Motorsport was in mourning Sunday, after a fiery multicar pileup claimed the life of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wheldon, described by the New York Times as “a popular and congenial race-car driver from England,” was 33, married to Susie, with two children, Sebastian, 2, and 6-month-old Oliver.
According to an Associated Press report, although Wheldon started last in the 34-car field and was “still well behind the first wave of cars that got into trouble” on the 12th lap, there was no time to brake or steer out of the crash zone. Wheldon’s car flew over another vehicle, hit the fence and skidded upside down before bursting into flames.
“It was like a movie scene which they try to make as gnarly as possible,” Danica Patrick, eracing in her last IndyCar, was quoted as saying. “It was debris everywhere across the whole track, you could smell the smoke, you could see the billowing smoke on the back straight from the car. There was a chunk of fire that we were driving around. You could see cars scattered.”
Wheldon’s helmet hit the wall, causing an “unsurvivable head injury,” IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard was quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying.
Wheldon had been airlifted from the track to University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead — although, Fox News reports, officials had not ruled out that he died on impact.
According to the Sports Illustrated report:
The impact was so severe the roll hoop broke off the top of his car. Wheldon was unconscious when safety workers arrived at the scene of his crash. A yellow tarp was quickly placed over his car to block the others from seeing the damage inside Wheldon’s cockpit.
Fox reported that Wheldon’s three brothers, his sister, and his wife and two sons were at the track at the time of the crash.