Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died this afternoon following a fiery, 15-car wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his car flew over another on Lap 13 and smashed into the wall.
Wheldon was 33 years old. Drivers were informed of the veteran’s death in a meeting about two hours following the horrific crash that many drivers said was the worst they had ever seen.
He won the Indianapolis 500 twice, including this year.
“IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries,” IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute to in his honor.”
Three other drivers, including Will Power, were hurt in the fiery crash.
“It was like a movie scene which they try to make as gnarly as possible,” said Danica Patrick. “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.”
“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.”
Wheldon was airlifted from the Las Vegas track at 1:19 p.m. and taken to University Medical Center, becoming the first IndyCar driver to die on the track since rookie Paul Dana died during practice on the morning of race day at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.
Officials decided to call the race, but the drivers, many sobbing openly, did a five-lap tribute to Wheldon.
Also injured in the fiery wreck were JR Hildebrand and Pippa Mann. IndyCar said Mann was being treated for a burn to her right pinkie finger and will be released Monday morning. Hildebrand, meanwhile, was awake and alert but will be held overnight for further evaluation.
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