Dan Wheldon: Ten Years Later
Small Group of Crashers
This image sums up the problem perfectly: Townsend Bell (22) was mostly an Indy-only driver and had been since 2008. Jay Howard (15) was in his third partial season. Meanwhile JR Hildebrand (4) and Sebastian Saavedra (34, back) were both in their rookie seasons. This was the type of mixed experience that the full-time drivers worried about.  It should be noted all four of these drivers were caught up in the ensuing chaos after the first cars started crashing.  Source

ABC did their best to fill time as the expectation was that the race would eventually continue.  Watching the broadcast again, this was highly unlikely.  While ABC and the Holmatro safety crew did a good job of shielding the extrication of Wheldon, his car did appear on TV multiple times.  Initially, the car was surrounded by rescue workers trying to stabilize Wheldon and extricate him from the car.  During the commercial break, the ABC helicopter showed an aerial view of the car and it was quite clear it was destroyed.  Eventually the IndyCar safety team covered the car with a bright yellow tarp. 

James Jakes Ruined Racecar
This is not Wheldon’s car. We’re not digging those up photos. Source

30 minutes passed, then an hour, then 90 minutes…one by one, drivers came out of the medical center, most perfectly fine, a few with minor injuries.  Will Power, Pippa Mann, and JR Hildebrand were transported to the local hospital for further evaluation, but little to no information was given about Wheldon.  Normally, the TV commentary crew keeps upbeat and positive, but as the delay wore on and IndyCar remained tight-lipped, it started becoming more and more apparent that Wheldon was not in good shape.  In fact, one hour and forty minutes after the accident, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever were already discussing mortality in racing and preparing viewers for what seemed like an inevitability.


Randy Bernard Announces Dan Wheldon's Death
Randy Bernard announces Wheldon’s death, the abandonment of the race, and the parade laps to follow. Source

Finally, a visibly shaken Randy Bernard sat down in front of cameras with a short note in his hands.  With a quaking voice, he announced the passing of Wheldon and the abandonment of the race.  Bernard was in clear shock: unlike Formula One, IndyCar still lost drivers on a semi-regular basis (Tony Renna had been killed in testing in 2002 and Paul Dana had been killed in 2006 during practice for the season-opening Homestead race, a race ironically won by Wheldon), but no driver had been killed in a CART or IRL race since Greg Moore in 1999.  While the Marlboro 500 continued as Moore fought an unwinnable battle for his life, there was little desire to continue the IZOD IndyCar World Championship race.  With a driver dead, IndyCar was left with no choice but to abandon the season finale.  Officially, the race never happened.  Dario Franchitti won his fourth (and what would eventually become his final) championship based on the points after Kentucky.  The cause of death for Wheldon was attributed to blunt force trauma, the result of the car hitting a fencepost so violently the rollbar was ripped clean off the car

Las Vegas Parade Lap Preparation
What was left of the field strapped back into their cars and ran five parade laps for Dan after his passing was announced. Source

In Vegas, what followed next was both unusual and a display of solidarity seldom seen in professional competition.  The drivers who still had drivable cars, climbed back into the machines for a series of parade laps to honor Wheldon.  Video of the race shows Dario Franchitti being strapped into his car for the parade.  Franchitti, one of Wheldon’s closest friends, was openly sobbing as solemn crew members tightened his shoulder belts.  Sarah Fisher was shown on camera hugging a friend and crying.  The cars fired up and drove behind the pace car while Amazing Grace played over the track PA system.  The ABC announcing crew fell silent and let the sounds of the cars and music do their work for them.  Video cycled between standing fans, the slow-moving cars, and images of grieving crew and family members.  It is some of the most surreal motorsports moments caught on camera: a few dozen gently cruising racecars quietly parading around the track with not a single clap or cheer from the crowd.  The flagman waved the double checkers to a round of applause from the fans, closing out both the season and the career of the Dallara IR-05.  After the parade laps, Reid ended ABC’s broadcast with the following: “Many people ask me why I always sign off ‘Till we meet again’?  Because goodbye is always so final.  Goodbye Dan Wheldon.”

The Wheldon Family
Dan, his wife Suzie, and their sons Oliver and Sebastian with the Borg Warner trophy. Source


  1. Great article, not a fan a Indy and at that time I had no idea of who DW was, but after reading this I have a very clear idea of what a larger than life character and his overall impact in the series.

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