News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Auto Racing

October 17, 2011

Indy 500 winner Wheldon dies after massive wreck

LAS VEGAS — Race car drivers always know the worst can happen whenever they get behind the wheel.

On Sunday, it happened to one of IndyCar’s biggest and most popular stars.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died after his car became ensnared in a fiery 15-car pileup, flew over another vehicle and hit the catch fence just outside turn 2 in a season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Things happen in this kind of racing,” said Wade Cunningham, also caught up in the wreck. “It’s so close. Not much room for error. I was near the front of what caused all this, so I’m not thrilled about it. At this point, whose fault it was is kind of immaterial.”

The green flag had barely stopped waving when disaster struck.

Wheldon, driving from the back of the field for a chance at $5 million, was in the middle of the pack when he drove into a tangle of cars careening off each other in every direction.

Unable to avoid the massive wreck unfolding before him, Wheldon clipped another car and went hurtling through the air, his car bursting into flames as it flew into a fence.

After just 11 laps, the race was over. Two hours later, track officials announced that Wheldon was dead. The Englishman was 33.

“One minute you’re joking around at driver intros and the next, Dan’s gone,” said Dario Franchitti, whose wife, actress Ashley Judd, had to bring him a box of tissues. “I lost, we lost, a good friend. Everybody in the IndyCar series considered him a friend. He was such a good guy. He was a charmer.”

With the speed — close to 225 mph during practice — and a crowded 34-car field, a big worry was aggressive driving early in the 200-lap race.

Chaos started when two cars touched tires and almost no one had time to react.

Within seconds, several cars burst into flames and debris covered the track nearly halfway up the straightaway. Some points of impact were so devastating workers had to patch holes in the asphalt.

Video replays showed Wheldon’s car turning over as it went airborne and sailed into what’s called the catch fence, which sits over a barrier designed to give a bit when cars make contact. Rescue workers were at Wheldon’s car quickly, some furiously waving for more help to get to the scene.

“It’s unfortunate that early on in the race they’ve got to be racing so close. ...,” Team Penske owner Roger Penske said. “You always worry about those at these mile-and-a-halves at the speed and with this many cars.”

Three other drivers, including championship contender Will Power, were hurt in the pileup.

Wheldon was airlifted from the track to University Medical Center; news of his death came from IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard:

“IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race.”

In his honor, drivers, many sobbing openly, took part in a five-lap salute around the 1.5-mile oval as thousands of fans stood and cheered from the grandstand.

Also injured in the crash were JR Hildebrand and Pippa Mann. Both will remain in the hospital overnight. IndyCar said Mann was being treated for a burn to her right pinkie finger and will be released Monday morning; Hildebrand was awake and alert but will be held overnight for further evaluation. Power was evaluated and released. An autopsy was planned Monday for Wheldon.

“I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ryan Briscoe said. “The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere. So it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt because there’s just stuff everywhere. Crazy.”

IndyCar has not had a fatality since Paul Dana was killed at Homestead in 2006, during a crash in a morning warmup. Wheldon won the race later that day.

The accident appeared to start when Cunningham’s car swerved on the track and Hildebrand drove over the left rear of Cunningham’s car. Hildebrand appeared to go airborne, and Cunningham’s car shot up into the wall, setting off a chain reaction among the cars behind him.

Some of those cars slowed, others didn’t, and others spun in front of Wheldon and Power. There was so much confusion on the track it was hard to tell who was driving what car.

Power appeared to fly over Alex Lloyd’s car, rolling into the catch fence and landing on its right side. His in-car camera showed one of the front tires coming toward him in the cockpit.

Wheldon then appeared to drive over a car driven by Paul Tracy, who seemed to be slowing down. Wheldon, however, went airborne and spun into the fence.

“It was like a movie scene which they try to make as gnarly as possible,” said Danica Patrick, making her final IndyCar start. “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, who came to the United States from England in 1999, won 16 times in his IndyCar career and was the series champion in 2005.

Despite winning this year’s Indy 500, Wheldon couldn’t put together a full-time ride this season. He landed in the Las Vegas race thanks to Bernard’s promise of $5 million to any moonlighting driver who could win the IndyCar season finale at Vegas. Although there were no takers, Bernard refused to scrap the idea and Wheldon was declared eligible for the prize, which would have been split with a fan.

Asked about speed after the crash, Wheldon’s former boss Chip Ganassi said, “There’ll be plenty of time in the offseason to talk about that. Now is not the time to talk about that.”

And Franchitti said: “I agree. We’ll discuss that and sort it out.”

But driver Oriol Servia didn’t mince words: “We all had a bad feeling about this place in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat. And if you give us the opportunity, we are drivers and we try to go to the front. We race each other hard because that’s what we do,” he said. “We knew if could happen, but it’s just really sad.”

Wheldon had been providing blog posts for USA Today in the days leading up to the Las Vegas race, and in one posted Saturday to the newspaper’s website he spoke of how he expected Sunday to be “pure entertainment.”

“This is going to be an amazing show,” Wheldon wrote. “The two championship contenders, Dario Franchitti and Will Power, are starting right next to each other in the middle of the grid. Honestly, if I can be fast enough early in the race to be able to get up there and latch onto those two, it will be pure entertainment. It’s going to be a pack race, and you never know how that’s going to turn out.”

The accident spoiled what Bernard had hoped would be a showcase event for the struggling IndyCar Series.

The second-year CEO worked the entire season on turning the finale into a spectacle, and said he would offer his resignation to the IndyCar board of directors if ABC’s broadcast didn’t pull a .8 ranking. His goal was to improve upon last year’s season finale’s horrible television rating and give the series some momentum for a strong season in 2013 with the introduction of a new car and new manufacturers.

So Bernard poured everything into Las Vegas, renting the speedway from owner Bruton Smith and agreeing to promote the event himself. He landed enough sponsorship to at least break even on race, and the $5 million challenge bought him an enormous amount of publicity the entire year.

Bernard got the Las Vegas Strip to close to stage a parade of cars, hosted industry parties and a blackjack tournament all to boost interest in the race. He even got MGM Grand Resorts to offer a pair of tickets to anyone staying this weekend in one of the chain’s 14 properties.

But what was hoped to be a day of celebration quickly turned somber.

When drivers returned to the track for the tribute laps, Wheldon’s No. 77 was the only one on the towering scoreboard. Franchitti sobbed uncontrollably as he got back into his car for the memorial ride. The sound of “Danny Boy” echoed around the track, followed by “Amazing Grace.” Hundreds of crew workers and representatives from each team stood at attention in honor of Wheldon.

“What can you say? We’re going to miss him,” Ganassi said. “Everybody in IndyCar died a little today.”

———

AP Writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer in Charlotte and AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Auto Racing
  • SPT071614sprints clauson.jpg JOE BUCKLES: Clauson living up to lofty expectations

    Sprint car driver Bryan Clauson is living up to lofty expectations

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Metro roundup: Post 346 rallies past Rockville

    Wayne Newton Post 346 scored a run in the sixth and two in the seventh to get past Rockville 6-3 in an American Legion baseball regional at Terre Haute North on Wednesday.

    July 23, 2014

  • Todd Golden: Bigelow part of Action Track’s lifeblood

    Many things have changed since the Terre Haute Action Track opened in 1952, but the one constant is dirt.

    July 18, 2014

  • Metro: ISU graduate Johnson sixth in shot at Monaco

    Indiana State graduate Felisha Johnson competed in her first International Association of Athletics Federations Diamond League track and field meeting Friday, placing sixth in a shot put competition that featured six of the top seven throwers in the world for 2014.

    July 18, 2014

  • SPT071614sprints clauson.jpg Clauson breaks Action Track drought in Don Smith Classic

    Bryan Clauson wins the Don Smith Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track.

    July 17, 2014 4 Photos

  • schrader.jpg Joe Buckles: New alliance features powerful figures trying to lower costs

    Possibly no off track developments involving NASCAR racing  over the past 20 to 30 years has generated as much interest and speculation as last week’s announcement regarding the formation of the new Race Team Alliance organization.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Riley 10s go 4-1, place second in state tourney

    Riley’s 10-and-under all-star team finished as runner-up over the weekend at the Cal Ripken baseball Central Indiana tournament.

    July 14, 2014

  • Trackside: Valley race fans should be happy

    Whether your preference is non-wing sprint cars or late-model stock cars, this is the week that Wabash Valley race fans look forward to all summer.
    The best of the best is the only way to describe what will unfold this week at Valley ovals. First comes the continuation of the popular UMP Summer National “Hell Week” tour for late models and its annual stop at Terre Haute Action Track tonight. USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week opens later this weekend with stops at Gas City on Friday night, Kokomo on Saturday and Lawrenceburg on Sunday evening.

    July 8, 2014

  • Metro sports: Pounds among winners at Crossroads Dragway

    Ron Pound was one of the winners in Crossroads Dragway racing on Saturday.

    June 30, 2014

  • Trackside: Rising costs make Valley racing more difficult than ever

    The life and times of your weekly short-track racer has long lived up to the colorful and exciting ways coveted by those in the stands who gather each weekend to watch their favorite team or driver compete.
    While the weekly trek to the race track has always presented its challenges, the task in recent times has made those trips to the many dirt ovals across the country a little more difficult to make.

    June 24, 2014

  • Metro roundup: Lady Rex take Ohio softball tournament

    The Lady Rex 18u softball team had a 5-1 record over the weekend to win the Ohio Premier tournament.

    June 23, 2014

  • Trackside: Likable Dave Darland still chalking up victories at 48

    One of short-track racing’s all-time open-wheel greats continues to add to his growing legacy.
    When veteran racer Dave Darland rolled into victory lane at Lincoln Park Speedway last week, he notched his 94th USAC career win. Add the countless number of open-competition wins over the years and it’s easy to surmise the popular driver is approaching the lofty 200-win plateau.
    His latest checkered flag came in the USAC Indiana Midget Week show at the same 5⁄16-mile dirt oval where he cut his teeth in an open-cockpit car more than 30 years ago.

    June 18, 2014

  • Groomer among Lincoln Park winners; Bell, Abreu take Indiana Midget Week races

    Ralph Groomer was a feature winner in racing on Saturday at Lincoln Park Speedway.

    June 15, 2014

  • Trackside: Thumbs up given for upcoming Indiana Midget Week

    In his many years of serving in the public relation department for the U.S. Auto Club, Dick Jordan has developed a keen sense for rating the overall health and future of dirt-track open-wheel racing.
    So when the veteran publicist voices a note of guarded optimism for the running of an upcoming series, one knows something special looms on the horizon.

    June 10, 2014

  • Metro sports: Cassell wins Lawrence County title

    Chris Cassell put together two rounds of 4-under-par 68 for a two-shot victory for his first Albright Motors Lawrence County Open championship on Sunday.

    June 9, 2014

  • Metro: White wins mile, Sebastian 5K at TH Memorial Day events

    Nolan White won the mile run and Matthew Sebastian won the 5-kilometer walk during Terre Haute Parks Memorial Day events Monday at Deming Park.

    May 28, 2014

  • IndyCar Indy 500 Heli_Tayl.jpg Six former winners chasing Indy 500 championship

    Angst, frustration and heartbreak are all part of the lore of the Indianapolis 500, but when a driver finally takes the checkered flag, all of those words are quickly relegated to the back of their mind and replaced with pure joy. That emotion keeps bringing them back, and for the 98th running of the Indy 500, six former winners will chase that passion again.

    May 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Darland wins Hulman Classic for 50th trip to USAC victory lane

    For once, the Terre Haute Action Track and the U.S. Auto Club got a weather break Wednesday night, a window amidst threatening conditions to allow the 44th Tony Hulman Classic to go off without a serious hitch.
    Some might say Dave Darland got a break too, but most would agree instead that the veteran sprint car driver has learned to make his own breaks by this time. He won the Classic for the second time in his career — the first coming in 1993 — and is a three-time USAC winner this season while no one else has won more than once.

    May 21, 2014

  • Trackside: Tony Hulman Classic set for tonight at T.H. Action Track

    Looking for a potential dark horse winner in tonight’s scheduled running of the U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned running of the Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track?
    The task is indeed a challenging one. The USAC sprint circuit offers some of the most competitive forms of racing anywhere in the country and picking a potential winner out of a field that has at least eight to 10 drivers capable of making it to victory lane is very much a guessing game.

    May 21, 2014

  • Unlikely duo on Indy GP pole

    Verizon IndyCar drivers in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis showcased rooster tails Friday as the rains came down for the Firestone Fast Six qualifying. Red flag conditions briefly halted the final session as officials stopped action for safety reasons.

    May 9, 2014

  • carpenter.jpg Owner-driver Ed Carpenter getting ready for Indy run

    Before too many pages get torn off the May calendar, IndyCar team owner and driver Ed Carpenter is trying to enjoy his free time away from race tracks.
    Wednesday afternoon was an example of that.
    The Wabash Valley native — born in Paris, Ill., and lived in Marshall, Ill., until he was 8 — signed autographs and granted media interviews while the car he drove in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 sat in the parking lot of the 500 Automotive Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership in Vermillion County.

    May 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drivers give thumbs up to Indy’s new road course

    IndyCar drivers were unified Wednesday: The new road course at Indianapolis is a whole lot better than the old one.

    April 30, 2014

  • Trackside: Track promoters realize rainy weather is part of territory

    The life and times of a race-track operator or promoter is sure to test the patience and character of any individual adventurous enough to journey into such a risky profession.
    Especially if your name is Bob Sargent or Reece O’Connor and your race dates are at the Terre Haute Action Track.

    April 29, 2014

  • SPT 051712 TYLER WAMPLER.jpg Metro roundup: ISU’s Wampler makes national watch list

    Indiana State’s Tyler Wampler has been named to the watch list for the 2014 Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year award.

    April 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 2014 KISS Series opener today at Terre Haute Action Track

    When the 2014 King of Indiana Sprint Series gets underway today, it will be at one of the most challenging ovals on the schedule. The Terre Haute Action Track earned its name years ago.
    The Action Track is a big half mile, with sweeping turns and high-speed straightaways that demand the best from drivers, cars and crew. This may be illustrated by mentioning previous KISS winners at the Terre Haute oval — Jon Stanbrough (three times), Levi Jones, Tony Elliott, Shane Cottle and most recently Robert Ballou.

    April 26, 2014

  • bb8991b19af8b067e44478c_.jpg VIDEO: Windom seeking strong start to USAC Silver Crown Series at Action Track

    Chris Windom has big plans.
    Sure, the 23-year-old would like to make the ascent from success in the U.S. Auto Club to the fame and fortune of the larger racing series of NASCAR.
    The Canton, Ohio, native who makes his home in West Lafayette has his sights on a big USAC season in 2014. Windom was second in Silver Crown points in 2013 and ninth in the sprint series.

    April 5, 2014 1 Photo 1 Video

  • Trackside: If weather cooperates, racers are set to start their engines

    With any assistance from the weather, the Wabash Valley motorsports season is expected to shift into high gear this weekend on several fronts.

    April 2, 2014

  • Jim Nabors at Indy 500.jpg Nabors to sing ‘Indiana’ one last time at IMS

    INDIANAPOLIS — Beloved actor-entertainer and legendary Indianapolis 500 icon Jim Nabors will sing “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the final time prior to the start of the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25. Watch YouTube Video

    March 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • gary bettenhausen.jpg Action Track great Gary Bettenhausen dies

    Gary Bettenhausen, a legend of the Terre Haute Action Track, has died at age 72.

    March 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kurt Busch to try Indy 500, Coca-Cola 600 on same day

    It’s been 10 years since a driver last attempted running both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, a feat so grueling that only Tony Stewart has successfully completed all 1,100 miles.
    Now Kurt Busch wants to give “the double” a try and he will have cars capable of winning both races.

    March 4, 2014

Latest News
AP Auto Racing News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village 3 People Killed, Deputies Wounded in NC Shootout Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve Raw: 16 Killed in Gaza Market Strike Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Raw: Smoke, Explosions Fill Gaza Skyline Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions Obama: 'Blood of Africa Runs Through My Veins' Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit Today in History for July 31st
NDN Video
Famous Internet Cats Help Big Cause With Viral Video Tigers Acquire David Price - @TheBuzzeronFOX Russell Brand Slams Sean Hannity Over Gaza Conflict Segment Chapter Two: Composing for a film in retirement Brian Williams Reports on Daughter Allison Williams' 'Peter Pan' Casting News Woman's Dive Goes Terribly Wrong Did Jimmy Fallon Look Up Heidi Klum's Dress? What Drama? Miranda Kerr Poses Topless Plane crashes in San Diego Costco parking lot Justin Bieber Takes To Instagram To Diss Orlando Bloom You Won't Believe the Celeb Cameos in "Sharknado 2" Pitch Invading Morons Cause Chaos - @TheBuzzeronFOX Orlando Bloom 'Takes a Swing' at Justin Bieber In Ibiza Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza Meet the Man Behind Dumb Starbucks Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity