Publish date:
Updated on

IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon is killed in crash

On this day in 2011, 33-year-old Dan Wheldon, a popular, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, dies following a fiery, 15-car crash during the IndyCar World Championship at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Nevada. Wheldon’s death marked the first on-track IndyCar fatality since 2006, when 30-year-old driver Paul Dana perished in a crash during a practice session at Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway. Wheldon went on to victory in that day’s race.

Born on June 22, 1978, Wheldon was raised in Emberton, England, and was a champion kart racer. In the late 1990s, he moved to America to continue his auto-racing career. After competing in several lesser-known open-wheel series, he advanced to the IndyCar series, where he was named the 2003 rookie of the year. He won his first IndyCar event in 2004 at Japan’s Twin Ring Montegi.

In 2005, Wheldon won the Indianapolis 500, the first Englishman to do so since Graham Hill in 1966. With six first-place finishes in 2005, he shattered the record for most wins in a single IndyCar season and claimed that year’s series championship. Wheldon prevailed at the Indy 500 again on May 29, 2011, the 100th anniversary of the famous race. Despite this victory, he lacked the sponsorship to drive full-time during the 2011 season, and the October 16, 2011, event in Las Vegas marked just his third race of the year. Wheldon agreed to participate in a league promotion for part-time drivers in which he would start the 200-lap event at the back of the pack of 34 cars and split a $5 million bonus with a fan if he won the race.

Wheldon’s fatal crash occurred early in the race, on the 11th lap, with cars on the 1.5-mile oval track traveling at speeds of more than 200 mph. After a multi-vehicle crash suddenly occurred ahead of Wheldon, his car hit another car, went flying through the air and slammed into a fence. He was airlifted to a hospital and his death was announced a short time later. Several other drivers were injured in the pileup, although none critically. Experts labeled it one of the worst crashes in IndyCar history, and questions were raised about whether the track was large enough for the number of cars involved and whether it was too fast for them.

The remainder of the race, the final one of the season, was cancelled. Afterward, in a tribute to Wheldon, who racked up 16 victories over the course of his IndyCar career, drivers circled the Las Vegas track for five laps while fans looked on from the stands. It was later reported that prior the race, Wheldon had inked a multi-year deal with Andretti Autosport to replace Danica Patrick (the first-ever female to win an IndyCar race), who planned to leave IndyCar for NASCAR.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Nazi war criminals executed

At Nuremberg, Germany, 10 high-ranking Nazi officials are executed by hanging for their crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, and war crimes during World War II. Two weeks earlier, the 10 were found guilty by the International War Crimes Tribunal and sentenced to death more

Marie-Antoinette is beheaded

Nine months after the execution of her husband, the former King Louis XVI of France, Marie-Antoinette follows him to the guillotine. The daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, she married Louis in 1770 to strengthen the French-Austrian alliance. At a time of economic more

The Long March

The embattled Chinese Communists break through Nationalist enemy lines and begin an epic flight from their encircled headquarters in southwest China. Known as Ch’ang Cheng—the “Long March”—the retreat lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles, nearly twice the distance from New more

Bombing halt discussed

In a series of meetings with U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu insists that North Vietnam assent to three conditions prior to a bombing halt. He said the North Vietnamese had to (1) agree to respect the neutrality of the Demilitarized more

Lincoln speaks out against slavery

On this day in 1854, an obscure lawyer and Congressional hopeful from the state of Illinois named Abraham Lincoln delivers a speech regarding the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Congress had passed five months earlier. In his speech, the future president denounced the act and outlined more

Jane Eyre is published

On this day in 1847, Jane Eyre is published by Smith, Elder and Co. Charlotte BrontË, the book’s author, used the pseudonym Currer Bell. The book, about the struggles of an orphan girl who grows up to become a governess, was an immediate popular success. Brontë was born in 1816, more

Angela Lansbury born

On this day in 1925, the stage and screen actress Angela Lansbury, who starred in the TV series Murder, She Wrote and earned Oscar nominations for her performances in such films as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Manchurian Candidate, is born in London, England. In Hollywood, more

Stampede kills 84 at World Cup match

A stampede of soccer fans before a World Cup qualifying match in Guatemala City kills 84 people and seriously injures more than 100 on this day in 1996. The Guatemala national team was set to face off against Costa Rica on a Wednesday night in Guatemala City. Approximately 60,000 more

Twenty-three diners massacred at Texas restaurant

George Jo Hennard drives his truck through a window in Luby’s Cafeteria in Kileen, Texas, and then opens fire on a lunch crowd of over 100 people, killing 23 and injuring 20 more. Hennard then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. The incident was one of the deadliest more

China joins A-bomb club

The People’s Republic of China joins the rank of nations with atomic bomb capability, after a successful nuclear test on this day in 1964. China is the fifth member of this exclusive club, joining the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France. U.S. officials more

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry

Abolitionist John Brown leads a small group on a raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in an attempt to start an armed slave revolt and destroy the institution of slavery. Born in Connecticut in 1800 and raised in Ohio, Brown came from a more

Chevrolet introduces the El Camino

On October 16, 1958, Chevrolet begins to sell a car-truck hybrid that it calls the El Camino. Inspired by the Ford Ranchero, which had already been on the market for two years, the El Camino was a combination sedan-pickup truck built on the Impala body, with the same “cat’s eye” more