LAS VEGAS, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died Sunday in a hideous wreck that left the Las Vegas Motor Speedway littered with fiery debris.
Wheldon's car went airborne during a 15-car, chain-reaction collision early in the final race of the IndyCar season. Two hours afterward, series officials gathered the drivers to give them the tragic news.
"IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries," said a statement released by Randy Bernard, chief executive officer of the IndyCar series. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today."
Cars driven by rookies Wade Cunningham and James Hinchcliffe in the back half of the field touched wheels on the second turn at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour and were sent broadside across the track. In an instant, other drivers piled into each other with Wheldon's car leaving the ground, bursting into flames and flying into the catch fence.
Other cars slammed into the wall and caught fire while disintegrating into large and small chunks of metal. Drivers who slowed down in time to avoid the carnage in front of them weaved their way through the wreckage, some of it still aflame.
The Las Vegas track had been criticized by several drivers because of the high speeds that were obtainable.
"I said before we even tested her that this was not a suitable track for us and we've seen it today," Dario Franchitti told the Speed Channel after the wreck. Franchitti, who led the IndyCar series points race coming into the event, became the 2011 series champion when the race was canceled.
Will Power, who had hoped to challenge Franchitti for the title Sunday, was one of those involved in the wreck and he was taken to a local hospital complaining of back pain.
Although others were hurt in the wreck, there were no indications from IndyCar officials that any of them suffered serious injuries.
Wheldon, a 33-year-old British driver, won this year's Indianapolis 500. He also captured the event in 2005, when he won the IndyCar series championship.
The last IndyCar fatality had come five years ago when Paul Dana was killed in a practice crash on the day the 2006 season-opener was scheduled in Homestead, Fla.
Sunday's race was also the last in the IndyCar series for Danica Patrick, who will move to NASCAR racing full time next year. She was not involved in the wreck.