Texas Motor Speedway honors Wheldon

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by CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on October 17, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 17 at 8:44 PM

FORT WORTH - IndyCar and NASCAR drivers are calling for changes after the death of Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon. Five-time NASCAR Champion Jimmy Johnson said the open-wheel Indy cars should not race on ovals.

Texas Motor Speedway, an oval race track, said IndyCar is on the calendar to return, and any changes would be months away after serious discussions.

Dan Wheldon was killed on lap 11 in Las Vegas Sunday. He was involved in a 15-car collision. Vehicles broke into small pieces and caught fire. Wheldon's car flew into the catch fence, killing him.

Texas Motor Speedway lowered its flags to half-staff, but wasn't ready to talk about changes for IndyCar races.

"You know at times situations like this are going to occur," said TMS Vice President of Media Relations Mike Zizzo. "They're unfortunate; they're tragic; but it is part of the sport."

Zizzo called Wheldon a friend for nearly 15 years. He said Wheldon was a driver dedicated to promoting his sport.

"He was the person that if he was in the garage in the paddock, he touched a lot of people," Zizzo said. "It was one of those personalities where if you're around him, he made you happy; made you smile."

As a two-time Indy 500 champion, Wheldon made strong ties in North Texas when he took part in media stunts and promotions.

In 2005, he led the cattle drive through the Fort Worth Stockyards. In May 2011, six years later, Wheldon drove then-Mayor Mike Moncrief to work in an Indy car.

On the streets, they talked about Texas, racing and his two young sons.

"I know the challenge it's going to be when those kids start growing up," Moncrief said. "They're going to miss their dad. And so it's a difficult road they have ahead."

As much as he loved Texas, Wheldon had his share of accidents on the oval track. In 2008, a practice lap sent him flipping through the infield at Texas Motor Speedway. He limped away and called it "part of life."

Wheldon's death could eventually lead to new safety standards in IndyCar racing.

For now, his sport is honoring his life as a champion.

E-mail cnorton@wfaa.com

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