I.R.L. Rookie Dies After Prerace Collision
* Save Article
Article Tools Sponsored By
By DAVE CALDWELL and CHARLIE NOBLES
Published: March 27, 2006
The Indy Racing League rookie Paul Dana died yesterday after he was involved in a two-car collision during a practice session five hours before the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
Skip to next paragraph
Luis Alvarez/Associated Press
Dana was a rookie who competed in three I.R.L. races last year.
Luis Alvarez/Associated Press
Dana was pronounced dead at noon yesterday at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. He would have turned 31 on April 15.
A native of St. Louis, Dana was the newest driver on the Rahal Letterman Racing team, which also includes the 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice and last year's IndyCar Series rookie of the year, Danica Patrick. The Hall of Fame driver Bobby Rahal and the late-night talk-show host David Letterman own the team.
Rice and Patrick withdrew from yesterday's race, the Toyota Indy 300, which took place as scheduled.
"It is a very black day for us," Rahal said at a news conference before the race, which was won by Dan Wheldon, last year's I.R.L. champion.
Dana was fatally injured when his car slammed into the car driven by Ed Carpenter, the stepson of the I.R.L. founder, Tony George. Carpenter's car had gone into a spin on the second turn on the 1.5-mile oval. It then slid down the high banking and came to a stop near the bottom of the track before it was hit by Dana's car, which was traveling at nearly 200 miles an hour.
The collision occurred at 10:03 a.m. yesterday, two minutes into the final practice session before the race. Brian Barnhart, president and chief operating officer of the I.R.L., said the practice session was the first time in which all 20 cars were on the track at the same time.
Buddy Lazier, a veteran driver, told The Associated Press that Dana passed him and a car driven by Scott Sharp before hitting Carpenter's car. Lazier and Sharp were able to slow their cars to avoid hitting Carpenter, whose car is also owned by George. Dana carried too much speed into the corner, Lazier said.
Barnhart said that yellow caution lights functioned properly after Carpenter hit the wall. Rahal said a spotter had cautioned Dana about the accident.
"I think it would be conjecture and probably very irresponsible for me to try to dissect as to why what happened happened," Rahal said. "But there was no problem with communication."
Carpenter, 25, was in stable condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital when the Toyota Indy 300 began with only 16 cars. Wheldon won the race by 0.0147 seconds, or three feet, over Hélio Castroneves.
Before the race, Wheldon placed Dana's car number, 17, on the side of his car. When asked afterward what he would remember most about Dana, Wheldon struggled for an answer. Appearing overwhelmed, he put down his microphone, put on his sunglasses and left the interview room.
"All the drivers here know the risks," Castroneves said. "We know the sport. But we're here because we love what we do. Nobody wants to see something like that happen. At the same time, we need to know how to deal with it. It's not the first time it's happened. And unfortunately, I don't think it'd be the last time."
Dana is the first I.R.L. driver to die as the result of an accident since Tony Renna was killed during testing in Indianapolis on Oct. 22, 2003.
Yesterday's race was the first of only 14 this season for the struggling I.R.L., which was started in 1994 by George, the chief executive officer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; there were 17 races last season. Kevin Kalkoven, the co-owner of the ChampCar series, which is also struggling, and George said Friday that they had talked about a reunification of the open-wheel circuits.
The decision to pull the popular Patrick out of yesterday's race did not sit well with several of her fans at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where a crowd estimated at 30,000 watched the race. She signed autographs before leaving the track without comment an hour before the race.
"If I was in that situation, I would want to win the race in Dana's honor," said Tim Hawks of Miami Spring.
Dana had been a journalism major at Northwestern and covered racing for AutoWeek and Sports Illustrated in 1997 while he launched his driving career. He was named by Rahal in January to replace Vitor Meira, who is with Panther Racing this season. Dana drove in three races with Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing last year but broke his back in a practice accident before the Indy 500.
"He had a lot of enthusiasm for learning and was coming along very nicely," Steve Dickson, the manager for Rahal Letterman Racing, said of Dana. "You never think too much about something like this happening."
As darkness fell, only one number was left on the scoreboard at the racetrack: 17.