Wheldon’s death causes criticism of IndyCar boss
As fans watched the horrifying car crash that killed Dan Wheldon, the focus inevitably turned to the IndyCar Series chief executive, Randy Bernard.
The 44-year-old executive from California had heavily marketed the Las Vegas Motor Speedway race as the dazzling finale to his attempts to improve the popularity of the sagging IndyCar Series.
Wheldon actually reportedly joined the race hoping to grab the first-place prize of $5 million, which he would split with a fan that would be randomly selected. The prize money was offered by Bernard as well as IndyCar sponsors for a driver who was not regularly part of the IndyCar circuit.
The October 16 race instead turned into a 15-car inferno and Wheldon’s death, resulting in uncontrolled finger-jabbing, including those who blamed Bernard while others raged about risky race conditions, even when checked against standards for motor racing.
It was described by one columnist on a website as “almost criminal.” reported Bernard as having been soaked in hate mail, with his contest labeled by many as a gimmick, a stunt, or even a desperate attempt that did not have any place in the dangerous sport.
However, as IndyCar investigated the car crash, some of them confirmed that it was not Bernard or his promotion was to blame; instead, safety issues had to be addressed.
Fontana Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker, who had been at Las Vegas for the race, commented that the blame game needed to stop; this way, the energy could instead be diverted towards learning from the incident in order to make the sport stronger and safer.
The race had involved a relatively high number of cars, 34 of them, speeding at over 220mph around the 1.5-mile oval, which was described as also being relatively small and having corners that were highly banked. In contrast, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which is highly famed was in the shape of a rectangular oval, which was, however, much longer, measuring 2.5 miles long and having corners that were flatter.
The Las Vegas crash happened early on in the race, at a time when the drivers were still in a close pack. The accident happened in front of Wheldon, who was running 25th, and he was not able to steer clear of the heap that eventually totaled 15 cars.
Tony Stewart, two-time champion for the NASCAR who had also previously won in Indy-style racing, commented that Bernard had gotten much beating up over the whole incident when it was not necessarily his fault.
He told reporters on Friday that racing had always been a dangerous sport, and that he felt everybody just had give their emotions a chance to settle down before pointing fingers.
Bernard had not been available for interview, although he told the Associated Press that his focus at the moment was taking care of Wheldon’s family, describing the incident as a tragic accident that IndyCar needed to understand as much as it could about.
Wheldon’s funeral was held on Saturday, with memorial held on Sunday for the public in Indianapolis, attended by many race car drivers and IndyCar community members who commemorated his life with music and stories.