Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his car became ensnarled in a fiery 15-car pileup on Lap 13, flew over another vehicle and landed in a catch fence just outside turn 2.
The 33-year-old racer was a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, including this year’s race.
Three other drivers, including championship contender Will Power, were hurt in the pileup.
WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter reports that there were concerns at the speedway that officials had too many cars on the relatively small track competing at speeds approaching 225 mph -– too fast for drivers to react in a crisis situation.
Those concerns became reality when contact on Turn 2 sent cars flying through the air, crashing into each other and into the outside wall and catch fence shortly after the race began.
Weldon was airlifted from the track to University Medical Center; about two hours later, his colleagues were told of his death.
“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 his honor, drivers took part in a five-lap salute around the oval.
IndyCar has not had a fatality since Paul Dana was killed at Homestead in 2006. He died after a crash in a morning warmup.
Wheldon started in the back of the pack but quickly worked his way through the 34-car field before the wreck.
Sunday’s wreck left Townsend Bell upside down while smoldering cars and debris littered the track nearly halfway up the straightaway of the 1.5-mile oval.
“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.”
The track was red-flagged following the accidents while crews worked on fences and removed smashed cars.
“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.”
It was Wheldon’s 134th career start, but only the third of the season for the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter contributed to this report that contains material from the Associated Press.