Dan Wheldon, 33, and the 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner, died Sunday on Lap 11 of the IndyCar Series season finale during a huge multi-car crash.
Wheldon, competing in only his third race of the season, was trying to win the race and earn a $5 million bonus that was part of a league promotion for driver who didn't compete full-time in the series this year. He was at the back of the 34-car field and couldn't steer clear of a wreck that started when two cars touched tires.
IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard made the official announcement of Wheldon's death without further comment.
"IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries," Bernard said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute to in his honor."
Wheldon was airlifted from the Las Vegas track at 1:19 p.m. local time Sunday and taken to University Medical Center. His death sent a shockwave through the tight knit group of drivers and left many with feelings of disbelief over what happened.
"One minute you're joking around at driver intros. The next, Dan's gone," said Dario Franchitti, whose wife, actress Ashley Judd, had to bring him a box of tissues. "I lost, we lost, a good friend. Everybody in the IndyCar series considered him a friend. He was such a good guy. He was a charmer."
Wheldon was scheduled to replace Danica Patrick next season in the Go-Daddy-sponsored car for Andretti Autosport. Patrick is moving to NASCAR full-time in 2012. He agreed to a contract with Andretti Autosport, the team with which Wheldon won the 2005 Indy 500, and was expected to sign the contract after this race.
Wheldon was the first Indy Car driver killed in a crash since rookie Paul Dana was killed in practice on the morning of race day at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.
Photo credit – AP