On Sunday, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car pileup at the IndyCar World Championship in Las Vegas. "One mistake can take 15 people out, and that's what happened there," said IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan. "I've never seen such a mess in my entire career." Is Wheldon's tragic death a sign that IndyCar racing is just too dangerous?
Risk is inherent to the sport: With car racing, competitors "are legitimately risking their lives each time they compete," says Jake Emen at Yahoo! That's unique to motorsports and boxing, but "data shows that on average motorsports have about 10 times as many recorded annual deaths" as boxing. Though fans (and competitors) are drawn to the risk and danger, these sports needn't be so deadly. The governing bodies must walk a fine line and "keep the competition intact while adding increased safety measures and keeping the sport, and its practitioners, alive and well."
"Dan Wheldon's death brings link between car racing and boxing to the forefront"
This happened despite improved safety over the years: "Wheldon's death was a stunning loss at a time when improved cars, better safety equipment, and energy-absorbing walls had created a sense that, while racing was still dangerous, it was not nearly as deadly," says the Associated Press. Wheldon's death marks the first IndyCar fatality since Paul Dana in 2006, and it follows the 2001 death of NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt, which "shook the motorsports world to its core" and "led to sweeping safety improvements in NASCAR." Clearly, we still have a long way to go.
"IndyCar driver Wheldon's death highlights dangers of racing, despite safety improvements"
And some of the dangers are uniquely American: "In the last 20 years there have been 15 deaths in IndyCar and NASCAR combined," says Ben Wyatt at CNN. By comparison, Formula One, the international rival, which once had a similarly high fatality rate, hasn't had a death since Ayton Senna in 1994. Senna's death "acted as a catalyst to drive through a raft of safety features for both the cars and track." While American racing has adopted some of those changes, "the danger of the banked curves, the compact oval circuit, and unforgiving perimeters" remains. Sadly, "the close proximity of the high-speed contest is central to the American culture of motorsport, and it is this constraint that keeps the endeavor so perilous."
"Wheldon's death a watershed moment for IndyCar?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace
- 9 things you probably didn't know about the moon
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why are so many parents being arrested?
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why I choose not to be rich
- 29 adorable slang terms for sex (from the last 600 years)
- Here's the last time Russia shot down a passenger plane
- What if The Purge was real?
Subscribe to the Week