Dana, 30, dies after crash

Rookie collided with Carpenter in warm-up for season-opening Indy 300

Indy Racing League

March 27, 2006|By RICHARD BIEBRICH | RICHARD BIEBRICH,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Paul Dana, a rookie in the Indy Racing League and a teammate to Danica Patrick and 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, died at Jackson Memorial Hospital yesterday because of injuries suffered in a crash during the morning and final practice for the season-opening Toyota Indy 300.

Dana, 30, collided with the Indy car of Ed Carpenter, who had spun into the wall at the exit of Turn 2 just two minutes into the session, and was drifting back down the track.

Five racers passed around Carpenter, whose car nearly got pointed in the right direction as he spun back down the track to the infield, when Dana collided with him, going more than 175 mph into the rear of Carpenter's Indy car.

"There was no problem in communication," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal, who withdrew the cars of Patrick and Rice from the race. "The spotter made clear of the incident, and from what I can see, there was a car on the outside of Paul that was just passing or had just passed, but I think it would just be conjecture and probably be very irresponsible of me to try to dissect as to why [and] what happened."

Patrick and Rice did not run yesterday afternoon, but the race went on as planned, with defending Indy 500 and IRL points champion Dan Wheldon beating Helio Castroneves by about three feet.

If the drivers had any jitters going into the race, it didn't show by the end - Wheldon and Castroneves carried off a side-by-side, tire-bumping duel in the final laps en route to the thrilling finish.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Dana family and all of Rahal Letterman racing," said Wheldon, who ran the race with Dana's No. 17 on his side pod. "It's a very, very sad day. I think hopefully we put on a good race."

The decision to pull Patrick and Rice from the race was met with approval from 1969 Indy 500 winner and former Formula One champion Mario Andretti, whose grandson, Marco, competed that afternoon.

"This is now a tough time, to be able to focus and have a clear mind on the job," Andretti said. "It looked, on TV, like a surprise to [Dana]. I don't know whether he could have avoided it."

Two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk's thoughts turned first to his son, Arie Jr., who competed in the Indy Pro Series Miami 100, finishing fourth.

"And [now] Mario's grandson is driving," Luyendyk said. "But it's up to your kids to make that decision."

The death is the first in IndyCar since 26-year-old Tony Renna died in October 2003 during a practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It is the third driver fatality at Homestead-Miami Speedway - 27-year-old John Nemechek, brother to NASCAR Nextel Series regular Joe Nemechek, died in a Craftsman Truck race in March 1997 when his truck spun and hit driver-side first into the outer wall at Turn 1, and Grand American series road racer Jeff Clinton, 38, died in March 2002 when his prototype racer flipped entering the road course off the front straight.

Dana, who was the 2004 runner-up in the Indy Pro Series, the IRL's developmental league, called the Rahal Letterman ride a dream come true.

"As a young driver, you dream about an opportunity like this with a championship-caliber team," Dana said previously.

Dana had worked his way up the ladder in motor sports by taking on nearly any job that came across his path, not only as a driver but also as a mechanic, a racing instructor, a sports writer for Autoweek and Sports Illustrated, and even as a marketing representative for various series.

Dana competed in three races in 2005 with Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing with a best finish of 10th at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He suffered a season-ending back injury during the first week of practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500 and had said he was fully recovered from that crash.

Dana is survived by his wife, Tonya.

Carpenter, who was in stable condition last night at Jackson Memorial Hospital with no broken bones, is the stepson of IRL founder Tony George. He ran three races in the series in 2003 before becoming a series regular in 2004 driving for Red Bull Cheever Racing. Carpenter, 25, has driven for his stepfather's team, Vision Racing, since 2005.

Richard Biebrich writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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