Dan Wheldon Death Overshadows a Racing Miracle

Las Vegas Motor SpeedwayIt's such a sad day for IndyCar racing that the good news coming out of the University Medical Center in Las Vegas has been largely ignored. As the sport has come to a halt to mourn the tragic death of British racer Dan Wheldon at just 33, the other three drivers who were pulled from the 15-car pile-up and raced to the hospital have been released, one by one. Pippa Mann, JR Hildebrand, and Will Power are all, by and large, physically fine.

But you won't hear much about that. It's hard to sell racing as a dangerous sport when a woman (Mann) walked off the track with nothing more than a damaged pinky finger, after all.


Oh yes, the tragedy of Wheldon's life being cut short deserves its time in the spotlight. He was a talented driver. He was a husband and a dad who left behind two little boys and a loving wife. His death is tragic. Plain and simple. We're all drawn to it.

But it's also rare. Significantly more rare than hysterical headlines that scream "Dan Wheldon's Death Showcases Dangers of Racing" or "Dan Wheldon's Death: The Most Dangerous Sport" would have you think. The last time an Indy racer died on the track was in 2006 when Paul Dana died at Homestead Speedway near Miami. It was way back in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt died in a NASCAR series race. And each time, the media has spun a similar tale of an irresponsible sport that must be stopped at all costs because lives are at stake.

We'll move on soon. The sport will go on. Not because people don't care, but because by and large the incidents are not as serious as the tragedy that claimed Dan Wheldon's life. The minor injuries suffered by Mann, Hillebrand, and Power are much more common. The men were observed, but otherwise had no significant treatment. Mann had minor surgery for burns on her finger, but she too was released.

And all four of those drivers chose to be part of the sport. They were not enslaved and forced to climb into a car that whips around a track at speeds topping 200 miles per hour. They did it/do it because they love it.

Wheldon himself knew of the dangers. After all, he was the winner of the very race that claimed Dana's life. As he told reporters that day:

Racing is what I love. It's my job to race and I love my job [but] it can be pretty vicious at times.

I can only imagine racing fans had two thoughts running through their heads in the moments after Wheldon was pronounced dead yesterday. The first, of course, was "how horrible." The second? To brace themselves for the inevitable backlash against the sport. The response has been predictable, but that doesn't mean it's been smart. 

Fear-mongering does nothing but diminish the spirit of men like Dan Wheldon. He was a man who loved to race, a smart man who excelled at a difficult sport. To say he shouldn't have been on a track is to take away from all that he accomplished and much of what he was.

If men like Dan Wheldon get into fast cars because they love it, and women like Pippa Mann walk out of 15-car pile-ups with nothing more than a burnt finger, is it really fair to say the sport has to be put to pasture? Or is it OK to mourn a life cut short and keep people's personal choices in perspective?


Image via bldg216/Flickr

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