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Sports Then and Now

Indy Champion Dan Wheldon Killed in Tragic Accident at Las Vegas 300 102

Posted on October 16, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Dan Wheldon will best be remembered for twice winning the Indianapolis 500, including the 2011 title.

The headline for the 2011 IndyCar season finale was supposed to be the farewell of Danica Patrick as she is leaving the series to move full-time to NASCAR in 2012. However, just 11 laps into the race the story turned tragic as an accident that consumed more than a quarter of the field took the life of 2011 Indianapolis 500 Champion Dan Wheldon.

The two-time Indy 500 champion is now the latest in an incredibly long list of race car drivers who have lost their life on the track. Since the start of auto racing in the early 1900s, 308 drivers have lost their life across all forms of racing either in a race, practice or testing.

Even though safety has been increased in recent years, Wheldon is the 29th race car driver to die on the track since 2000.

The tragic ending for Wheldon is perhaps especially shocking because his career seemed to have been reborn in 2011.

The 2005 IndyCar Series champion, Wheldon had struggled in recent years to find a consistent ride. Despite competing in just three races in 2011, Wheldon won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 when rookie J.R. Hildebrand crashed on the final lap of the race allowing Wheldon to cross the finish line first.

He was in line to win a $5 million bonus as part of a special promotion if he was able to win the Las Vegas race.

It was expected that with Patrick’s move to NASCAR in 2012 that Wheldon would become the full-time driver for the Go-Daddy-sponsored team for next season.

The Las Vegas race was stopped after the accident and drivers returned to the track for a somber five-lap tribute for Wheldon.

His death is a reminder for all racing fans that the men and women who entertain us each week on tracks across the world are not just skilled professionals, but are indeed putting their lives on the line.

Tragic accidents like the one that claimed the life of Wheldon are indeed sad, but will always be a part of this dangerous sport. Let’s just hope they continue to happen on a very infrequent basis.

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