. Being from English heritage myself, I pulled for Dan from the day he turned pro. He was a great driver and even better person. He'll be forever missed.

  3. I feel bad for his boys. Now they'll have to grow up without a dad. Not an easy thing. Just an awful accident that could have been avoided.

  4. Giant loss for IndyCar, a sport that was in big trouble to begin with. I hope (if the sport continues) they do away with open-wheel racing altogether.

  5. Nice post. One of the best I've read on Wheldon. My thoughts are with his family today.

  6. I agree totally. IndyCar safety is a joke. The speeds are far too dangerous. I don't see how drivers aren't killed more often.

  7. I feel so bad for his two precious little boys. I'm sure his wife is devastated. My thoughts and prayers are with them all today. Just a horrible tragedy.

  8. I know this is going to make me seem like an ass, but I'm going to say it anyway. Wheldon being killed wasn't a tragedy. It was sad, yes, but it doesn't qualify as a tragedy. The President being assassinated - THAT'S a tragedy. Dan Wheldon being killed in an accident during a RACE, isn't. He chose his profession. He knew the risks. No one held a gun to his head and made him do it. I do feel bad for his family, but nonetheless, him dying doesn't fall under the category of tragedy.

  9. I'm actually inclined to agree with Anonymous on this one. What happened to Wheldon sucks, but it's not a tragedy. Not in my book anyway.

  10. Tragedy: An event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.

    Sorry fellas. By definition, this qualifies as a tragedy.

    Congrats. Not only are you asses, but you're ignorant as well.

  11. Haha Tell 'em Kris!

  12. Agree with the author 100%. Definitely a tragedy. I feel really bad for his family.

  13. Opinions vary, asshole.

  14. J. Bedgood - The truth hurts, don't it?