Wheldon Scored Big Deal Hours Before Death

Plus, drivers worried about safety before fatal race

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 17, 2011 10:29 AM CDT

(Newser) – Hours before he was killed in a 15-car pileup, Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon had signed a major, multiyear racing team deal. Wheldon had scored the spot Danica Patrick is vacating, behind the wheel of Andretti Autosport's car No. 7, ESPN reports. He had been part of the team's "glory days" from 2003 to 2005, says team owner Michael Andretti. "We had just literally inked it this morning," said Andretti of the deal. "We had great plans to do fun things together."

In the lead-up to the tragedy, drivers had been worried about just the sort of accident that ultimately occurred, NPR reports. They feared the effects of a collision with 34 cars on a 1.5-mile track (in comparison, NPR notes that this year's Indy 500 featured one fewer car on a 2.5-mile track). "No normal human being really has the reaction time to avoid anything" should something go wrong on a track that crowded and small, said a reporter. But for Wheldon himself, it seems, the top concern was speed. He worried that his team "just didn't have the speed" it might need to win, he told USA Today.

This May 29, 2011 file photo shows IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, of England, after winning the Indianapolis 500.   (AP Photo/Tom Strattman, File)
This May 30, 2011 file photo shows IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, of England, posing with the Borg-Warner Trophy.   (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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