Skip navigation
Indycar 7

Fence pole strike killed Wheldon

IndyCar has released its report on Dan Wheldon’s fatal accident in the IndyCar Series finale at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway two months ago.

The report concludes that Wheldon was killed when his car struck one of the retaining posts holding up the track’s catch fencing. The impact tore a hole in the top of the car’s monocoque and hit Wheldon in the head, killing him instantly.

indycar  Fence pole strike killed Wheldon

“The chassis impacted a post along the right side of the tub,” said IndyCar’s operations chief Brian Barnhart. “That created a deep defect in the tub that extended from the pedal bulkhead along the upper border of the tub and through the cockpit. The pole intruded in the cockpit and made contact with the driver’s helmet and head.

“That caused a non-survivable, blunt force injury trauma to Dan’s head. Dan’s injury was limited to his head. There was no evidence of mechanical or structural issues contributing to this accident. The Safer barrier and the fence system appeared to function as designed during the accident. The impact with the fence that resulted in Dan’s non-survivable injuries involved the circumstances of location, direction and orientation that was the chance result of previous interactions.”

In examining the crash IndyCar took data from the onboard accident data recorders and Pi data systems from each of the 15 crashed cars. A thorough examination of Wheldon’s car and helmet also took place and video and still photographs of the accident were studied.

indycar  Fence pole strike killed Wheldon

The posts at the Las Vegas track are located inside the fencing and some critics have suggested this exacerbated Wheldon’s injuries. But Barnhart refuted those claims: “The fence appeared to perform as designed. There’s no indication whatsoever that had the fabric or mesh been on the inside that the outcome of this accident would have been any different.”

Running in 24th place in the middle of the pack of crashing cars, Wheldon had time to get off the throttle and on the brakes before hitting the tail of Charlie Kimball’s car, which launched him towards the debris fence. Wheldon had decelerated from 224 to 165mph before the impact, which measured 23g longitudinally and negative 23g vertically but wasn’t enough to do Wheldon any damage. However, the collision sent Dan’s car flying for about 325 feet before striking the fence.

IndyCar announced last week that it would not race at Las Vegas next year. But Barnhart and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said they would evaluate next year’s new Dallara DW12 to see if it’s possible to return to the track in the future. Barnhart said IndyCar is taking a close look at all the high-banked ovals where it races.

indycar  Fence pole strike killed Wheldon

“Each oval has unique characteristics and should be considered individually,” he said. “The banking itself is not the only geometry taken into consideration. There are a number of factors including the length and width of the track, the progressiveness of the banking, the length of the transition and the overall grip or co-efficient of friction of the asphalt. There are a number of factors that should be taken under consideration on an individual basis, not simply by banking alone. IndyCar, CART and Champ Car have successfully conducted many races over numerous years on high-banked ovals.”

Bernard added that the 2012 IndyCar calendar will be released imminently while the first batch of 15 Dallara DW12s were delivered to teams in Indianapolis this week.


Add your comments

7 comments on Fence pole strike killed Wheldon

  1. Ray T, 16 December 2011 17:32

    Putting 34 cars to race on a second-rate, dinky track killed Dan Wheldon.

  2. Chris Hall, 17 December 2011 00:42

    Absolutely right Ray. Awful lot of self justification in the report particularly with regard to the number of cars allowed to race compared to other tracks.

  3. Carlos Sanchez, 19 December 2011 13:57

    Too many cars in a very small/short track and the stupidly high speeds attained in Indycar racing.
    The real problem is, when will they learn to really evaluate a driver’s ability by ‘real driving’ and not just taxiing around at constantly high aircraft like speeds which increase the dangers enormously so that any efforts made so far to make motor racing safer become fraught?…
    Let’s be objective. Motor racing, or any other high performance sport has it’s implied risks, that we shall diminish as much as possible, first to the spectators and secondly to the protagonists themselves, who have chosen that, and not another safer activity, to make a living.
    With all due respect for Dan Wheldon, I am sure he would still agree that given the nature of his chosen sport, Motor Racing statistically is, by and far, one of the safest sports in existence. Just go end see mountain climbing for example, or hangliding, or even skiing… Ah but these are of a much lower profile… right.

  4. Ray T, 19 December 2011 15:12

    Carlos, the most dangerous sport in the world, according to death statistics, is fishing.

  5. Carlos Sanchez, 19 December 2011 15:59

    Thanks. That helps us to get the point through more emphatically then!

  6. John Read, 19 December 2011 20:16

    Ray, 87% of statistics are made up by people on the spot.

  7. A.S. Gilbert, 20 December 2011 06:59

    Perhaps gentlemen, fishing is the most dangerous, with the “alcohol component, degree of difficulty” too often included.
    I grew up in a Maritime locality, and know fishing is a very risky profession. Greed, overcoming prudence often enough.
    Motor racing is still very risky, especially at the grass roots level. Numbers and standards dictate this.
    Top drawer series are remarkably less risky, given the performance dynamics, but lethal incidents have a macro effect at such amplified limits, on the grand stage.
    No true race fan wants to see shunts, especially those of us who went through the casualty frequented years.
    I had the “oh no’s”, about the Las Vegas race concept, many did, now are we’re wiser, and infinitely poorer.

Similar content


Conway wins messy Long Beach GP


Gordon Kirby reports on Mike Conway’s unlikely Indycar win on the streets of Long Beach


Long Beach’s best race


Gordon Kirby recalls the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach and an emphatic comeback victory from Alex Zanardi


Will Power dominates IndyCar opener


Gordon Kirby reports on the IndyCar season opener and a strong performance from winner Will Power



Gordon Kirby

Read Gordon's profile and more …