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October 16, 2011

IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon dead at 33 after 15 car wreck at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS —  

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Dan Wheldon, who moved to the United States from his native England with hopes of winning the Indianapolis 500 and went on to prevail at his sport's most famed race twice, died Sunday after a massive, fiery wreck at the Las Vegas Indy 300.

He was 33.

Wheldon, who won the Indy 500 for the second time this May, won 16 times in his IndyCar career and was the series champion in 2005. He was airlifted from the Las Vegas track at 1:19 p.m. local time Sunday and taken to a nearby hospital, becoming the first IndyCar driver to die on the track since rookie Paul Dana was killed in practice on the morning of race day at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.

As word began to spread that his injuries were fatal, those at the track could not control their tears. Television cameras captured Ashley Judd, the wife of IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, dabbing at her eyes shortly before the official word came.

The remainder of the race was canceled. Drivers solemnly returned to the track for a five-lap tribute to Wheldon, almost all of them hiding their eyes behind dark sunglasses after being told their colleague was gone. As Roger Penske met with his team trackside and other drivers simply hugged those around them, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard made the announcement of Wheldon's death.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today," Bernard said.

When drivers returned to the track, Wheldon's No. 77 was the only one on the towering scoreboard. Franchitti sobbed uncontrollably as he got back into his car for the tribute laps. Over speakers at the track, the song "Danny Boy" blared, followed by "Amazing Grace" as hundreds of crew workers from each team stood solemnly.

The race was only minutes old when Wheldon, who started at the back of the 34-car field and was in position for a $5 million payday if he could have won the race, was one of 15 cars involved in a wreck that started when two cars touched tires.

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