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Wednesday, October 22
Updated: October 23, 7:11 PM ET
Renna killed during test at Speedway
By Robin Miller
Special to ESPN.com
Renna, who would have turned 27 years old next month, was negotiating Turn 3 when his car jumped sideways and became airborne. According to witnesses, the car cleared the four-foot concrete wall and smashed into the catch fence -- snapping posts, scattering parts and killing Renna instantly of massive internal trauma.
The Indy Racing League medical team reacted immediately and tried to revive Renna but could never establish a heartbeat, according to a source close to Renna's Target Chip Ganassi Racing team. Renna was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Speedway spokesman Ron Green said the cause of the accident wasn't yet known, but crew members from another IRL team told ESPN.com that Renna's car may have pinched the corner and got into the grass separating the pit lane from the track. That could explain why Renna's car was launched, going from grass to pavement and the air getting under the tub and sending it sailing into the catch fence.
Because of its altitude Renna's car never came into contact with the IMS safety barrier, located in front of the concrete wall and a breakthrough in driver safety at Indy the past two years.
Aerial photos from a helicopter at a local television station showed the aftermath of the ferocious crash with a big portion of the catch fence destroyed. Pieces from the car were also thought to have landed on the grandstand walkway in Turn 3.
"We're mourning the loss of our driver, friend and colleague," said team owner Chip Ganassi. "On behalf of our whole team, we send our sincere condolences and prayers to the family and friends of Tony Renna."
"Tony was a great young guy," Green said. "I don't think anyone in the paddock ever had a bad thing to say about Tony."
Said Tony George, IRL and IMS president: "Tony Renna was a rising star in IndyCar Series racing. All of us involved in racing feel a great loss. On behalf of my family and the staff of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League, our prayers and best wishes go out to his family, friends, team and fans."
In becoming the 67th person and 40th driver to lose his life at Indianapolis, the native of DeLand, Fla., was the first Indy-car racer to die since Greg Moore perished in a CART race at Fontana, Calif., in 1999, and the first death at Indy since Scott Brayton died in a crash during practice in 1996.
Renna, scheduled to be married next month, had only been on the track for five laps when the accident took place shortly before 9:30 a.m. It was the same car driven 228 mph the day before by 2003 IRL champ Scott Dixon.
After serving as a test driver/spotter for Kelley Racing, Renna filled in for Al Unser Jr. during the 2002 IRL season and notched five top-10 finishes, including a career-best fourth in 2002 at Michigan, with the team. This year, he qualified eighth and finished seventh at the Indy 500 while also continuing to spot for Unser. Renna also drove in the Indy Lights series from 1998 to 2000.
A few weeks ago, Renna finally got the break he'd been waiting for and was named to replace Tomas Scheckter at the formidable Target/Ganassi team for 2004.
"There were lean times but I never considered giving up on racing," said Renna at that time. "I think I've played the patience game pretty well and I'm ready to be in a place like this (Ganassi).
"There's been some interesting circumstances to get me to this point but I think my time has come."
Renna, who began racing at age 6, had won 252 races in mini-sprints, go-karts, micro-sprints and quarter-midgets. He was a two-time national champion in quarter-midgets, and was the 1996 rookie of the year in the Barber Dodge Pro Series.
In 1998, after a two-year stint in the Barber Dodge series, Renna joined Indy Lights, CART's developmental series at the time.
Just two weeks ago in the IRL finale at Texas, 1999 Indy winner Kenny Brack was seriously injured when his car touched wheels with Scheckter's and sent him into a violent flip. Brack's car broke up, like it's designed to dissipate energy, and he suffered a broken back, sternum, right leg and fractured both ankles.
This past April, Mario Andretti was testing his son's car at the Speedway when he ran over a small piece of debris and flipped across the short chute. But the 63-year-old legend miraculously escaped injury when his car bounced off the top of the catch fence and back on the racing surface -- landing on its wheels.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories