Mar 262006
 
Authors: SARAH ROTHCHILD, CARLI TEPROFF Knight Ridder Newspapers

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – IndyCar driver Paul Dana, 30, was pronounced dead at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital shortly before noon Sunday, following a gruesome two-car crash during a morning practice session at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The other driver involved, Ed Carpenter, was alert and in stable condition at Jackson Memorial.

“This is a very black day for us,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Dana’s No. 17 car of Rahal Letterman Racing. “On behalf of all of our team, David (Letterman), our sponsors and associates, our prayers and sympathies certainly go out to Paul and his wife Tonya and the whole Dana family. This is a great tragedy.”

As a result of Dana’s death, and in his honor, Rahal decided his team would not race in Sunday afternoon’s Toyota Indy 300, pulling the cars driven by 2005 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice.

According to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Spokesman Lt. Roman Bas, there were about 30 firefighters working trackside at the time of the accident.

“There was a minimal amount of time between the crash and when they were sent to the hospital,” said Bas, who noted they usually have about 30 firefighters working trackside and about 70 additional firefighters around the facility.

Bas said both men were in critical condition when transferred. Dana died at the hospital.

Dana’s death is the third at Homestead. Jeff Clinton died March 1, 2002 immediately following a crash during practice for the Grand American road racing series. John Nemechek died March 21, 1997, five days after sustaining injuries in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

The collision between Dana and Carpenter occurred at 10:03 a.m., during the final practice, Indy Racing League president and chief operating officer Brian Barnhart said.

“The league has had discussions with (International Speedway Corporation), and everyone here at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and Curtis Gray, the president of the racetrack and we’re all in agreement the race will go on as scheduled,” Barnhart said.

The collision between Carpenter and Dana occurred after Carpenter’s car spun out and bounced off the wall in Turn 2 and then slid back near the inside of the track. Five cars passed Carpenter’s car and more than five seconds elapsed before Dana smashed into his car. Replays show a car to the outside of Dana, which could have prevented him from going around Carpenter. Dana’s car became airborne and its nose pointed skyward. The crash severely damaged the rear of Carpenter’s car, and it destroyed Dana’s car, with parts scattered on the track.

ESPN reported Dana was going 176 mph at the time of impact, but IRL officials said they wouldn’t know his exact speed until further investigations are completed.

Driver Buddy Lazier, who saw the collision unfold before him and said that he had hit 205 mph before hitting the brakes, said car pieces and oil covered the track.

“I backed off a lot thinking it was just practice, we’re just getting up to speed,” said driver Scott Sharp, “and Paul had gotten to the point he was way ahead of me, so all a sudden I saw him go up in the air and realize debris was everywhere. Other than that, I wasn’t able to see much.”

A yellow caution flag had been waved immediately after Carpenter hit the wall and the spotters, who communicate with drivers, told them to steer clear of Carpenter.

“There was no problem with the communication,” Rahal said. “The spotter made clear the incident. From what I can see there was a car on the outside that Paul was passing or had just passed. I think it would be conjecture and probably irresponsible for me to try to assess why what happened, happened.”

Dana is survived by his wife, Tonya, who was at church in Indianapolis when she got word of her husband’s death. Dana’s brother, Greg, had been at the track Sunday morning.

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