SBD/October 19, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

IndyCar Launches Investigation Into Crash That Resulted In Wheldon's Death

IndyCar said other racing organizations will assist in investigation into Sunday's crash
IndyCar yesterday said that an investigation has been launched into the crash that resulted in the death of driver Dan Wheldon Sunday at the Izod IndyCar World Championships in Las Vegas, promising “insight into the causes of the accident even as questions about the safety of the event are raised,” according to Bachman & Berzon of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. IndyCar said that “as part of its ‘standard safety protocol’ it would examine the circumstances surrounding” Wheldon’s death. The league added that other racing organizations “would assist in the investigation,” including the Automobile Competition Committee of the U.S., the sport's governing body domestically, and Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the international governing organization. IndyCar in a statement said, "We hope to have preliminary findings to report within the next several weeks." Bachman & Berzon report the statement is “among a few public comments IndyCar has made since Sunday's crash.” Sources said that IndyCar was “risking relationships with its sponsors by remaining largely quiet in the wake of the crash.” IndyCar “hasn't made officials available to talk with the media since Sunday and has issued only brief public comments.” Steve Sudler, a former team owner “who is now in car-racing consulting and marketing,” said that “one of his clients, which is looking to become an IndyCar sponsor, is now nervous about entering the sport.” Brazil-based trade-investment promotion agency Apex-Brasil USA COO Silvia Pierson, whose company in an IndyCar sponsor, on Monday said that her group “would continue to support" the league (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/19). Meanwhile, the GUARDIAN’s Giles Richards notes IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard has “come under fire amid accusations of sacrificing safety in a bid for popularity.” Bernard has “aggressively marketed IndyCar since taking over almost two years ago, including the $5M prize for driving from last place to first, which Wheldon was attempting to win on Sunday” (GUARDIAN, 10/19).

THE OVAL DEBATE: USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan writes Wheldon’s death has “sparked renewed debate over the diversity of the Izod IndyCar Series schedule,” though economic factors were already "driving the circuit away from high-banked ovals” such as LVMS. The ’11 schedule “originally featured a split of nine road and street courses and eight oval tracks,” and while the ’12 schedule has not been released, races on ovals tracks in Milwaukee and New Hampshire are “expected to be dropped because of poor attendance.” Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach President & CEO Jim Michaelian said, “It’s not incumbent upon the series to have an equal number of oval and street races.” He added, “Safety and commercial success should be the primary determinants of choosing venues.” Ryan notes others said that the series “was built on a foundation of versatility that highlighted the abilities of drivers” (USA TODAY, 10/19). In California, Tim Dutton writes under the header, “Are Oval Tracks Good For IndyCars?” (Riverside PRESS-ENTERPRISE, 10/19). But in Long Beach, Bob Keisser writes under the header, “Don’t Blame Tragic Death On Oval Track.” NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson earlier in the week said that IndyCar should “discontinue racing on ovals.” Keisser: “It's a bit disingenuous of Johnson to say that, since open wheel racing was born on ovals. … I have to believe Wheldon would be the first to disagree with Johnson” (Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM, 10/19). ESPN.com’s Terry Blount said the "call for getting away from ovals entirely” for IndyCar is a "big mistake.” Blount: “This series has to race at oval tracks if they are going to be a viable series in the United States. ... If they go just to streets and road races, they’re just going to be nothing more than a niche sport” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 10/18).

KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT: USA TODAY’s Ryan notes former IndyCar drivers A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti “condemned” Johnson and others for calling on IndyCar to stop racing on ovals. Foyt: “I don’t think Jimmie Johnson knows what he’s talking about. He’s never drove one, and he’s pretty stupid to make a statement like that.” Andretti said that Wheldon’s crash was a "'fluke, freakish accident' that would be addressed next year with a new chassis designed to keep cars on the pavement by preventing wheel-to-wheel contact” (USA TODAY, 10/19). But ESPN.com's John Oreovitz said IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt claiming he may leave the sport following Wheldon's death is "pretty stunning when you hear a guy who was a racer who would make an admission like that" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 10/18). Meanwhile, in London, Martin Samuel writes if IndyCar officials “had an equivalent of 'first do no harm' in their charter, Dan Wheldon would be alive today.” Samuel: “This is what happens when sport loses sight of its duty of care. IndyCar forgot that its first responsibility is not to the owners, the sponsors, the television companies, the promoters; it is not even to the fans.” IndyCar's “primary mission is to ensure -- as much as is possible in a sport with inherent danger -- that its drivers compete and finish safely.” Everything else “lines up behind” (London DAILY MAIL, 10/19).

HONORING WHELDON: SPEEDTV.com’s Marshall Pruett noted Supercar Championship Series Gold Coast 600 promoter Brett Murray is “having special t-shirts made using the custom helmet design Wheldon had done" for this weekend's race in Surfers Paradise, Australia. The shirt features Wheldon "in his suit and Lionheart character, surfing the waves.” The V8 Supercars series is “renaming the Gold Coast 600 trophy -- the Dan Wheldon International Driver Trophy -- that's awarded to the International driver with the best overall performance during the weekend in Dan's name.” Alex Tagliani, Wheldon's teammate with Sam Schmidt Motorsports/Bryan Herta Autosport, will “wear the belt from one of Wheldon's race suits around his sleeve as he races at Surfers Paradise” (SPEEDTV.com, 10/18). In Australia, Laine Clark reports Tagliani, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves have “all confirmed they will contest” for the Gold Coast 600, but Tony Kanaan yesterday withdrew “out of respect for Wheldon” (CANBERRA TIMES, 10/19). Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Matt Baker reports Italian racing company Dallara announced yesterday that it “would name its new car-frame design after Wheldon.” Wheldon debuted the new machine in August in Ohio and IndyCar VP/Technology Will Phillips said that Wheldon's testing “was crucial in developing the new car that will memorialize him and protect drivers in the future” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/19).
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