Death of IndyCar Champion Dan Wheldon makes the case for enclosed cockpits

Indianapolis 500 Champion Dan Wheldon lost his life in a shocking 15-car pile-up at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

Shortly after the race began that Sunday, two cars touched tires and a pile up ensued. As Wheldon approached the pile-up, he went over another car and spun into the air, causing the open cockpit to collide directly with the fence. The cause of death was listed as blunt trauma to the head.

Wheldon’s death is the first fatality in IndyCar in five years, after Paul Dana died in 2006. Several concerns have been discussed about racing at the Las Vegas track.

Drivers all over IndyCar are still in shock and are keeping mostly quiet about Wheldon’s death. They show their support through comforting Wheldon’s family, from mourning with them to contributing to memorial arrangements.

In response to the accident, IndyCar has established a trust fund and a memorial website for Wheldon.

An investigation started by IndyCar the week of Wheldon’s death will hopefully lead to improved safety measures. Formula One and the Automobile Competition Committee of the US are involved, although not officially, in the investigation as well.

Randy Bernard, CEO of IndyCar stressed the importance of these investigations and that he’s 100 percent committed to understanding everything about this crash and making sure that an incident like it never happens again.

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There were concerns about racing even before the race at the Las Vegas track began. The cars cannot race side-by-side (because of the open-wheel design used in the IndyCar) on the banking or the wide turns at Las Vegas without extreme risk and any contact between two cars can cause a huge collision, which is what happened in Wheldon’s case.

However the collision has launched a big question: should IndyCar have enclosed cockpits?

The Unlimited Air National Guard Series switched to enclosed cockpits for their hydroplanes which are high-speed boats that race on water, and have saved lives in the sport. If IndyCar took the same concept from the hydroplanes cockpit structure and applied it to their cockpits it could drastically improve the safety of the cars.

With an open cockpit in the hydroplanes the sport saw 14 fatalities and since their mandatory switch to an enclosed cockpit in 1989, there has only been one fatality 11 years ago in 2000.

It is not a change that could happen overnight, but the idea has the potential to save lives in the future.

IndyCar is currently in the process of designing a new car with a sleek design and a different look that will supposedly have improved safety features, however it still has an open cockpit.

Everything should be considered regarding the safety of IndyCar especially after the death of Wheldon, but it should be given some time. With the additional14 injuries that occurred on Sunday, Oct. 16 from the same crash, everyone should take some time to recover and take everything in. There are still many emotions throughout IndyCar between the committee, competitors, and fans alike.

Bernard and IndyCar have stated that they are less concerned at the moment with the safety of the Las Vegas track and more with supporting Wheldon’s family, being there for them in every way possible.