Driver Alex Lloyd lost friend Dan Wheldon on a day meant for celebration, not tragedy
He says drivers know racing is risky but try not to be distracted by this thought
Lloyd: Wheldon was a family man beloved by all
After mourning, drivers will look at how this accident happened, he says
Editor’s Note: Alex Lloyd is a British race car driver, participating in the IZOD IndyCar Series and driving the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing, Boy Scouts of America IndyCar. He has been racing since he was 8 and has been driving in the U.S. around the IndyCar Series for nearly six years. Follow him on Twitter.
Writing this article is tough. Sunday we all lost a great friend, Dan Wheldon, in what was the most horrendous crash I have ever seen. This day was supposed to be a celebration, not a tragedy.
The event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway marked the end of our IndyCar season and was to have determined the season champion. As a side story, Dan was entered in the Go Daddy $5 million challenge, which – if he could win the race from starting last – could have won $2.5 million for him and $2.5 million for a fan. It was a challenge that garnered much media attention, and Dan had spent the past month or so heavily promoting the event and describing how excited he was to take part in this challenge.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a fast racetrack that is high banked, and IndyCars reach speeds of 225 mph. Danger is part of our sport. We all know it is ever present, and we face it every time we step in the race car. We push it to the back of our minds because as drivers we have a job to do and you cannot let fear get in the way. One would be crazy to think nothing could ever go wrong, but we must not allow such thoughts to distract us from the job at hand.
Only a handful of laps into Sunday’s 300-mile race, I was following a couple of car lengths back from Dan. Going into turn one, I saw a couple of cars touch wheels up ahead and immediately began attempting to slow the car down from more than 220 mph.
The racetrack in front of me began to fill with smoke and debris. I saw cars fly up into the air and drivers pile up into one another. While slowing the car, I got hit from behind and saw fellow driver Will Power barrel roll over the top of my head and fly about 200 feet through the air, straight into the wall. My car came to a rest, and fortunately I jumped out unhurt.
The scene around me was something out of a war movie. Debris everywhere, cars burning to the ground and other drivers standing at the side of the racetrack in total shock, like myself, after having jumped out of their cars.
As we got into the medical car that takes the drivers to the infield care center, we knew Dan’s crash was the most severe and that it looked like he was injured. Honestly, death never crossed my mind. Broken bones and other serious issues, yes. Death, no. Leaving the medical center, my wife said to me, “It’s really bad, really bad.” Suddenly the fear of losing Dan began to overwhelm me and all the others around me. Only a short while later, drivers were called to a meeting and told that our greatest fear was a reality. Dan had passed.
The grief was indescribable. Dan was a friend to all, a kind, charismatic man who could instantly light up a room with his beaming smile and charm. He was a great husband and wonderful father to his two young boys. His family meant everything to him.
The question surrounds us as to why this happened. Was the racetrack too unsafe? Honestly, I don’t have the answer to those questions.
Is our job worth the risk? When you think of Dan’s wife and children left behind, the answer is simple. No. But coming into this race you could argue that the risks are so remote that it was worth the risk to do what we love. Injury is possible, but we just haven’t seen a death in the sport for a long time, and huge safety improvements have been made.
Sunday we learned the hard truth: that no matter how much we can improve safety and plan for all eventualities, some things are impossible to prepare for. I think over this off-season we will evaluate what went wrong and how we can prevent this from happening again. And mark my words, we will learn from this.
From my point of view as a driver, now is not that time. Now is the time to remember Dan, the great champion he was – a two-time Indy 500 winner, the great husband, father and friend to so many of us. We will all miss him.
No one can be blamed for this accident. It is just that, an accident. We will learn and improve, but we will not blame. This is what we do as drivers. Dan is a legend of our sport, one of the greats. His impact on my career as a fellow British driver has been profound. He touched everyone he met and was truly one of the most special human beings to walk this Earth.
Now is the time to mourn the loss of Dan, the loss of a champion, the loss of a friend. We will never forget.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alex Lloyd.