Dan Wheldon Crash: The Shocking Reality of the Sport We Love

Camille JonesContributor IIIOctober 17, 2011

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 16:  Team members line the pitlane as the drivers complete five memorial laps to honor Dan Wheldon, driver of the #77 Dallara Honda, who died of injuries in a massive fifteen car crash during the Las Vegas Indy 300 part of the IZOD IndyCar World Championships presented by Honda at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Days, months and years had moved on. The sport of which fans watch, cheer, and trust was thought to have skirted past the days of driver memorials and flowers lining the fences. It wasn't until lap 13 of the 2011 IndyCar season finale that all of the shocking reality came flying back to drivers, crews and spectators in a matter of minutes. 

Fifteen cars piling up in turn two of Las Vegas Motor Speedway sent chills down spectators' spines. The fire, the crashing of metal parts along the track, it came off as a war scene in a movie. However, in first sight, it was just a wreck. Another wreck, another caution flag, another pit stop waiting to happen—not this time. 

As drivers made their way in and out of the medical center, the mood grew darker and dimmer as cars returned to pit road and the clean up slowed. It became more and more aware that the wreck wasn't just another "Big One," but a loss to the sport. 

While NASCAR hasn't had a tragedy in the sport since 2001 with the loss of the legendary Dale Earnhardt, IndyCar has suffered most recently as when in 2006 Paul Dana was killed in morning warmup at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Safety has changed and the books have grown and grown on ways to protect drivers. 

Watching replay after replay of Sunday's fatal crash, the ticker scrolls slowly across the screen as it lists every driver's position leaving you with the reality of what lurks in the folds of each and every race. Drivers strap into their cars, start the engines and head off for a three hour trip around the track, but as time has grown on, the history and negative thinking has dissipated, along with the need to back it up. 

It makes you wonder, has racing let its guard down on safety measures? Or have they plateaued at the right time? One thing's for sure, as the same with 2001's tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt, it only takes one hero to move a mountain—and IndyCar's loss of Dan Wheldon may just move that mountain for the series' safety measure.