Sunday, October 16, 2011
Initially it looked like nobody had died, and my first thought was that it was amazing no one had been killed in this carnage. People like Paul Tracy had gotten out of their cars and were walking away seemingly unhurt. But then the word started to leak out about how bad a shape Dan Wheldon, the reigning Indy 500 champion, was in, and he was airlifted to the hospital.
It was around that point that I decided to hit the road early, because it was clear the race was going to be red-flagged for a long time. I had thought I might hear updates on Wheldon's condition on the radio, but there was nothing. The sports guys were just too busy covering the bleeping NFL to be concerned about a life-and-death situation like this.
So once I finally got to a TV in Saskatoon I turned the channel to ABC thinking the race might have resumed. Instead, I happened to tune in right at the moment when the drivers were starting to do their five laps around the track in salute to Dan Wheldon. You can imagine my shock and surprise when I tuned in at that moment. I knew, just looking at the scene of people crying, that all the worst fears of everyone had been realized. It was truly one of the saddest scenes I've seen in sports.
For the whole story of what happened, here's the account at ESPN.
What's really sad for me is that I had made a point of watching this race because it was the final race of the 2011 season. If I wanted to watch Indycar, this was my last chance until next year. This race was supposed to be the battle for the championship between Dario Franchitti and Will Power. Plus, this was going to be Danica Patrick's final race as a regular driver in the Indycar series before joining NASCAR full time (she might still come back to the Indy 500). There was this huge buildup all season to this race in Las Vegas that was supposed to be the culmination of the season for Indycar, a showcase for the sport. Instead it ends up turning into this unspeakable tragedy.
What happened today was on a par with what happened to Ayrton Senna and Dale Earnhardt, because Wheldon was a two-time Indy 500 winner and a former Indy series champion. In fact, it's worse that what happened with Earnhardt's death because of the circumstances surrounding it --a scary, horrific, terrifying crash during the last race of the season. It really puts a black mark on the whole season, seeing such an end to it like this. It's yet another reminder of how dangerous this sport really is.
Frankly, this incident has really shaken me up as an auto racing fan. In fact it has turned me off the sport -- for the next couple of weeks, anyway. I'm sure I'll be back watching before too long, but it is going to be very tough for auto racing fans to get over this horrible day in a hurry.
RIP Dan Wheldon -- you will be missed.