HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Paul Dana was an up-and-coming rookie
driver living his dream, a former motorsports journalist who was
hours away Sunday from beginning his most promising season yet.
Then, before the green flag flew, something went terribly,
While streaking around the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval during
a warmup session, Dana failed to notice that another car had spun
to a stop, slamming into it at an estimated 175 miles per hour. Two hours after
his shattered car came to a rest, the 30-year-old Dana was
pronounced dead at a hospital.
"Obviously, this is a very black day for us," team owner Bobby
Rahal said. "This is a great tragedy."
Dana believed he had finally gotten his big break in the months
before the season-opening IRL IndyCar Series race here. After a
string of modest successes rising through racing's ranks, he had
secured a ride with the elite Rahal Letterman Racing -- the same
team that fields IRL phenom Danica Patrick and Indianapolis 500
winner Buddy Rice.
Patrick and Rice did not run Sunday, but the race went on as
planned, with defending Indy 500 and IRL points champion Dan Wheldon beating Helio Castroneves by a nose cone.
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
"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 Rahal Letterman team will not race the No. 17 car next week in the IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, Fla., ESPN's Marlo Klain reported Monday. The team does intend to have a driver for the car later in the season.
Two days before his death -- the first in the IRL in three years
-- Dana was strolling through the paddock, shaking hands and signing
"I can't wait to get started because I want to prove to
everyone that I can do the job," Dana told a longtime
acquaintance. "I'm feeling good and I know I can race with these
guys. And now I've got great equipment."
Dana's wife, Tonya, was in Indianapolis, where the couple lived,
and was notified of her husband's death while attending a church
Dana, who began his career in Formula Fords and worked his way
up through the ranks, was known as a strong self promoter. He got
his new ride by bringing the Ethanol sponsorship to the Rahal
Letterman team over the winter.
"Paul was on Cloud Nine after getting the ninth spot [for Sunday's race]," Tom Slunecka, executive director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, told the Chicago Tribune. "His spirits were at an all-time high."
Still, the wreck might have been the result of a rookie mistake
by Dana, whose previous IRL experience included just three races
last season. Moments into the 30-minute warmup, Ed Carpenter,
stepson of IRL founder Tony George, crashed in turn two and went
spinning down the racetrack.
Yellow lights came on around the track, and several cars could
be seen slowing, some of which avoided Carpenter's car. But Dana's
car kept its speed, passing Buddy Lazier and Scott Sharp.
"He carried way too much speed in and wasn't aware of what was
going on around him," Lazier said.
Seconds later, Dana's Honda-powered Panoz slammed into
Carpenter's Dallara-Honda at nearly full speed -- about 200 mph.
Dana's car nearly split in half. The chassis flew about 6 feet
off the ground and pieces were strewn down the track. It nearly
turned over, but landed on its wheels before sliding to a halt.
"I really don't know at this point what happened or who was at
fault," said George, who founded the IRL in 1995. "It's just a
real shame. I don't know that it was inexperience. I don't want to
say anything about that."
Both drivers were flown by helicopter to a Jackson Memorial
Hospital in Miami, where Dana was pronounced dead about two hours
after the 10:03 a.m. crash. IRL officials said tests revealed no
injuries to Carpenter, but the 25-year-old third-year driver was
kept overnight for observation.
Dana's previous three IRL races with Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing
came at the start of the 2005 season. He finished a season-best
10th at Homestead, but his year ended in May when he sustained a
broken back while practicing for the Indianapolis 500.
There was no immediate explanation for Dana's failure to slow
down several seconds after the yellow lights came on around the
track because of Carpenter's crash.
"That's just the first time of the weekend that we got all 20
cars on the track at the same time," IRL president Brian
Barnhart said. "Ed had his problem in turn two initially. The yellow
lights were called immediately and all systems functioned properly.
It's just a busy time out there, with a lot of cars and a lot of traffic."
Rahal, co-owner of the Rahal Letterman team, said he knew of no
problem with communications.
"The spotter made clear the incident," Rahal said. "From what
I could see, there was a car on the outside. Paul was just passing
or had just passed, but I think it would be conjecture and probably
very irresponsible for me to try to dissect as to why what
happened, happened. But there was no problem with communication."
The Rahal Letterman team withdrew Patrick and Rice from the
Toyota Indy 300, and a moment of silence was observed before the
start of the 300-mile race. Otherwise, the prerace ceremonies,
including the introduction of the remaining 17 drivers, went
according to schedule.
Several drivers dedicated their race to Dana, but the fatality
didn't slow them down a bit. The crowd was on its feet for the
final 20 laps and the spectacular finish. The winning margin of
0.0147-seconds was the ninth closest finish in league history, and
there were no serious accidents in the race.
It was Wheldon's first victory with his new team, Chip Ganassi
"It's difficult to race under such circumstances," Wheldon
said. "It's a job and it can be pretty vicious at times. But there
can be a lot of highs as well."
Rahal, who co-owns the team with television talk show host David
Letterman, said the plan was to field cars for Patrick and Rice at
next Sunday's race in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said any future plans
for the No. 17 entry, the car driven by Dana, "are unclear at this
"Paul Dana's passing is a terrible tragedy and I want to
express my condolences and sympathies to his family and friends,"
Letterman said in a statement. "I did not know Paul personally,
but we were all proud to have him on our team and are deeply
saddened by his tragic passing at such a young age."
George, who owns the Vision Racing team that fields cars for
Carpenter and Tomas Scheckter, returned from the hospital about one
hour before the start of the race. He said he was relieved that his
stepson escaped serious injury.
"I guess he was pretty lucky," George said. "It was a hard hit."
Dana is the first IRL driver killed since Tony Renna died in a
crash during testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October
2003. The last NASCAR driver killed was Dale Earnhardt in February
2001, and the last driver to die in Formula One was Ayrton Senna in
It is the third racing death at the Homestead track -- John
Nemechek was killed in a NASCAR truck race in February 1997 and
Jeff Clinton died in a Grand Am sports car event at the track in
The IRL also had a tragedy in May 1999 when a wheel from a car
sailed into the grandstand at what was then Charlotte Motor
Speedway, killing three spectators and injuring eight others.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.