(by Curt Cavin indystar.com 10-18-11)
Pleas to stop the madness of IndyCar's pack racing came from all corners of the sport on the day after Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Drivers want separation between the cars, and a voice in how to make that happen. Fathers want sons to drop out of the sport. Everyone wants it safer.
"We must have enough time to brake, slow down and see what's going on without flipping over each other like some circus," veteran IndyCar driver Tomas Scheckter said Monday. "It was inevitable what happened yesterday. We all knew it was coming at some point."
The fiery 15-car pileup began as a two-car tangle entering turn one. But when Wade Cunningham couldn't control his car after a tire rub with fellow first-year driver James Hinchcliffe, trouble doubled.
The car of rookie JR Hildebrand vaulted over Cunningham's car, shooting him up the high-banked track. Jay Howard and Townsend Bell were collected, and that should have been the end of it, Hildebrand said.
But the Las Vegas oval is banked at 20 degrees -- second-most among IndyCar tracks -- creating congestion in the lower lanes. When the trailing cars of Vitor Meira, EJ Viso and rookie Charlie Kimball got together reacting to Hildebrand's situation, the track was blocked for Wheldon, whose tire contact with Kimball's left rear launched him flying more than two seconds toward the wall.
The height of Wheldon's flight -- plus apparent contact from the damaged cars of Viso and Pippa Mann -- slammed him into the jagged catch fence positioned above the wall.
But that wasn't it for the carnage. With cars stacking up, championship contender Will Power couldn't slow down enough to avoid driving over Alex Lloyd's left-rear tire. Power got so high in the air that it seemed unrealistic. His car created a large shadow on the track.
Mann took a wild ride, too, getting upside down after launching over what appeared to be Paul Tracy's car.
"You look at the pictures, and it's like you did that on a video game," Hildebrand said.
Power was unavailable for comment, but his father, Bob, told an Australian newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, that Power predicted such a catastrophe because the mixture of a banked track and the maximized performance level of the cars creates pack racing. Almost all of the cars were running about 225 mph on the fateful 11th lap.
"He told me before the race that someone's going to get killed out there," the elder Power said. "It was just a throwaway line, but it has ended up coming true."
Former IndyCar and Formula One champion Nigel Mansell told the BBC in Wheldon's native England that 34 cars on the track were too many. It certainly was a record number for IndyCar, spurred by the fact that it was to be the last race before new cars are introduced in 2012.
"The smallest mistakes turn into catastrophic ones, and Dan was on the receiving end of it," Mansell said.
Derek Warwick, president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, told the BBC he's often questioned IndyCar's depth of talent. There were six rookies in the accident, and the initial four-car accident involved three of them.
Scheckter's father, Jody, the 1979 F-1 champion, asked him Sunday night to quit IndyCar and offered to buy him a plane ticket to England to start racing there.
Scheckter declined. He just wants more say in how the sport operates.
"I don't even mind cars going faster as long as they separate."
Mann's car flipped upside down and severely damaged a finger on her right hand. Surgery was performed Sunday night on the end of the pinkie; she is scheduled to return to Indianapolis on Wednesday and likely faces a skin grafting surgery in the coming weeks.
Mann's helmet bore a baseball-sized contact patch worn several layers through. It did its job.
Hildebrand and Power complained of chest and back pain, respectively, but Power was fine. Hildebrand was kept at University Medical Center overnight for observation related to a bruised sternum. Like Mann, he was released Monday afternoon.
"I got out of the car and I was kind of out of it, but I looked back to see what was going on and it looked like a bomb had gone off on the racetrack," Hildebrand said. "There were burning pieces of (debris) everywhere."
Cars unscathed were driven to pit road and parked during the rescue and cleanup. Two hours later, the race was canceled and deemed incomplete, meaning the standings reverted to the season's next-to-last race, Oct. 2 at Kentucky Speedway.
Dario Franchitti is the series champion, his third consecutive title and fourth in five years, but he wasn't honored Monday night as planned because IndyCar canceled its banquet out of respect for Wheldon's family.
Wheldon, 33, is survived by wife Susie and boys Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said he's feeling the emotional brunt of the tragedy, although not because of the $5 million bonus that Wheldon and his team, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, were chasing. Bernard noted that Wheldon, a veteran of 133 IndyCar races, had started at the back of other series races and won.
Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, told USA Today the bonus "had nothing to do with what happened. Great drivers are trying to do anything they can to win and are no more motivated by $5 million than a popsicle."
"I'm sick for Randy. He made a big splash and was trying hard, and this is your worst nightmare, the worst possible outcome. But the sport has suffered fatalities on street courses, road courses, ovals. It's a dangerous sport."
Bernard said he visited Susie Wheldon on Sunday night. He declined to comment on the conversation. The Wheldons and their extended family returned home to St. Petersburg, Fla., on Monday, he said.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced, but a public memorial will be held in Indianapolis, Bernard said.
An investigation into the crash is already under way, he said, and it's "way too early" to know whether there will be another oval race in Las Vegas.
An autopsy performed Monday determined Wheldon died of blunt head trauma. Coroner Michael Murphy said Wheldon died at the Las Vegas hospital where he was taken after the crash. Murphy ruled it an accident.
Bernard and others hope bodywork around the wheels on the new car that Wheldon tested will reduce the launching experienced by Hildebrand, Power, Mann and Wheldon, and additional engine horsepower should separate the cars better.
But competitors and officials know there are no guarantees.
"Until you crash-test, you can't say that's not the case," Hildebrand said.