By: Drew Hierwarter
The devastating crash on the 12th lap of the IZOD Indy Car race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that resulted in the tragic death of Dan Weldon on Sunday was inevitable. It was the result of a starting field of 34 cars, the largest of the season, traveling at high speeds, on a relatively small track.
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway, designed for NASCAR stock cars, is a smooth, very fast track. Too fast for Indy cars according to some of the series veterans. Some claimed that it was “too easy” for rookies to reach the 225+ mph speeds the cars are capable of there.
Veteran driver Oriol Servia said; “We all had a bad feeling about this place, in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat (out). We knew it could happen, but it’s just really sad.”
Most of the oval tracks that the Indy Car series races on are larger than LVMS or have less banking which reduces speeds. And the typical number of entrants is 24 to 28 cars. At Indianapolis, for example, they start 33 cars but the track is two-and-a-half miles around and has almost no banking in the turns. There is a lot more room for the cars to separate and for the fast cars to get away from the slower ones. But at Las Vegas the banking made it possible for all of the cars to run at similar speeds in large packs. At 225+ mph the drivers in those packs have no time to react to trouble.
The CEO of the IZOD Indy Car Series, Randy Bernard, was named to that post at the beginning of the 2010 season. He came from a similar post at Professional Bull Riders. He had absolutely no prior experience in racing and, in fact, the opening race of the 2010 season was the first auto race of any kind that Bernard had ever seen.
Mr. Bernard has no concept of what it’s like to drive a race car around a relatively short race track at speeds more than three times faster than he drives on the highway. He has no idea about the skill and experience it takes for a driver to negotiate traffic at those speeds. Bernard’s main focus since taking the job has been to increase the number of cars participating in the series. The decision to allow that many cars to enter a race on a track that size that produces those speeds was ultimately his.
And now the death of Dan Weldon is on his hands as well.