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RIP Dan Wheldon
October 16, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Two time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon has died of his injuries after a 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Prior to the race, Wheldon had blogged about his experiences leading up to the race, including frustrations with his vehicle carried over from last week's race in Kentucky.
posted by Dr. Zira (156 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Footage of the crash.
posted by kafziel at 4:30 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by Krazor at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:37 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by ZeusHumms at 4:39 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by gyc at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2011


We need a new word, because 'crash' doesn't quite do that clusterfuck of people, rubber, asphalt and carbon fibre justice.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


As I said over at SpoFi: a damn good driver.

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posted by NoMich at 4:40 PM on October 16, 2011


Wheldon was also the 2005 IndyCar Champion.

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posted by Harpocrates at 4:41 PM on October 16, 2011


christ i can't even tell which car is the one that had the guy who died in it.

and the worse part is that it doesn't even seem that surreal because i've seen it so many times in movies. i imagine being there must have been horrific tho - video is one thing, in person another.

one of the videos on the youtube link is from the carcam (or whatever it's called). i can't imagine driving a car that fast and then suddenly not being able to see due to smoke from a car that just flew over me and caught fire. yikes.
posted by sio42 at 4:42 PM on October 16, 2011


Pile-ups:Indycar::Fights:Hockey
posted by unSane at 4:42 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Drivers had been concerned about the high speeds at the track, where they were hitting nearly 225 mph during practice.

Their 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.


You know, when the professionals are "concerned", it might be time to make some changes.
posted by yeloson at 4:42 PM on October 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


[few comments removed - early obit threadshitting considered harmful, please go to MetaTalk if you are unclear on the process. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:42 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sweet Jeebus, his Twitter feed: the last entry is "Green!!!!" At least he died doing what he loved, although that probably comes as small consolation to his family right now.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:43 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wheldon was driving #77.
posted by ZeusHumms at 4:43 PM on October 16, 2011


According to MSNBC, they're getting new cars next year which have been engineered with an emphasis on safety, with Wheldon's help.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:44 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, when the professionals are "concerned", it might be time to make some changes.

I know Indy an Champ cars are two separate worlds, but I highly recommend everyone check out the Senna documentary. Drivers have a weird sixth sense about these things. When was the last time an Indy accident was fatal? There's been no deaths sense Senna's fatal accident.

they're getting new cars next year which have been engineered with an emphasis on safety,

I don't know how the car can help going cockpit first against a fence. Those fences need to go.
posted by geoff. at 4:45 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


.

Have some respect for this man and his family and friends. It is a very hard thing to see a driver die on the track with you. My parents have both had friends die at events over their 40+ years driving. It is never easy.

And if you want to talk shit about these drivers, fuck you. They are brave, smart, and highly trained people, who put their bodies through hell. And sometimes they get badly injured, and sometimes they get killed.

This is also very hard for me, because Wheldon and my mother shared a car number.
posted by strixus at 4:46 PM on October 16, 2011 [26 favorites]


Holy crap, that USA Today mentions that the last IRL fatality was Paul Dana at Homestead-Miami 2006. What it does not mention is that the winner of that race was Dan Wheldon.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:48 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I said over at SpoFi: IndyCar wil need to look hard at itself about using oval tracks that are set up for the heavier, slower cars of NASCAR. The 2012 season is set to use fewer ovals and a car with additional safety features; Wheldon, lacking a regular drive this year, was testing out those cars, though no car design will save a driver going airborne at 225mph with inadequate barriers.

RIP.
posted by holgate at 4:50 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know Indy an Champ cars are two separate worlds, but I highly recommend everyone check out the Senna documentary.

Indy Car = Champ Car. IRL and CART were two separate series for a few years, but they both grew out of older Indy-cars and have come back together.

Senna was Formula 1.

When was the last time an Indy accident was fatal?

2006.

Greg Moore in IIRC 2001 was the last to be killed during a race.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by Blasdelb at 4:55 PM on October 16, 2011


I don't know how the car can help going cockpit first against a fence. Those fences need to go.

No fences. (warning: dozens of people die)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:56 PM on October 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's one thing to drive the Bonneville Salt Flats at 225 mph in a straight line with no other cars near you and quite another to do that on an oval track with cars all around you. Although no one will ever agree with it, maybe it's time to limit speeds on top of making changes to the cars and the tracks.
posted by tommasz at 4:57 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:58 PM on October 16, 2011


Pile-ups:Indycar::Fights:Hockey

wait what? Are you saying there's some guys in the race who aren't very good at driving, but are there for the purpose of causing a crash so that another team member has a better chance of winning?
posted by mannequito at 4:59 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've gotten so used to death being a part of the past of Formula 1, that this hit me pretty hard. It is now up to the Indy Racing League to make this their "Senna Moment" and make sure Dan is the last one to die. I'm hoping the new chassis, development rules, and such will encourage more safety. For example, the LeMans Audi R18 has a fin that "creates high pressure above the car to prevent blowovers when the car's sideways," and Formula 1 introduced a safer helmet a couple weeks ago, developed in response to a 2009 accident.

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posted by frijole at 4:59 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


wait what? Are you saying there's some guys in the race who aren't very good at driving, but are there for the purpose of causing a crash so that another team member has a better chance of winning?

No, I'm saying they're part of the attraction to many people in the crowd and a calculated commercial risk.
posted by unSane at 5:02 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've gotten so used to death being a part of the past of Formula 1, that this hit me pretty hard.

Likewise. Today's crash felt like it belonged to another era of motor racing, and that doesn't reflect well on IndyCar.
posted by holgate at 5:04 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Indy Car = Champ Car. IRL and CART were two separate series for a few years, but they both grew out of older Indy-cars and have come back together.

Oops, in my head I was thinking F1 vs Indy.
posted by geoff. at 5:05 PM on October 16, 2011


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Have some respect for this man and his family and friends. It is a very hard thing to see a driver die on the track with you. My parents have both had friends die at events over their 40+ years driving. It is never easy.

And if you want to talk shit about these drivers, fuck you. They are brave, smart, and highly trained people, who put their bodies through hell. And sometimes they get badly injured, and sometimes they get killed.


I dunno. I'm sure it's hard to see loved ones die. But is it threadshitting to point out that they willingly put themselves in this situation? A race car driver dying on the track doesn't die an "untimely death". Does it need saying that racing cars is a risky occupation? Dying or being injured in a race shouldn't be treated as freak accidents. Race car drivers are brave and smart and risk death for reasons that make sense to them, and presumably to their loved ones. The reason I don't do this for a living isn't because I'm not brave and smart. It's because I want to maximize my chances of living to be an old man.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:11 PM on October 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Holy fuck that's a horrible accident, and Wheldon was a fantastic driver.

What a loss. Hate on the sport somewhere else, please. You can get killed playing football too, and every year a few people are.

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posted by spitbull at 5:12 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


is it threadshitting to point out that they willingly put themselves in this situation?

In an obit thread, generally yes. You are welcome to take this up in MetaTalk. And saying "fuck you" to people is likewise not okay.
posted by jessamyn at 5:13 PM on October 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


No, I'm saying they're part of the attraction to many people in the crowd and a calculated commercial risk.

wow, do they happen that often?I was under the impression big crashes were rare, but I guess I don't follow race car news very often. I went to the Indianapolis 500 a few times when I was younger and don't remember any crashes happening.
posted by mannequito at 5:14 PM on October 16, 2011


Godspeed, dude. My best to Ayrton, Greg, and Dale when you see them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:14 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


i was using humor to cope with sadness :(
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:16 PM on October 16, 2011


The whole race shouldn't have happened. Putting 34 open-wheel cars capable of going 230 mph on a 1.5-mile oval designed for stock cars is a terrible idea to begin with. There is no run-off room on the outside of the turns, just a low wall with a catch fence behind it, and the short track and high number of cars means you'll be in traffic all the time. Since it's an oval, cars will be near their top speed for most of the race. Throw in the fact that these cars have a low-nose design, which turns into a takeoff ramp if a car spins, and you have a dangerous scenario. Drivers had complained about the safety of running the race beforehand, but IndyCar management (not know for making the best choices when it comes to safety) decided to go ahead.
posted by clorox at 5:17 PM on October 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


Driving cars is not a sport.

Again, look at the Senna documentary. The physical endurance required to run a race is breath taking. I've raced go-karts and I'll be damned if my forearms aren't knotted up and I'm as exhausted as I would be doing any other sort of activity.

Indy cars don't have power steering, I can't imagine how physically fit you have to be do that going 200mph+ around an oval track all day.
posted by geoff. at 5:29 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know. I just came back here to apologize for my earlier statement, and to say that I didn't mean to imply that anyone wasn't brave for not driving; but rather that I hate how often people try to dismiss racing as something only adrenaline junkie idiots do, and that only hicks or other unsophisticated folk watch it, and then just for the crashes. None of these statements are true. No one wants to see wrecks. No one likes them, no one causes them on purpose unless they are unprofessional or an idiot. Why? Because of things like this. People can die. People can not walk away. These are your friends and family, people you know and work with.

I can imagine exactly how his wife and kids feel - I know that feeling. Both my parents were in several bad wrecks over the years. I know what it is like to know that someone died on the track that day, and I've seen my parents and their friends wrestle with the question of what to do after a fatal wreck.

So I came to say I was sorry, and to try to look past the comments made by others.

And then I saw kafziel's statement.

I'm going to leave this thread now. This is too personal for me to be able to watch people talk badly about a profession and livelihood, a sport and a pastime, that I grew up in the middle of, and that I still love and follow, even if I don't race like my parents did.
posted by strixus at 5:31 PM on October 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Wow. I don't know how you get back into a racecar after seeing that. I barely like driving regular cars...so (potentially) dangerous! RIP to him and I'm sorry for his family, friends, co-drivers etc.
posted by bquarters at 5:36 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by Urtylug at 5:50 PM on October 16, 2011


[Folks, it'd be really great to not have this post derailed by random arguments. If you're thinking about getting into a random argument, maybe close the browser and go do something else. Thank you.]
posted by cortex at 5:51 PM on October 16, 2011


Sweet Jeebus, his Twitter feed: the last entry is "Green!!!!"

I think that if this his was his publicist tweeting for him, then it should be removed. If he really tweeted during the race, or at the beginning, then they should investigate.
posted by humanfont at 5:53 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


There seems to be frequency of spectator sports + fatal crashes in Nevada lately.

Chess. This is why I play chess.
posted by quadog at 5:57 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although no one will ever agree with it, maybe it's time to limit speeds on top of making changes to the cars and the tracks.

Problem is they do this already in NASCAR, and what you end up with is the entire field travelling in one huge pack. Moment someone gets loose in a turn, you get the same huge pileups. Yeah, you're not going 225 mph, but you're still getting banged around.

IRL has really struggled for market share the last 20 years -- the circuit split with CART sapped half their market and NASCAR took most of the rest. Their most famous driver is a woman who's won exactly one race and is bolting for NASCAR. Today for IRL may be like that fateful day in 1966, when hydroplane racing went from a national sport to a very local obsession. Or it may be like that fateful day in 1999 when Dale Earnhardt went into that wall, when NASCAR got safer and completed its rise to become the premier circuit in America.

Either way, Dan Wheldon was a good driver, and he didn't deserve to die. Every driver knows there is risk when they pull out on the track, but they trust that the equipment and safety measures will be enough to keep a dangerous crash from being a deadly one. This sort of nightmare shouldn't happen.

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posted by dw at 5:58 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to follow (so to speak) drag racing. My favorite driver and car was Doug Rose, driving the Green Mamba. He'd lost both his legs in an accident, and still loved the sport (yessiree, it is a sport) enough to get out there again.

Love has its own reasons. It's the treacly truth.
posted by datawrangler at 5:58 PM on October 16, 2011


I was watching the race. Just a horrible, horrible accident. Those cookie-cutter corporate tracks that the NASCAR contingent have been planting all over the country are not good place for Indycars to run. But, without those tracks, Indycar is pretty-much down to road courses and the 500.

The horrible irony of it all is that Weldon was the development driver for next years new Indycar chassis, which was designed with features specifically to eliminate the possibility of exactly the sort of "run up the back and get airborne" action that took his life today. He died driving the chassis he was working to replace.


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posted by Thorzdad at 5:59 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by lilkeith07 at 6:00 PM on October 16, 2011


Dying or being injured in a race shouldn't be treated as freak accidents.

Yes, it should.

Millions and millions of dollars and hundreds of past and painful lessons have gone into making a dangerous sport much, much less likely to result in a fatal accident. That accident WAS a freak occurrence in that the car was launched at a very high speed and it didn't touch the ground (ie lose any appreciable speed from 'flat out' until it got to the barrier - cockpit first. That is a long line of freak occurrences. Deaths in a racing car are rightly - and should be considered to be - rare events.

Driving cars is not a sport.

This is not the thread for you. If you don't understand something, try not to threadshit when someone has died doing something you don't understand. I am struggling to be as polite as I can on this. One of my friends was driving in that race and many people I know were working at that event. Your perspective is insulting and uninformed.
posted by Brockles at 6:00 PM on October 16, 2011 [37 favorites]


It is insane to put these Indy cars on a high banked oval track. This was just a matter of time. There is acceptable risk in racing and then there is utter bullshit.
posted by zzazazz at 6:07 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


My son has been doing kid karting coupled with his interest in football, baseball, and jujitsu. He is 5, so he is still working out his passions. Even though he has aptitude for karting, I hate it. Not really dangerous at this level, but in a few years, the speeds just go up and up. He and I were watching this on TV today when it happened, and I sent him shopping with his mother, and I sat there and wondered what the hell was I doing; did I want to have to see something like that someday. All his sports joys have dangers, but racing seems like the big one to me.
posted by Senator at 6:10 PM on October 16, 2011


Those cookie-cutter corporate tracks that the NASCAR contingent have been planting all over the country are not good place for Indycars to run.

Why is that?
posted by shothotbot at 6:11 PM on October 16, 2011


strixus: "I'm going to leave this thread now. This is too personal for me to be able to watch people talk badly about a profession and livelihood, a sport and a pastime, that I grew up in the middle of, and that I still love and follow, even if I don't race like my parents did."

I really hope you'll reconsider and come back to the thread, because I think you have a very interesting insider perspective on this sport that I think would be really useful in helping the racing fans here deal with the shock and tragedy of this.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:15 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


As for Las Vegas.... That's a tough one.

There has been a lot of debate about Indycars on ovals this year - the cars aren't really suited for the smaller and faster ovals, in my opinion. They are too delicate and so they can't race in close proximity so much because the slightest tap can mean the cars have to retire. NOt necessarily crash, but unable to continue whereas a NASCAR can just get straightened with a baseball bat and continue. Cost wise, ovals are a big issue as well as for the supporting races that must race at the same events with much smaller budgets. A crash in Formula Mazda or Indy Lights on these ovals is not always fast enough to injure the drivers too much, but often plenty fast enough to destroy the cars, with $30-50,000 crashes easy to fall into. You can do 10% of a season budget in one crash at one of these races. That's a bitter pill to swallow.

In addition, oval Indycar races make dismal crowds and the events are often run at a loss. This makes it commercially nonsensical for Indycar generally. The Vegas race had a $5 Million purse (for non regular drivers to be eligible for) to encourage interest. The race had a lot of hype around it and Weldon Was eligible for that prize fund (and had a reasonable shot at getting it). I'd like to hope that the hype and exposure that the new Indy management were hoping to achieve from this race didn't compromise any safety considerations.

The biggest issue with these fast oval tracks is that the cars run at extremely high speeds for extended periods. Instead of the fast corners happening and being over and done with relatively quickly (so overtaking moves are basically one shot moves and commit or miss the opportunity) the cars are jockeying for position over a long period of time (shown well in the footage around the accident. There is lots of high load, high speed running in extreme proximity. The lack of speed differential prevents the cars spreading out with the performance differentials, so they sit there..... at over 200 mph. With the time to spend looking for an advantage that might be tiny. But also the time to make a mistake.
posted by Brockles at 6:22 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've watched the crash. Wheldon had nothing to do with the initial contact. A light touch triggered an accident ahead of him, which in turn triggered a series of follow-on accidents when drivers slowed and took evasive action. Wheldon and two others were caught out by other cars ahead going slower than expected and hit other cars from behind. The action of their front wheels hitting the front car's rear wheels caused them to launch over the top and into the air, very high by the looks of it. Formula One had something similar happen between Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen last year (nobody was hurt in this crash).

From one perspective, you can say this was something that will simply happen from time to time when you have so many cars going so fast so close together in such a confined space. When a crash happens, there's aren't many places to go to avoid an accident happening ahead. I'm not knowledgable about oval design, so I won't comment on the specifics.

However, there is a safety flaw here that could be fixed. The problem is the way that contact between the leading car's rear tyres and the following car's fronts tends to launch the following car high into the air, as we saw both in this crash and the F1 crash linked earlier. I believe Indycar are introduring rear wheel covers next year that might have stopped the cars launching high into the air, and I hope that F1 will also look into it in the light of this accident.
posted by Urtylug at 6:28 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is that?

Physics, mostly. clorox has explained most of the specifics upthread, but NASCAR's top race speed on that Las Vegas oval is 180-ish mph; Indy cars clear 220 mph. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a 2.5 mile oval with 9 degree banking; LVMS is a 1.5 mile oval with 20 degree banking.
posted by holgate at 6:32 PM on October 16, 2011


Millions and millions of dollars and hundreds of past and painful lessons have gone into making a dangerous sport much, much less likely to result in a fatal accident. That accident WAS a freak occurrence in that the car was launched at a very high speed and it didn't touch the ground (ie lose any appreciable speed from 'flat out' until it got to the barrier - cockpit first. That is a long line of freak occurrences. Deaths in a racing car are rightly - and should be considered to be - rare events.

I disagree completely. There is no way driving 200+ miles an hour can be classified as anything but risky. Risk is part of the draw to the sport. And even in this particular case, there seems to be some concern about the elevated risk. With no risk, there is no race. The only reason I like racing at all is because I want to see man push the limit. I accept this as part of the game. So does every racer. Especially those who might see the inherent flaws in a particular venue or vehicle, and do it anyway.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:37 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Driving cars is not a sport.

Ignorance is not a virtue.
posted by spitbull at 6:41 PM on October 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


2N2222 - what part do you disagree with? they didn't say racing isn't risky, they said that a lot of work has gone into making the sport less fatal and that the accident was a freak occurrence. they also said deaths in a racing car are rare events.

risky doesn't equal fatal. the relatively low number of racing deaths proves this.
posted by nadawi at 6:46 PM on October 16, 2011


I disagree completely.

That's bizarre. I'm saying that the engineering of the cars, tracks and events is designed - to a high level - to make the risk minimised to a manageable level. The risk is from having an accident, not from dying and a great dal of effort is pit into making that balance the risk of the sport.

There is no way driving 200+ miles an hour can be classified as anything but risky.

Correct. But risky does NOT mean 'chance of dying'. One of my drivers crashed two weeks ago and broke two bones in his hand. I've had friends and drivers crash over the years that have broken legs, arms, hands and had all kinds of bruising. We all accept those as acceptable risks that we should work to minimising. There has not been a point since the 1970's where any reasonable chance of fatalities has been deemed acceptable. This is not the risk that is accepted in racing, no matter how it looks from your armchair. The elevated risk was a concern because the drivers felt the risk was being moved into that of serious injury, rather than a hefty knock and a few bruises . Despite the concerns, it seems the risk was even higher than the drivers anticipated.
posted by Brockles at 6:49 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Driving cars is not a sport.

To a certain extent this may be a semantic debate, but if the issue is physical fitness or skill level, then I would urge you to watch this Top Gear clip of Richard Hammond - a skilled and experienced (but non-expert) driver attempt to drive an F1 car. His head just about comes off, and he nearly ruins the engine - and he does it for a few laps. The physical fitness required to drive these cars is incredible, to say nothing of the reaction times, and, at least in older cars, the unbelievable mechanical sympathy and skill required to work the clutch, brake and accelerator perfectly at insanely high speeds with very little tolerance for non-perfection.
posted by Dasein at 7:05 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


What Brockles said. The BBC recently showed a documentary entitled Grand Prix: The Killer Years, (YT) that deals very thoroughly with the competing demands of speed and safety in a period where racing deaths were horrifically common.
posted by holgate at 7:06 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anybody know how the other drivers made out?
posted by merelyglib at 7:07 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by 4ster at 7:08 PM on October 16, 2011


Wow. This is so strange. For the past three days my grandfather has been on my mind, so much. He died in 1997. I was raised in his house. Did he know how much I loved him? respected him? Did he forgive that angry, emotionally troubled boy who, for quite a long time, caused so much trouble and heartache? What things did I say or do to let him know I truly cared about him? I've been making a mental list. And on that list is Indy Car racing, specifically, the Indianapolis 500. It never occurred to me at the time that something as insignificant, in the grand scheme of things, as they say, would be so prominent in my memories of him and my actual relationship with him.

He loved it. I mean he just ate it up. Indy 500. Indy Car racing. Tech talk. Race strategy. His favorite drivers. What skill, confidence and courage the drivers had. The excitement of actually attending the race. Times and speeds.

Bill, my grandfather, attended the Indy time trials and the race every year, for over forty years. He started taking me to the race when I was eight or nine. Jesus Christ, it was the mid Seventies, it seems like back when the Assyrian Empire was at its height and like it was yesterday. Every year I went with him. I missed a few years, but mostly I was there with him at the race, time trails too. When I was nineteen I thought I would really wow him by getting the Indy tickets he always wanted. His dream seats. With a bit of finagling, and worming and wiggling, I got them. He was impressed. I never truly understood how much it meant to him until he was on his deathbed. He talked about the Indy tickets, the Indy tickets!?, to other family, but not me. I was told after his death. Something along the lines of, with a chuckle, " He told me to never let you get rid of those tickets."

Well, I did get rid of those tickets. I attended the race the year after he died. In those seats. By myself. I couldn't bear to have anyone sitting where he was supposed to be sitting. I spent the whole race thinking about him. It wasn't the same. I never went back.

My grandfather never was interested in Indy Car Racing for ghoulish reasons. At all. He often mentioned to me the death of Eddie Sachs in 1964 at the Indy 500. It happened right in front of him. How horrifying it was. He would have been upset and depressed upon hearing the news of Dan Wheldon's death. In all the years I attended I never met anyone at the race who was there for horror and death. To see the race? Yes. To party? Yes. Because someone talked them into going? Yes. To people watch? Yes. Maybe some people, in deep hidden corners of themselves, wanted to see, and were only there for death. But I wouldn't know and I never heard it spoken.

From the Wikipedia link, a quote from Eddie Sachs, "I'd sooner finish second than be dead."

The timing of this terrible crash with death and injuries coinciding with grandfather so much in my thoughts... well, it hit me rather forcefully. Its been a long, long time since I've had tears in my eyes. So forgive me if this was a little too emotional and personal. I can say these things here. It's safer. An actual talk, with someone close to me, about these thoughts would leave me in pieces I believe. Not tonight. So thanks for bearing with me.

For my grandfather, WWII vet, Battle of the Bulge survivor, Purple Heart recipient, family man, working man, high school football hero, and the very definition of salt of the earth.

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For Dan Wheldon, brave and skilled Indy driver, husband, and father.

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posted by TrolleyOffTheTracks at 7:09 PM on October 16, 2011 [35 favorites]


As far as I am aware, nobody else was seriously hurt.
posted by Urtylug at 7:09 PM on October 16, 2011


I'm no fan of motorsport in almost any form, but anyone who doesn't think it *is* a sport needs to go and rent a decent go-kart circuit and race a few of their friends for an afternoon, each of you chipping in $100 for the prize. I won't spoil it by telling you what to expect, but get back to us.
posted by unSane at 7:13 PM on October 16, 2011


Anybody know how the other drivers made out?

I can't get much info, but from what I can tell only Will Power was hurt bad enough to require helicopter evacuation (the big THIS IS BAD measure in racing) and he needed attention to a back injury sustained from an earlier race (Mid Ohio this year). A few others had to go to the medical centre but not for serious injuries.

It looks like Will will be ok from what I can tell at this early stage, but obviously details are scarce at present.
posted by Brockles at 7:13 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was just an thread on the green the other day about whether it's possible to watch sports like hockey and football with a clear conscience when the athletes are risking brain damage every day. I don't know much about racing, but I guess there will be lots of similar conversations in the next few days.
posted by auto-correct at 7:19 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pippa Mann has a burned finger; JR Hildebrand is being held overnight "for observation and evaluation"; Will Power has been released already. (15 Indy cars totalled; a season ending in tragedy and loss.)

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posted by jlkr at 7:21 PM on October 16, 2011


I was there, and I've never seen a wreck so intense.

There was almost no news coming out about Wheldon's condition for nearly 2 hours. As we waited and waited for any news at all, it just seemed like there was no way the story would end well.

The 5 lap salute by the drivers remaining in the race after the death was announced was incredibly moving and felt like an appropriate memorial.

I've been following racing for a while now, and this is far from my first race, but my emotions are pretty confused right now. Terrible, terrible day for open wheel racing.
posted by Noon Under the Trees at 7:26 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


As far as I am aware, nobody else was seriously hurt.

That is simply amazing, and quite a blessing. That crash looked apocalyptic.
posted by spitbull at 7:26 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was the world's biggest NASCAR fan when I was a little kid. My dad and I watched every race on TV, and went to several. I was a Dale Earnhardt fan. I even got his autograph a couple of times, spoke to him once after the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. My dad and I both just kinda quit following NASCAR when he died. It just wasn't fun to watch anymore.

Death is always a half-second away in any auto racing event. It's part of the deal. But there's always a hollow sense of loss when somebody dies during a race, even though that driver and everyone else watching know the deal: it's always a half-second away.

Sad. Sad that he was so young, and left behind such a young family. A really horrible thing to have happened.

.
posted by epilnivek at 7:32 PM on October 16, 2011


Thanks for the info and stories Indy fans, relatives and folks in the sport. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:35 PM on October 16, 2011


What is desperately sad is that the team that Wheldon was driving for (Sam Schmidt) had another fatality in their ranks just a short while ago. The Team Manager of the feeder series team to Indycar (Indy Lights) died suddenly just over a month ago.

I can't imagine how that team must feel today. My heart - inadequate as it is - goes out to them.
posted by Brockles at 7:43 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by dazed_one at 7:47 PM on October 16, 2011


What is desperately sad is that the team that Wheldon was driving for (Sam Schmidt) had another fatality in their ranks just a short while ago. The Team Manager of the feeder series team to Indycar (Indy Lights) died suddenly just over a month ago.

And of course Sam Schmidt himself is in a wheelchair due to an Indycar crash he suffered when he was driving.
posted by gyc at 7:47 PM on October 16, 2011


Dr.Zira, i had exactly the same thought: at least he died doing what he loved. not much comfort, true - but some. i can only hope when it's my time to go, i have reached that level of success,skill and influence with my own peers.

.
posted by lapolla at 7:48 PM on October 16, 2011


There was just an thread on the green the other day about whether it's possible to watch sports like hockey and football with a clear conscience when the athletes are risking brain damage every day. I don't know much about racing, but I guess there will be lots of similar conversations in the next few days.

I know nothing about racing and am a huge fan of football. Is there evidence that drivers are susceptible to the same kinds of lifelong devastating consequences that afflict players? I know there are injuries like broken bones and the like, but that seems typical of sports in general. The problem with football, hockey, boxing and the like is worse than your standard sport injuries. We're talking brain damage and lifespans regularly shortened by decades.
posted by Danila at 7:49 PM on October 16, 2011


We need a new word, because 'crash' doesn't quite do that clusterfuck of people, rubber, asphalt and carbon fibre justice.

I scoffed at this comment before seeing the video. "Typical Metafilter sports n00b."

Well... forget needing a new word for "crash." We need a new word for CLUSTERFUCK. No word can do it justice. That is the most spectacular crash I've ever seen. Easily.

I've got absolutely no idea who died. Could have been the driver in any one of about 8-10 cars.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:52 PM on October 16, 2011


Watching the crash just brought me to tears. My heart goes out to his wife, children and family, and everyone else touched by this.

.
posted by Chairboy at 8:03 PM on October 16, 2011


Does it need saying that racing cars is a risky occupation?

People die driving to work in minivans, or crossing the street, or falling off of a ladder while changing a light bulb. Being alive is a risky endeavor, and carries a 100% chance of eventual death.

If you're not taking risks, you are not alive, and if human aspiration ever gets fully traded for risk aversion, the earth will be fucking boring indeed. I'd rather have a world full of Dan Wheldons than worrisome, wannabe insurance adjusters.
posted by deanklear at 8:06 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow, if I'd seen that crash in a movie, I'd think "Oh, that's bullshit, that would never happen that way". I haven't followed it recently but I followed Indy racing growing up in the seventies and early eighties, went to a bunch of races and never saw anything like that.

. for Wheldon.
posted by octothorpe at 8:18 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:33 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by prosthezis at 8:37 PM on October 16, 2011


OMG that was horrible.

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posted by caddis at 8:48 PM on October 16, 2011


To a certain extent this may be a semantic debate, but if the issue is physical fitness or skill level, then I would urge you to watch this Top Gear clip of Richard Hammond - a skilled and experienced (but non-expert) driver attempt to drive an F1 car

OK, but there are extreme physical demands to say, flying a fighter jet as well. But if I proposed creating a new sport that involved faux-dogfighting between fighter pilots and very frequently ended in crashes and injuries and of course occasional deaths ... does it really make sense to consider that to be the same sort of concept as basketball?
posted by crayz at 8:59 PM on October 16, 2011


Wow, absolutely horrible.

"Pile-ups:Indycar::Fights:Hockey"

Complete bullshit. NASCAR might fit the analogy, but people who follow Indycar (and F-1) know that two tires touching can mean death or injury. And I'm not trying to diss NASCAR, just saying that it's designed (in terms of engineering and sometimes strategy) in terms of cars touching one another on a frequent basis. You've even got pit strategy based around hoping for a yellow flag.

As for "driving is not a sport," I'd say this -- off the top of my head I can name at least five current successful major league baseball players who are fat. Not chubbier than his team-mates, but fat by any standard. I can't think of a single current NASCAR, Indy, or F-1 driver who is.
posted by bardic at 9:01 PM on October 16, 2011


I don't think I've ever seen the phrase "unsurvivable injuries" in a news story before. Good Lord.
posted by Gator at 9:02 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and what I meant to say for starters -- racing Indy cars on banked oval tracks is incredibly stupid.

Also, the TV commentators were really annoying. One of them was basically already blaming the catch fence for Wheldon's death. Well, without that catch fence you'd be looking at more dead drivers _and_ more dead spectators.

The catch fence has to be there. It's Indy Car managers trying desperately to emulate NASCAR that killed Wheldon. (oval track, way too many cars, four side-by-side racing)
posted by bardic at 9:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


.

So sad, like others, I'd gotten used to fatalities being in the past for F1. He was a genuine talent and my heart goes out to his family and friends.
posted by arcticseal at 9:13 PM on October 16, 2011


"for F1"

As mentioned, this wasn't F-1.
posted by bardic at 9:14 PM on October 16, 2011


Complete bullshit. NASCAR might fit the analogy, but people who follow Indycar (and F-1) know that two tires touching can mean death or injury.

That would be so much more convincing if they weren't racing on tight ovals with 20 degree banks with higher speeds than NASCAR and flimsier cars.
posted by unSane at 9:15 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The catch fence has to be there.

Um. Not really. It has to be there for stock cars that would be stopped safely by it. There are much better ways of stopping an open wheel car - even if they are running on stupid high banked ovals. It had to be there only because no-one would spend the money redesigning the retention methods to better suit the cars for one race.

The catch fencing is, almost certainly, what killed him. If he'd crashed into a wall it is likely that the result of the accident would have been different. The circuit style wasn't suitable for the cars, absolutely. But also the retention method was not suited for the cars either.
posted by Brockles at 9:17 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there evidence that drivers are susceptible to the same kinds of lifelong devastating consequences that afflict players?

It's a much smaller pool, so it's not really possible to make a comparison. What you can say about the modern era of motor racing is that drivers and teams are beyond the point where bravery and toughness are touted as surrogates for safety. Here's a decent article on the way in which F1 has altered its run-off areas (and courses in general) over the past four decades.

One of them was basically already blaming the catch fence for Wheldon's death.

There'll be an inquiry, and there'll be lots of questions about whether the catch fence was responsible for shearing off the roll hoop. F1 got rid of them, with good reason, in the 1980s, and ESPN's Terry Blount and Speed's Robin Miller are both pointing in that direction.

The commentators had to maintain a press embargo of about 40 minutes until the official announcement. Rough.
posted by holgate at 9:22 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


That footage is TERRIFYING. The in-car footage in slow motion is surreal.

Thanks to the race fans for sharing here. Learning about something I was totally ignorant about. Adding Senna to my list of films to watch.

.
posted by artlung at 9:24 PM on October 16, 2011


But if I proposed creating a new sport that involved faux-dogfighting between fighter pilots and very frequently ended in crashes and injuries and of course occasional deaths

...you'd essentially have this.
posted by dw at 9:26 PM on October 16, 2011


[I think we have been more than clear that if you are having a difficult time reading the room here, you can go to Metatalk and people will be more than happy to talk about the things that people would prefer to not talk about right here, right now.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:28 PM on October 16, 2011


There are much better ways of stopping an open wheel car - even if they are running on stupid high banked ovals.

Asking honestly for information, what are they? I had thought (apparently erroneously) that whatever retention devices you have, you'd stick a fence on top to catch any wheels that broke their tethers or other flying parts.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:33 PM on October 16, 2011


.

Thanks to those who are respectful in this thread.
posted by localhuman at 9:51 PM on October 16, 2011


"The catch fencing is, almost certainly, what killed him."

Nope. Because if the catch fence wasn't there he would have a) smashed into a billboard or b) flown 50-100 feet into the air and crashed even harder into the desert.
posted by bardic at 9:52 PM on October 16, 2011


bardic: the roll hoops are designed for certain kinds of impact. Catch fencing isn't really one of them.

But I'm going to sign off from this thread with a link to Tony Johns' memorial post, which covers a lot of the ground discussed here.
posted by holgate at 10:05 PM on October 16, 2011


[MeTa]
posted by knave at 10:07 PM on October 16, 2011


Nope. Because if the catch fence wasn't there he would have a) smashed into a billboard or b) flown 50-100 feet into the air and crashed even harder into the desert.

He may have survived, though, assuming he didn't land head first. The cars are designed to withstand a lot of different types of impacts.
posted by delmoi at 10:09 PM on October 16, 2011


Greg Moore in IIRC 2001 was the last to be killed during a race.

Greg Moore was killed almost exactly twelve years ago, in 1999, Oct.31.
posted by philip-random at 10:09 PM on October 16, 2011


Bardic: the options are not necessarily 'catch fencing' versus 'nothing at all'.

There are many, proven, alternative methods. Just far too costly and difficult to install for one race. But tag doesnt make catch fencing the right answer, it makes usage of the track the wrong option.
posted by Brockles at 10:11 PM on October 16, 2011


bardic: ""for F1"
As mentioned, this wasn't F-1.
"
Bardic, yes I know it's not F1, but it is open-wheel racing and although I don't follow Indy, I'd assumed safety levels were the same.
posted by arcticseal at 10:18 PM on October 16, 2011


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posted by Not The Stig at 10:30 PM on October 16, 2011


I believe Indycar are introduring rear wheel covers next year that might have stopped the cars launching high into the air, and I hope that F1 will also look into it in the light of this accident.

Wheldon at the wheel of next year's car. Note the bodywork shielding the back of the rear tires.
posted by philip-random at 10:33 PM on October 16, 2011


Let's stop racing at oval tracks which are designed for 3500 pound stock cars that need high banks to keep them on the surface. There are flatter ovals which these cars work on just fine, and road courses have lots of run off areas. They stopped racing at Pocono because the surface was so torn up by the stock cars; maybe it's time to look at the rest of these ovals.

My condolences and thoughts go out to Dan's family and friends tonight.
posted by Not The Stig at 10:35 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


.

finally. My condolences to all who are shaken up by this. As I just commented over in the meta, days like today just leave me feeling gutted and complicit. No, I don't want to see anyone get hurt in motorsports but I'd be a damned liar if I didn't admit I got a thrill out of a good high speed, spectacular crack-up. It's in my nature. I'm fascinated with the outer edge of the envelope, and the consequences inherent in going past it.

Has Indycar gone past this edge? Absolutely. And I would argue they've known it for years, particularly on the big banked ovals. Just do a Youtube search on IRL-Texas-Crash-Kenny-Brack. Anyway, I'm not here to point fingers, except maybe at myself. But I've tried that before and it doesn't work, or as I commented in that thread I just linked to ...

... I'm sure if I was a truly rational being, I would probably abhor all motorsport (not just gratuitously dangerous but also enormously wasteful and polluting and, from the lowest levels on up, a front for the worst kind of corporate propaganda).

But, of course, I'm not truly rational. I saw the movie Grand Prix yt when I was nine and I was hooked, for life. A year later, my personal #1 hero in the world Bruce McLaren was killed in a testing crash. I remember going to school that morning utterly gutted, and incapable of explaining to anyone what was going on. But it never occurred to me to not continue being a fan. I just switched allegiances to Jochen Rindt ... who was killed maybe five months later.

And so on.

posted by philip-random at 11:09 PM on October 16, 2011



OK, but there are extreme physical demands to say, flying a fighter jet as well. But if I proposed creating a new sport that involved faux-dogfighting between fighter pilots and very frequently ended in crashes and injuries and of course occasional deaths ... does it really make sense to consider that to be the same sort of concept as basketball?


Unlike basketball, I'd watch it
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:17 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


What his wife must be going through right now.

His sons are so young they probably won't have a single direct memory of their father when they grow up. Here's hoping there are plenty of aunts and uncles around to step up.
posted by jamjam at 12:51 AM on October 17, 2011


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posted by Joey Michaels at 1:34 AM on October 17, 2011


I think you're going to see a few stories break in the next 48 hours regarding the politics that got Dan into a ride for this race, exactly how IndyCar was able to return to Las Vegas and how Randy Bernard's personal recklessness with drivers' live all contributed to this senseless death. There was a great article in October 3rd's Autoweek titled "Gambling On Wheldon" that discussed some of the intricacies of the lead-up to this horrifying disaster. Apologies, I can't find it on their website for the link.

.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 2:10 AM on October 17, 2011


.

'Putting 34 open-wheel cars capable of going 230 mph on a 1.5-mile oval designed for stock cars is a terrible idea to begin with...' Absolutely agree with the post by Clorox.

Surprised no one has also mentioned the idiocy of the $5m prize courtesy of Randy Bernard with the expectation that the 'outsider' would have to start at the back and make up position!

Too many cars for the track and wrong track full stop. RIP Dan.
posted by numberstation at 2:18 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Purposeful Grimace, "Gambling on Wheldon" seems to be behind a paywall.
posted by datawrangler at 2:20 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me a lot of reading about some of the safety failures at NASA. It has nothing to do with the goodness or badness of racing itself. It's just how people are. It's not enough to speak up, safety will not be prioritized over cost until the people who were speaking up have to pay for it with their lives. If this is not a tragedy I don't know what is.
posted by bleep at 3:13 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I live in St. Petersburg, Florida where he did, and it was very cool when he won the St. Petersburg Grand Prix and then went on the win the Indy 500 in 2005. I can't say I ever saw him in person, except driving at the SPGP, even though he lived fairly near me but by all accounts he was a really nice guy.

.
posted by lordrunningclam at 4:30 AM on October 17, 2011


For what it's worth: as someone who doesn't watch racing and doesn't know anyone who does, my initial reaction to this news was of the "tragic, but that's pretty much what the thrill of the sport is probably about" (not that I'd ever be callous enough to say so to someone who was troubled about this incident).

Because of comments in this thread, I realize now that that was an ignorant and incorrect opinion, and I regret holding it.

Tell us your stories and experiences; they're heard by more than just the people itching for an argument, but if others are like me they just might not be eager to drop a note admitting how wrong they were.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:35 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The in-car cam footage from the first comment link was astounding. To helplessly watch cars literally launching over your head at 200 miles an hour… fuck. It's one thing for a sport to be risky, but you want to think that you ultimately have final control over your own failure or success. That wreck was Russian roulette. How many cars went airborne? As someone else said upthread, I could have just seen at least five deaths in that video had it not been for sheer blind luck (look at Will Power's footage for example).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:37 AM on October 17, 2011


Messed up that first link.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:39 AM on October 17, 2011


.

Tragedies like this, in the long run, often wind up saving lives because of the studying of the accident that then leads to new safety innovations. These findings can even be used to improve the safety of non-race cars.
posted by Renoroc at 4:43 AM on October 17, 2011


it is open-wheel racing and although I don't follow Indy, I'd assumed safety levels were the same.

Absolutely not. The technology in F1 and crash requirements are much higher than in Indycar, although there has been an attempt to emulate some of them. Formula 1 has, however, no ovals (because they know they're bloody dangerous) and so the crash standards are much different and designed for different scenarios. In F1 it is almost unthinkable that you'd have a flat out crash sideways into a wall, so frontal crush cells and deformation to reduce crash impulse (increasing the time period that the car is slowed as it hits the wall/object) is of much higher importance. It has higher safety standards generally (the cars are also a magnitude or two more expensive) but also no standards that are directly applicable that Indycar can comply with necessarily.

Developing effective crash standards and tests is extremely expensive. The money in F1 is enormous compared to Indycar and so it has been difficult for Indycar to make great strides in safety because the money just isn't available within the sport to pay for it all. They try, but especially since the cars went single chassis, progress is far too slow. This is obviously no excuse, however and hopefully now should be the wake up call they have very much needed.
posted by Brockles at 4:56 AM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Surprised no one has also mentioned the idiocy of the $5m prize courtesy of Randy Bernard with the expectation that the 'outsider' would have to start at the back and make up position!

This, too.
The Vegas race just had too many things wrong about it. Too many cars, with too many inexperienced drivers, on the wrong track, and an executive team eager to end the season with a showy, loud, spectacular bang.

The topping was the silly $5-million prize carrot that brought Dan to the race. The simple fact is that, had Indycar not devised that season-ending marketing ploy, Dan would have probably been working color-commentary on the race, and not driving yesterday. Other than Indy and two other races, he hadn't had a regular seat all season, and had been doing both the development work on the new Indycar and doing color-commentary on the races carried on the Versus network (and he was damned good at it too!) The more I think about that stupid $5-million gimmick, the angrier I get.

Dan had just signed a contract with Andretti Motorsports to take-over Danica Patrick's Go-Daddy ride next year. That would've been a fabulous ride for such a talented driver.

As for the other drivers hurt in the wreck, Pippa Mann received burns to her hands and remained hospitalized the last I checked.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:07 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brockles, thanks for that clarification on the differing safety standards.
posted by arcticseal at 5:32 AM on October 17, 2011


Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a 2.5 mile oval with 9 degree banking; LVMS is a 1.5 mile oval with 20 degree banking.

I have to correct this, because it gives an incorrect impression to call Indy an oval, though that's the common description.

Indy is really a superspeedway kit bolted together with short track bits. There are four straights. The two shorter ones are 1/8th of a mile long, and the main and back straights are 5/8ths long -- longer than a full-length dragstrip, nearly three times as long as the strip currently used for Top Fuel dragsters. These four straights are connect by four 1/4 mile length 90 degree turns with, compared to the NASCAR superspeedways, very little bank.

End result -- you're racing on dragstrips connected by short-track corners. A properly set-up Indy car never lifts the throttle, because slowing down drops the downforce, and you lose grip, and if you're in one of the wicked turns, losing grip means meeting Mr. Wall.

Worse, the long straights give you the time to get enough speed up to get the downforce. Indycars, having ground effects, actually have more downforce than F1 cars at these speeds. An F1 car setup to go this fast wouldn't have nearly as much downforce. Of course, at the speeds that F1 cars race at, the Indy car would have a fraction of the downforce.

So, that's how you have to drive there -- you *have* to go full out, all the time, or you have to slow way down. The middle ground is death -- which is why, at Indy, you see those "blow-by" passes in the corners. If you know you don't have the speed at corner entry, you *have* to brake, or you're going to hit the wall. If you miss and the other guy doesn't, he goes by you like you are standing still.

LVMS is, as mentioned, a mile shorter, and it's almost a tri-oval. You have two very long almost 180 degree turns, with one end connect to the straight in the back, then the turns extend until the meet at the start-finish line. Rather than driving in the straights and diving into the turns, you drive into the turns and just let off a bit of steering input in the short back straight.

Worse, though. Indy's track is 50 feet wide in the straights, 60 feet wide in the turns. If you start to slide high, you have some time to deal with it before you hit the marbles*. LVMS has a 30' wide track.

You can run three wide at Indy with feet between the cars -- indeed, the Indy starting grid is three wide. Two wide at LVMS is starting to get dicey.

It was a bad decision to run 34 cars at LVMS. Now, IndyCar has to live with the results of that.

* Marbles: As the cars races, debris, mostly from the tires, is throw to the top of the track. They call it the marbles, because hitting them is like driving over marbles, in terms of what happens to your traction.
posted by eriko at 6:56 AM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


A properly set-up Indy car never lifts the throttle, because slowing down drops the downforce, and you lose grip, and if you're in one of the wicked turns, losing grip means meeting Mr. Wall.

If your implication is that Indycars go flat out all the way around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that is incorrect. If you are saying that, by contrast, they were flat out around LVMS which is why it was less safe than Indianapolis, then you are correct.

Indy requires the balance between trimming the downforce to make the speeds on the straight (drag reduction) or keeping it high for corner speeds - the eternal drag versus downforce play off. LVMS has nothing in the way of real straights so no trimming is required which increases corner speeds and hence blurs the 'straights' into just part of the corner. The difference between max and min speed at LVMS is tiny, but relatively large at Indy.

Indycars, having ground effects, actually have more downforce than F1 cars at these speeds.

This is misleading. For any given speed, F1 cars have more downforce available to them than an Indycar. Much more. They just don't race at sustained speeds o the same kinds of tracks so the comparison doesn't really make sense. An oval spec F1 car (run to F1 regulations) would run similar levels of downforce as an Indycar (maybe even more) and be faster (more power, more efficient aero in terms of downforce for drag).

You are, though, absolutely correct about the track width. An FIA (ie F1 standard track) is a minimum 40 feet wide and almost all high profile European and global tracks are that wide. The proximity of the wall is an advantage to some extents with stock cars (it contains the crash within the track area) but a disadvantage on open wheel (the car doesn't slide long enough to shed any speed and so reduce the impact).

LVMS is too small for that many cars and also, in my opinion, too small for those kinds of cars.
posted by Brockles at 8:01 AM on October 17, 2011


If Dan Wheldon had been driving an F1 car, it doesn't look on the face of it that it would have changed anything. There's nothing stopping either car type launching into the air when they hit another car's rear tyres, and the protection around the driver's head is similiar in each formula (Indycar, F1 Car).

F1 has had some serious accidents recently, most notably the accident a year ago in Hungary when Felipe Massa was hit on the head by a bouncing spring that dropped off a car in front. He suffered a major head injury that could easily have killed him, fortunately for all of us he's back racing again.
posted by Urtylug at 8:23 AM on October 17, 2011


.

As a fan of motorsports and air racing, these past few weeks have been utterly wrenching, what with the crash at this year's Reno Air Races and now this. IndyCar is a small enough series that one can get up close and personal with the drivers and teams, and Dan Wheldon was always incredibly kind and gracious to his fans.

Randy Bernard should put that $5 million carrot he was dangling in front of the field and put it into trust for Wheldon's two young sons.
posted by evoque at 8:28 AM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Randy Bernard should put that $5 million carrot he was dangling in front of the field and put it into trust for Wheldon's two young sons.

IndyCar doesn't actually have the $5 million. They bought an insurance policy that that would pay out $5 million if Dan had won the race.
posted by gyc at 8:33 AM on October 17, 2011


Possibly elementary racing politics question: can this be tied in any way to the fight between CART and IRL a decade+ ago, in particular the Tony George exclusion of Champ cars from the Indy 500 and the subsequent self-destruction of the CART series? I suppose anything that happened over 10 yrs ago cannot be truly "responsible" - but iirc one of the fights between IRL and CART had to do with the expense of building a car and running a team.

How much was increasing safety standards of both cars and tracks part of that expense equation, and could this be relevant in the context of this horrific accident?
posted by mikel at 8:37 AM on October 17, 2011


How much was increasing safety standards of both cars and tracks part of that expense equation, and could this be relevant in the context of this horrific accident?

That would involve a whole string of ifs and buts. Yes, splitting the series caused a dilution of investment in regulations and the resulting safety standards, but so did many other things. In addition, the styles of cars used has been changed drastically and in addition, the two series have rejoined in the last few years (albeit not in the same form as before). I can't see a direct path between the two, to be honest.

So the short answer is no - other elements have had more of an influence on the progression on safety, but also if it had continued it is possible (although not any definite chance) that safety would have improved through the stability that may or may not have produced. Too many variables, really, to say for sure.

Also, if the series had remained strong (even with the recession) it is possible that it would have had a large enough fan base and following that it wouldn't have needed the shot in the arm of the fancy marketing potential of the Vegas finale and so they wouldn't have raced on the dog arse track in the first place. That's kind of stretching, though, but the to my mind the strongest argument for direct influence on this accident - the problem was the lack of suitability of the track to the cars (rather than car design per se) and the lack of strength of the field in terms of cars and money through exposure meant they were forced into racing at a place that they really didn't suit to try and raise the profile of the series.
posted by Brockles at 8:50 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks Brockles - I thought it might be a stretch but it popped in my mind and there seems to be a really great amount of knowledge and expertise here so I thought I'd ask...
posted by mikel at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2011


If your implication is that Indycars go flat out all the way around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that is incorrect.

It is quite correct -- esp. in the naturally aspirated era, a properly setup and properly driven IndyCar *does not lift*. It does slow in speed (and thus, revs) from the additional forces of the turn, but unless there is traffic or the car is too loose, they do not need to lift. Here's a description of Turn One and here's a description from Ross Bentley on how to learn how to take the fast corners without lifting at all.

This is misleading. For any given speed, F1 cars have more downforce available to them than an Indycar. Much more.

Yes, but because they can't use ground effects, they also have much more drag. Theoretically, an F1 car at 220mph would have much more downforce, but when setup for an F1 race -- even on fast tracks like the Indy road course or Monza, they would never reach 220mph, because of drag.

An F1 car set to minimum drag and running in a straight line would almost certainly be faster. I know Honda tested on and reached 258mph, I don't know if the current IndyCars have tried, but given that the F1 cars have about 100 more horsepower, and in the end, it's power vs. drag for top speed, I doubt an Indy car would reach that speed. But an F1 car set for minimum drag will either brake hard or hit the wall at Indy, and an F1 car set with enough downforce to handle the turns at Indy without lifting would be much slower than the IndyCars are *at speed.*

Why? To hold the turn, you need downforce. You can get that with various aero surfaces, like the front-and-aft wings, but these have a great deal of drag. In normal F1 usage, the speed stay low, so you need even more wings, etc. to make sure that you get the downforce you need, and the lower speeds mean you pay less of a drag penalty.

With ground effects, you can get a great deal of downforce with minimum drag. Drag grows with the square of the speed, so lowering it at lower speeds doesn't help much, but lowering it at high speeds makes a huge, huge difference in the eventual top end.

(Aside: The ground effects of an IndyCar are one reason the front wings of an IndyCar are higher off the ground than an F1 car.)

I am not saying that IndyCars are superior race vehicles. They are not. But they are built for a different realm, and in one case -- the Indy Oval -- they are faster. On the banked superspeedways, where the banking provides a great deal of the downforce, the F1 car could probably lose enough drag to be faster.

Finally, this may have changed with DRS (Drag Reduction System.) With DRS, you can dump downforce (and thus, drag) when you don't need it. It's basically perfect for Indy -- come out of turns 2/4, hit the DRS and lose the drag as you hit the long straights, then dump the drag back in when you reach the corner, giving you the downforce for the turn. You'd want a different control to restore the wing's angle of attack, because currently, that's done by braking, which you don't want at Indy, but an F1 car with DRS and a button on the wheel (or a steering sensor) to clear it would almost certainly be much faster at Indy, because it would have even less drag in the straights, letting it get up to and exceed the IndyCars and more downforce in the corners, which would let it turn.
posted by eriko at 9:04 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's nothing stopping either car type launching into the air when they hit another car's rear tyres, and the protection around the driver's head is similiar in each formula.

True, but Kubica's crash in Montreal, or Webber's in Valencia show that it's possible to maintain structural integrity in those kinds of crashes.

The car is only part of the safety equation: it encompasses the car and the course and the run-off and the driving regulations, and it's there that F1, with its much larger budget and ability to dictate terms, has advantages over IndyCar. You're right to point to Massa's injury -- to call it 'freakish' is a kind of cop-out -- and F1 teams and FIA have been working on helmet design and shielding since then, while wanting to avoid the problems of driver extraction and structural failure associated with closed canopies.
posted by holgate at 9:14 AM on October 17, 2011


It is quite correct -- esp. in the naturally aspirated era, a properly setup and properly driven IndyCar *does not lift*.

Maybe in qualifying and/or on new tyres and with the right driver and set up. Not as the tyre degrades through the race and certainly not every lap for 500 miles... That description you link to refers to one lap - likely the fastest lap in qualifying being as it is always the most impressive. It also states that you have to get it right before it is flat out (car and driver) - it isn't a foregone conclusion like LVMS. It is extremely unlikely (and this implied in your link) that every lap at Indy could be like that with tyre degradation, especially when traffic is taken into consideration (loss of downforce straight away). Also, that is just one turn at Indy, not all of them. If it was flat every lap it wouldn't be hard and wouldn't have the fearsome reputation it does.

here's a description from Ross Bentley on how to learn how to take the fast corners without lifting at all.

Dude, I teach this stuff for a living. I know how to do it, but I am saying that Indianapolis is not a 'flat out all the way around all the time no problem' track as you implied in your post, whereas LVMS is - which is why it is much more dangerous than Indy. Indy is pretty damn fast, but I checked lots of in car footage and it does require speed modulation. There is even a gear change with come cars/drivers, so someone must be lifting somewhere... The issue with LVMS is that with little speed differential in the corners the cars remain bunched up and this increases the chance of an accident.

but when setup for an F1 race -- even on fast tracks like the Indy road course or Monza, they would never reach 220mph, because of drag.

They already reach 215 at Monza without too much trouble - and that's within less than a mile of a mid corner speed (on flat tarmac) of 125mph. With a banked track coming onto the straight (ie higher initial speed), they'd have little trouble reaching the same speeds and more. Especially if they were racing on ovals and so created specific oval aero packages within F1 rules. When F1 used to race on the Indy road course corner speeds here they used to get to 200mph without even getting close to the T3 corner speeds they'd reach if they used the full oval. And that's with a medium downforce set up.

I'm not sure you are considering how clunky the aero packages are on an Indycar compared to an F1 car. Yes, ground effect has cheaper (in terms of drag) downforce values, but it's all relative. F1 cars are much lighter more powerful, physically smaller and have vast swathes more freedom in design than an Indycar (which is essentially a spec series). The comparison is nonsensical and there is no way no how that an Indycar could compete with an F1 car these days. At the height of the Reynard/Lola wars? Then design for purpose could have created a way for an Indycar to be faster than an F1 car on an Oval but Indycars now are not even half the beast they used to be and F1 cars have progressed at stratospheric rates.

However, I did say when a car is set up for an oval, and within F1 rules. They'd blitz the current Indycars within those parameters, but I'm still not sure why comparing relatively clunky spec Indycars to the most technologically advanced form of Motorsport is at all relevant.
posted by Brockles at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2011


Also, if the series had remained strong (even with the recession) it is possible that it would have had a large enough fan base and following that it wouldn't have needed the shot in the arm of the fancy marketing potential of the Vegas finale and so they wouldn't have raced on the dog arse track in the first place.

This is the point that came to mind for me. I'm not blaming anyone particularly but I won't be the least bit surprised if this sentiment ends up being a big part of the post mortem on this tragedy. Lame duck Indycar wanted something too badly and paid for it big time. This Vegas race was all about ending the season with a big hype event. Unfortunately, they got it in all the wrong ways. The whole world's noticing now.

but I am saying that Indianapolis is not a 'flat out all the way around all the time no problem' track as you implied in your post,

My understanding is that in qualifying at Indianapolis, the fastest guys are flat-out all the way around but not so in the races.
posted by philip-random at 9:51 AM on October 17, 2011


LVMS is too small for that many cars and also, in my opinion, too small for those kinds of cars.

Way, way too small. According to Wikipedia, the IndyCar lap record is 226 mph. They had qualifying runs earlier in the week going 220 mph. Now look at the track width and the size the best line. You can't go three wide, but dammit, they'll try. Now look at the Indy Motor Speedway, going five wide in the straights. Throw in a full grid at LVMS, and that's insane.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:55 AM on October 17, 2011


The issue with LVMS is that with little speed differential in the corners the cars remain bunched up and this increases the chance of an accident.


This is a huge issue.
posted by caddis at 9:57 AM on October 17, 2011


My understanding is that in qualifying at Indianapolis, the fastest guys are flat-out all the way around but not so in the races.

Precisely. Qualifying will be on new tyres and is not indicative of the usual race pace.
posted by Brockles at 10:00 AM on October 17, 2011


According to Wikipedia, the IndyCar lap record is 226 mph

And that predates the 2006 alterations to the banking; at the time, some NASCAR drivers had reservations about the the speeds being generated.
posted by holgate at 10:21 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


From SpeedTV -- Robin Miller being interviewed by Dave Despain, two guys who know way more than me about motorsport.

Despain: Racing has become dramatically safer but we were reminded today it still is dangerous. The inevitable question out of this is whether the type of racing we saw today is too dangerous, and if so, what is to be done about it?

Miller: “Way too dangerous. I’ve been writing stories since the ‘90s that this kind of insanity, this wide-open mile-and-a-half pack racing … We got lucky. Kenny Brack’s crash was on the backstretch at Texas and all that stuff went in the grandstands but there was nobody there. Ryan Briscoe was in turn three at Chicago and didn’t hit anybody and they both were able to survive. But when you’re on top of each other and these cars are so stuck and they’re going 220 miles-per-hour, and you can’t get out of the throttle because someone will run over the top of you, it’s not racing. It’s like a big game of chicken. Adrian Fernandez was here this weekend and he was smart enough to quit in 2004 because he said, ‘That ain’t racing. I’m not getting involved in it anymore.’ He was in the IRL a couple of years. He said he’s never seen the drivers as anxious and nervous as they were before the start of this race. He said, ‘I’m not talking about one or two. I’m talking about every guy I talked to.’ So, racing is inherently dangerous. When I grew up in the ‘60s, it seemed like it happened every other week in USAC, but the most important thing to remember is these tracks were built for NASCAR stock cars that are going 50 or 60 miles-per-hour slower. When you’ve got pack racing and you rub wheels with somebody and you get somebody out of shape and there’s 25 cars bearing down on you, there’s no driver reaction, there’s no way to survive it.”

posted by philip-random at 10:40 AM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


did he have to die?
The race was always going to be too fast, too packed together at three-wide, and too crowded with 34 cars. The drivers were complaining about it beforehand.

This race had been turned into a carnival to try to save a sport. Indy racing is losing Danica Patrick to NASCAR. And IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had said that if ratings didn't go up from this championship race, didn't beat last year's minuscule TV ratings, then he would hand in his resignation.
posted by robbyrobs at 2:09 PM on October 17, 2011


And IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had said that if ratings didn't go up from this championship race, didn't beat last year's minuscule TV ratings, then he would hand in his resignation.

... and it's worth adding, Bernard's a Vegas guy. He's connected there. He felt confident he could make Indy Car "fly" there, which it did in all the wrong ways. From a pre-race SpeedTV article ...

So that brings us to this weekend, where INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard is not only bucking history, but renting LVMS from Smith and promoting the race himself.

“I was more comfortable going with a market I knew,’’ said Bernard, who made lots of friends in Vegas with his week-long winner at the Tomas & Mack Arena for the Pro Bull Riders’ circuit from 1994 to the present.

“And I wanted us to have a vacation destination with the proper backdrop for a great race. So this is either going to be my strength or my demise.”

posted by philip-random at 2:16 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a bit of a stretch to throw it back in his face and tie it specifically to the Vegas race, I think. A little too early to hang this all on Randy Bernard's neck. Randy Bernard had been hoping to have improved the ratings of the series by the season finale - as a means of showing an increase in the profile of the series over the first year or so of his plan for it. Which is not the same implication as a sudden increase in viewers at the Vegas finale like some kind of circus. The location may have been Bernard's idea, but he has a whole host of management that know the sport better than he does that could have nixed it beforehand.

I mean, I am no fan of the cars ever racing at Vegas, but that is a little too close to implying that the Vegas race was purely a means to boost ratings (rather than the culmination of many things over more than a year). Which is pretty damn close to suggesting that it was a conscious decision to run on a dangerous track to boost ratings, which I think is unfair and unwarranted. Vegas was intended to be a race that encouraged good promotional returns at the end of a recovering season (in terms of ratings), not a stunt race just to get in the papers and on tv.
posted by Brockles at 2:41 PM on October 17, 2011


While ultimately the buck stops with the CEO, which is Bernard, he's really only been immersed in racing for the past 2 years, before which he was running the professional bull riding tour. Somebody else in the Indycar series that has been involved in Indycars for much longer than Bernard should've warned him about the dangers of the race he was planning and should've stopped the event from going forward as planned.

Can we even imagine the insanity if the original plan of putting in 5 drivers who have never turned a lap on an oval in an Indycar into the field had panned out?
posted by gyc at 2:46 PM on October 17, 2011


Can we even imagine the insanity if the original plan of putting in 5 drivers who have never turned a lap on an oval in an Indycar into the field had panned out?

Yeah, that was a stupid idea. Oval racing is a skill that relies heavily on experience to be safe.
posted by Brockles at 3:07 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The news shows have been running this graphic and horrific footage over and over. It's ghoulish. This is very sad for him and for his family, and the footage will be in their faces repeatedly, even years from now. I can't imagine how painful that would be.
posted by theora55 at 3:08 PM on October 17, 2011


How horrifying! His poor family.

.
posted by MissySedai at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2011


It's a bit of a stretch to throw it back in his face and tie it specifically to the Vegas race, I think. A little too early to hang this all on Randy Bernard's neck.

Yeah, I wasn't intending to hang this on Bernard alone. As gyc notes, he's not exactly a "racing guy" -- more just a businessman who felt he could make something fly in Vegas Which gets us to ...

Somebody else in the Indycar series that has been involved in Indycars for much longer than Bernard should've warned him about the dangers of the race he was planning and should've stopped the event from going forward as planned.

Problem is, as Robin Miller's been pointing out from various angles, nobody's really been dealing with these dangers, and it's been going on for years. I didn't want to link to them yesterday when this thing was still so raw in everybody's consciousness, but I will now:

Kenny Brack crashes in Texas -- 2003
Ryan Briscoe crashes in Chicago - 2005
Multicar crash in Atlanta - 2001

How can anyone say they didn't see this coming? And then, of course, there's the fact that next year's car is designed to try to deal with the wheel-launching issue. So yeah, they did see it coming and they were working on it ... but why, ten years since that Atlanta crash, are they still just working on it?
posted by philip-random at 3:18 PM on October 17, 2011


Indy is pretty damn fast, but I checked lots of in car footage and it does require speed modulation.

Only in traffic. *Only*. Go dig out the stats, compare practice times, when the track is busy, to race times. Yes, qualifying is faster. The only people lifting at Indy, assuming that they're not running on completely shot tires, are people dealing with back markers or they're too far off the line on that very wide track.

The fastest qualifying lap ever at IMS was Arie Luyndyke, 237.498mph, with a four lap average of 236.986, in the 1996 qualifiers. The fast *race* lap was the same year, by Eddie Cheever, at 236.103 mph. Luyndyke put up the fast practice lap ever that year as well. In traffic. 239.260 mph. Note that even if you assume that fastest race lap was on new tires (it wasn't) it wouldn't explain the full fuel tank's mass, when Champ Cars of that era qualified on enough fuel to make the laps, and no more. In fact, Cheever put up a number of 235+mph laps that year.

Yes, there are times you have to lift, but unless you've stayed on the tires far too long, it's either traffic, improper setup, or you screwed up and aren't on the line, thus, you have to lift (or even worse, brake*.) These cases -- bad tires, traffic, off the line -- are just as true at LVMS, though there's really not many places you can go off the line at LVMS.

I respect the fact that you teach this, and I agree with you that F1 cars are better in pretty much every way, and if it weren't for rule constraints, would be better in every way, shape and form. But where F1 cars aren't as good -- because they simply are not made to be good there -- is at very high speeds -- 210mph+. Current IndyCars get half the downforce at these speeds from ground effects, and the difference it makes in drag is enormous.

Heck, the F1 cars had a hell of a time dealing with Turn 13 on the road course, which is Turn 1 on the oval, run backwards. Turn 12 is Turn 4, but comes off a double-hairpin and then a sharp right, so there's not much speed built up, but after 12 is the short chute, and turn 13 was a killer. Heck, squared, NASCAR found Indy to be quite a challenge. The only cars that find Indy easy to handle are, well, the cars that are built to run there.

In the few comparisons that we can directly make between F1 cars and ChampCars, the ChampCars were 90% as fast for, well, 10% of the cost. The last direct comparison -- same year, same track, was 2006 in Canada. The F1 qualifying best was 1:14.942 (Alonso) and the race best was 1:15.841 (Räikkönen) while the ChampCar qualifying best was 1:20.005 (Bourdais) and race was 1:22.325 (same).

Alas, I can't find anything comparing the IRL era cars -- though as IndyCar moves to more and more road courses, maybe we'll get one.



* Here's another place where the tremendous advantage F1 cars have does them no good. 5-6G braking is useless on a speedway.
posted by eriko at 4:09 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just FYI: The problem F1 had in 2005 with turn 13 of Indy was a tyre issue - the tyres from one of the manufacturers (Michelin) weren't designed to run at high speed on banked corners and were failing at high speed. Nobody could agree on how to resolve the issue, leading to the mess that followed. AFAIK the cars were normally fine taking that corner flat out, probably because they were running lots of downforce for best performance on the infield section.
posted by Urtylug at 4:57 PM on October 17, 2011


And the USGP was run again in 2006 and 2007 with no incident. The USGP at Indianapolis was ended not due to safety but due to money issues.
posted by dw at 8:34 PM on October 17, 2011


How can anyone say they didn't see this coming?

I just watch F1 and when I can (or have some spare time) GP2 but I happened to catch the start of this race on a lazy Sunday and immediately thought that it was insane to race open wheel cars on this circuit.

I've seen plenty of accidents throughout the years and this is one of the few ones where I immediately told myself that whomever was driving the car that hit the catch fence and dragged down it is dead.

On street circuits you rarely get this kind of feeling or foreboding. Safety is massively improved but what happened here is not at all a surprise whereas something like Henry Surtees getting hit by a tyre was a surprise and a freak accident. This one was predictable.

It must be devastating for the family. I'm not sure why footage is put up. I seem to remember that etiquette was you didn't show crashes that resulted in death. I could be wrong or etiquette has changed.
posted by juiceCake at 9:51 PM on October 17, 2011


Heck, the F1 cars had a hell of a time dealing with Turn 13 on the road course, which is Turn 1 on the oval, run backwards.

As mentioned, the cars had no problem with this corner at all for every year that F1 ran at Indy. One year alone, Michelin provided a faulty tyre (and an equally faulty replacement) and this was the cause of the only problems that F1 had in the seven years they ran at the track. It was absolutely no problem from the cars perspective.

Alas, I can't find anything comparing the IRL era cars -- though as IndyCar moves to more and more road courses, maybe we'll get one.

The current Indycar is a dog compared to the Champ cars, even. At some tracks, the Indy Lights cars set qualifying times that would put them well into the Indycar pack... One current Indycar driver (when I spoke to him at Mid Ohio) stated "I can't wait for the new cars - these ones are kind of fun, I guess, because they have loads of power but they're such heaps of shit. Worst race car I've ever driven".

Despite being total heaps of donkey plop, they still manage to get 225mph at these poxy short ovals. Even more sign of how inappropriate those tracks are for a (even a bad) purpose designed race car.
posted by Brockles at 7:57 AM on October 18, 2011


Amateur video of the wreck shot from the exit of turn two.
posted by zzazazz at 8:17 AM on October 29, 2011


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