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What caused Dana's wreck?


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Column: Dana's Death May Remain Mystery

 

By MIKE HARRIS

The Associated Press

 

?

 

The scarred, twisted remains of Paul Dana's No. 17 Panoz race car lay under a tarp Monday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the biggest clue in a mystery that may never be solved.

 

Dana died Sunday after sustaining what officials described as "multiple trauma injuries" in a two-car crash during a warmup for the season-opening IRL IndyCar Series race at Homestead.

 

The league plans to look into the possible causes, but the only thing the computers in Dana's car _ or the videotape of the crash _ is likely to tell them is that the rookie driver, with all of three IRL races under his belt, kept his foot on the gas until a few tenths of a second before impact.

 

As for why, well _ the only person who could likely have answered that question was Dana himself.

 

Ed Carpenter's spinning car, which had crashed seconds earlier and glanced off a concrete wall, had nearly come to a halt when Dana suddenly appeared, flying off turn two on the 1.5-mile oval.

 

It appeared Dana never slowed, bearing down like a 200-mph missile _ two hours later, he was pronounced dead. While Dana said he was 30 and listed a 1975 birthday in media guides, there were reports that he was actually 32 and born two years earlier.

 

The wreck left everyone wondering whether Dana even saw the caution lights flashing along the speedway walls, or heard the words of his spotter, who team officials say tried to warn of the danger ahead.

 

For years, drivers with little experience _ and sometimes little talent _ have managed to find rides at the top level of open-wheel racing by bringing family money or a sponsor to the table. And in a sport where big dollar sponsors are few and far between these days, buying a ride has become just another part of the game.

 

Dana wasn't rich, but he found a way to live his dream of racing cars. He worked at a variety of jobs, including mechanic, racing instructor and marketing representative to pay his way up the racing ladder.

 

He even wrote about auto racing for several national magazines, including Autoweek and Sports Illustrated.

 

But Dana, a savvy and glib young man who didn't get serious about racing until he was 20, had found sponsorship in Team Ethanol that he could bring to a team. That's how he got his ride with Rahal Letterman Racing, one of the top teams in the IRL.

 

He did have some success in the Indy Pro Series, the steppingstone series to IndyCar, winning one pole and one race and finishing second in the championship in 2004. But anybody in open-wheel racing will tell you it's a big step up from Indy Pro to IndyCar.

 

Working with Team Ethanol, Dana got an IndyCar ride in 2005 with Hemelgarn Racing.

 

At the Homestead opener, he finished a career-best 10th. But only 10 cars were running at the end of that race and Dana was eight laps behind the winner.

 

At the next race, in Phoenix, Dana was passed by the leaders about every eight laps on the one-mile oval before retiring after just 33 laps with a mechanical problem.

 

He skipped the road race at St. Petersburg, but traveled to Japan for the next oval race, finishing 20th in the 25-car field when his suspension broke after just 56 of 200 laps.

 

Then, Dana crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500, breaking his back and missing the rest of the season.

 

That was the resume he brought to the elite team co-owned by longtime racing star Bobby Rahal and television talk show host David Letterman. Bringing his own primary sponsor with him, Dana replaced highly regarded and considerably more experienced Vitor Meira in the third Rahal Letterman car this season.

 

Unlike the death of much-beloved NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, Dana's tragic death did not ignite national mourning or a series of safety-related changes.

 

Dana's death will leave only questions: Was he over his head in that race car? Why didn't he slow down?

 

We'll probably never know the answer to either.

 

? 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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A couple of things. One, the wreck was in a corner. At Dana's rate of speed, it was very hard to see where exactly it was at considering his position in the turns of the track.

 

Two, spotter error - his spotter told him to "go low" although wrecked cars slide down the banking of the track.

 

Three, driver error - Dana was absolutely flying through the corner.

 

 

 

I think that if any of these three things had been different, Dana would be alive today.

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Pretty bad wreck for just practice. IRL is going to do away with practice sessions which I personally think is bull. Drivers learn more about the track and the track conditions in practice.

 

Taking away practice sessions increases the chances of a big wreck in the race.

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Wrecks in motorsports are so tough to figure out. I mean, you see guys like Carpenter survive, but look at what happened to Steve Park back in 2001, he got hit at like 60 mph and the guys slurring his speech for the rest of his life.

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