Here’s the news from the world of motorsports:
• Paul Dana Killed at Homestead: IRL IndyCar Series rookie Paul Dana, 30, was fatally injured in a two-car crash during the morning warm-up prior to Sunday’s season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
At 10:03 am, just three minutes into the 30-minute session, Ed Carpenter spun his No. 20 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda in Turn 2 on the 1.5-mile circuit and rolled down the banking toward the apron and came to a stop. The caution lights went on immediately and a number of cars drove past at reduced speed before Dana’s No. 17 Rahal-Letterman Racing Panoz/Honda arrived on the scene, striking Carpenter’s car in the left-rear wheel at what was estimated to be approximately 180mph. The impact split Carpenter’s car in two and catapulted Dana’s car over Carpenter’s.
The medical crew arrived on scene immediately, and it took about 15 minutes to extract both drivers from the wreckage. Both drivers were flown by helicopter to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. Carpenter, stepson of IRL founder and CEO Tony George, was reportedly unconscious immediately following the accident, but was said to be awake and alert before being placed in the helicopter. Later in the day it was reported that he had no broken bones and was being kept at the hospital for observation.
Dana was pronounced dead just before noon. An official cause of death was not released, but IRL president and COO Brian Barnhart said, “I believe he was pronounced dead from the multiple trauma.”
Bobby Rahal, who co-owns Dana’s team with television personality David Letterman, announced that the team would withdraw its other two entries, driven by Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice, from the race.
“It is a very black day for us, and on behalf of our entire team our prayers and sympathy go out to the entire Dana family,” Rahal said.
Barnhart said that the trackside and dashboard-mounted caution lights were working properly, the caution flag had been displayed and spotters had relayed information about Carpenter’s crash immediately. Rahal said that there had been no communications problems with Dana’s radio, and that his spotter had alerted him to the crash ahead of him.
Dana had competed in three IRL races previously, all occurring last year with Hemelgarn Racing. He broke his back in a crash while practicing for the Indianapolis 500 and spent the remainder of 2005 in rehabilitation. He signed with Rahal-Letterman for 2006 and was preparing for his first race with his new team, for which he had qualified 11th.
Dana was the third IRL driver killed in the series’ history. Tony Renna died in a crash during testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October 2003, and Scott Brayton was killed while practicing for the Indianapolis 500 in May 1996. The most recent death in NASCAR was Dale Earnhardt in February 2001, and the last driver to die in Formula 1 was Ayrton Senna in May 1994.
Dana’s was third racing death at the Homestead track. John Nemechek was killed in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race in February 1997 and Jeff Clinton died in a Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series event at the track in March 2002.
A native of St. Louis currently residing in Indianapolis, Dana had been racing for 10 years. He started out in the Bridgestone Racing School Mechanics Championship, where he scored two wins and six top-five finishes. He advanced through the Bridgestone Racing School Championship Series, the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Series and then the SCCA FF1600 and US F2000 series. He moved up to the Indy Pro Series in 2003, and finished second in that series’ championship in 2004, scoring a victory at Milwaukee.
Dana would have turned 31 on April 15. He is survived by his wife Tonya.
• George Acknowledges Unification Talks: On Friday, IRL founder and CEO Tony George acknowledged that he has been talking with Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven about uniting the two open-wheel series. George said there were a lot of issues to deal with, such as chassis, engine and venues, but that talks were continuing.
• Unser Returns for Indy 500: Two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. announced last week that he will return to the cockpit to try to get his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy for a third time. Unser, 44, will drive a second car for the Dreyer & Reinbold team, where he will be teammates with 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier. Unser will join his longtime rival Michael Andretti and Eddie Cheever in returning to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. “Somebody’s got to keep Michael honest,” Unser joked to the Indianapolis Star.
• GM Suing Cheever: It was reported in the Detroit News last week that General Motors has filed suit against Cheever Racing, alleging that the team failed to pay $721,000 of a lease on a Chevrolet engine program in 2004. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, said Cheever’s team agreed to pay $1.4 million for an engine lease in the 2004 season, when Cheever fielded Chevy-powered cars driven by Alex Barron and Ed Carpenter. According to the lawsuit, GM received the first of four installments of $350,000 in January 2004 and then credited Cheever the second installment because GM owed the team for testing. The suit alleges the team subsequently made no more payments. Cheever, who switched from Chevy engines to Toyota in 2005, told speedtv.com that there was more to the story than had been reported. “They’ve conveniently deleted a lot of details that will come out in the future,” he said.