IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon dead after fiery race crash

Oct 16, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Racing fans are in shock after a violent car crash claimed the life of Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas.

Dan Wheldon dead after crash in Las Vegas

An exciting day at the Indy 300 in Las Vegas turned tragic after a fiery 15-car crash claimed the life of race car driver Dan Wheldon, who was sponsored by Justin Timberlake's William Rast clothing company. He was 33.

"IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute in his honor."

Wheldon -- the come-from-behind victor at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 -- was fatally injured when his car went airborne during the lap 12 crash. He was airlifted out of the speedway and the race was canceled.

Dan Wheldon crash: 'The worst thing I've seen'

"Just a horrendous accident," said fellow driver Paul Tracy to the AP. "Lot of prayers right now for Dan, because it's going to be a long recovery. They're scrambling in there right now. There's 20 doctors in there."

The day was supposed to be memorable for another reason: it's Danica Patrick's last race before she switches to NASCAR full-time.

"I've never seen such a mess in my entire career on the race track," said Patrick. "Really concerned about Dan right now."

Wheldon -- also the winner of the 2005 Indianapolis 500 -- was set to win $5 million in the race.

"All I could see was cars flying. Without a doubt the worst thing I've ever seen in my racing career. It's sad, man, sad," said a choked-up Davey Hamilton. "It's been 10 years, more than 10 years, since my accident at Texas. We're all a bunch of friends here, this is my family, and I was fortunate enough to come back. As I tried to tell everybody when I got hurt, when you put on a helmet and a firesuit, it's probably pretty dangerous. We accept that as racing drivers."

Wheldon's death comes just five months after his Indianapolis 500 victory.

"I think my contract expires at midnight so I just knew when I started this race that I wanted to do everything in my power to deliver a win for not just myself -- because I didn't feel we had anything to prove -- but for such a great group of people," he said after his May win.

He leaves behind his wife, Susie Behm, and two sons, Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months.

Image courtesy Jeff Daly /