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Crash that killed Wheldon raises safety questions

October 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A day after the death of a popular two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, the auto racing community is dealing with safety questions.

Dan Wheldon was killed after his car went airborne in a 15-car pileup during the 11th lap of the Las Vegas Indy 300. The coroner says the cause of death was blunt head trauma.

The accident happened in a high-banked oval crowded with the largest field of the season. The drivers knew the Las Vegas race was going to present challenges even before the season began.

Plus, the race involved a lot of inexperienced or impatient drivers racing at more than 220 mph. There were 34 entries in the field - one car more than the Indy 500, five more than the race two weeks ago at Kentucky, and eight more than IndyCar had in Japan last month.

Danica Patrick, who is headed full time to NASCAR next year, knew it was going to be one long game of chicken before the race even began.

"I was really nervous coming into (the race) and why is because I knew as a driver we were going to be put in positions to decide to be flat-out and possibly be part of something like that, or look like a wimp and lift," Patrick said. "But you know what? I lifted a little. There's just a lot going on out there and it was way, way, way too early."

Flowers and sympathy cards lined the entrance to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday. At the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, a memorial was seen that included one of the race cars he drove to victory at Indianapolis.

See photos from the scene of the fatal crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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