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Racing vet Dan Wheldon dies in crash at Vegas IndyCar race

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:23 PM EDT, Mon October 17, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Three other drivers were taken to a local hospital
  • Wheldon is remembered as a "fantastic husband, father and man"
  • More than a dozen cars were involved in the crash
  • Video of the accident shows cars spinning out of control

Las Vegas (CNN) -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died Sunday of "unsurvivable injuries" sustained during a multi-car wreck at the Las Vegas Indy 300. He was 33.

The rest of the race -- the marquee event of the IZOD IndyCar World Championships -- was canceled.

"IndyCar is sad to announce that Dan Wheldon passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dan and his family," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said.

The remaining drivers, many of whom were visibly emotional after emerging from a meeting with IndyCar officials, did a five-lap salute in Wheldon's honor.

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"Amazing Grace" played as the drivers slowly wound their way around the track.

More than a dozen vehicles were involved in Sunday's fiery wreck. Video of the accident showed cars spinning out of control, bursting into flames, and shooting smoke and debris into the air.

Fatal crash at IndyCar race
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Photos: Fatal crash at IndyCar race Photos: Fatal crash at IndyCar race

Championship contender Will Power, Rookie of the Year candidate J.R. Hildebrand and driver Pippa Mann were also involved in the crash. They were taken to an area hospital for treatment.

Power was evaluated and released, while Mann and Hildebrand are awake, alert and will stay overnight for observation, according to IndyCar spokeswoman Amy Konrath.

Wheldon was in line to win $5 million if he had captured the checkered flag at Sunday's race.

"I lost one of my best friends, one of my greatest teammates," driver Tony Kanaan told reporters.

"I know this is a dangerous sport. I know we're exposed to that every day, in normal life as well. But you know, you don't think about it. Today we have to think about it," he said.

Wheldon was known as a 'great family man'

Racing accidents are not uncommon, though fatal ones have been rare in recent years.

Safety improvements at such high-speed events have included the installation of "soft walls." So-called SAFER barriers, which include foam, are intended to soften the effects of impact. Other equipment protects a driver's head during impact.

In 2006, driver Paul Dana died in a two-car collision during a practice run at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.

Driver Tony Renna died in October 2003 of injuries suffered in a testing accident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while Scott Brayton was killed at the same speedway in May 1996 when his vehicle hit the wall during practice.

Images from fatal IndyCar crash

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation President and CEO Jeff Belskus released a statement, calling Wheldon a "great champion" and "wonderful ambassador."

"Most importantly, he was a fantastic husband, father and man -- a good friend to so many in this sport. His memory will live forever at the Speedway, both through the magnitude of his accomplishments on the track and his magnetism off the track," he said.

After his second Indy 500 victory in May, Wheldon talked with CNN's "American Morning" about the intensity of the race track. His first win was in 2005.

"We're doing speeds in excess of 225 miles per hour. With this race, you never know what can happen. It's about staying focused and you really don't ever let off the power unless you have to," he said.

Wheldon, who was born in Emberton, England, lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. His father was a go-kart racer and his mother was the timer at a local track. Wheldon is survived by his wife and two young children.

CNN's Phil Gast, Jason Durand and Greg Morrison contributed to this report.

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The racing world was in mourning Monday after two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in a multi-car crash.
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Wheldon died Sunday of "unsurvivable injuries" at the Las Vegas Indy 300. He was 33.
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IndyCar drivers take part in a five-lap salute in honor of Dan Wheldon, who died in a race crash Sunday.
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Race car driver Dan Wheldon spoke to "American Morning" in May, 2011, after winning the Indy 500.
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