Will Power Discusses The Safety Of Indy Car Racing

Originally published on October 18, 2011 5:33 pm
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The car racing world is demanding change after the death of two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon on Sunday. Wheldon was caught in a 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where speeds had topped 220 miles per hour. Fans watching ESPN saw Wheldon's car flip and go airborne before crashing into the catch fence above the wall and exploding into flames.


BLOCK: One top contender in that race was Will Power. He also crashed and was hospitalized for injuries. He's now home in North Carolina. Mr. Power, thanks for being with us, and I know this must be a tough time for all of you, thanks.

WILL POWER: Yeah, it is. I feel so sad for Dan's family. I mean, it's just so unfortunate, such a great guy, a champion, just - still, I woke up this morning, I just can't believe it.

BLOCK: How are you feeling? I saw a tweet that you sent, I think, in the middle of the night last night that you weren't sleeping.

POWER: No, I wasn't. I couldn't sleep. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I'm just sort of grasping at all of what happened and understanding, you know, why it happened and what we can do to prevent this happening again. You know, I mean, it's - I think everyone is a little uneasy before the race because of the high banks at the track it was and, you know, how fast we're going and we're open-wheel cars so we can't touch. And when we do touch, you see what happens.

BLOCK: I'm curious about those concerns that racers had before the race. You mentioned the steeply banked turns. The Las Vegas track is also a mile shorter than, say, Indianapolis. The field was really crowded. There were 34 cars out there at these extreme speeds. What were you most worried about?

POWER: I was worried about exactly what happened. You know, our cars fly when we touch wheels and when they fly and they head up towards the catch fence, it's just all bad. I think Vegas is a great circuit and, you know, there's a number of those circuits around that NASCAR race on and they're perfect for those sort of cars, but it's not the right sort of track for the current formula of IndyCar. You know, these high banked ovals - you run 200 laps into the path, side-by-side, two wide, three wide, six deep. You know, it's too fast and too close. Pack racing IndyCars, there's just no room for error and there's just no question that something has to change.

BLOCK: Your father says that you told him before the race someone's going to get killed out there.

POWER: Yeah. I've been saying that for a few years. You know, it's a pity that it takes something like this for them to stand up and, you know, have a serious look at it.

BLOCK: Mr. Power, I was watching the on-car video from your car as you crashed on Sunday and it was truly terrifying. I mean, you see fire and smoke and tires coming right at you in that open cockpit. Can you describe what you were able to see as you came into that crash?

POWER: I saw a puff of smoke before all hell broke loose. I saw a puff of smoke and I hesitated. I was like, oh, there's going to be a crash because that - you know, I'm always looking ahead and then I saw a lot of smoke and I knew that there was a crash and so I went to the bottom of the track and Alex Lloyd, the two cars in front of him - that's the guy I hit - touched and that's the car that Dan Wheldon went over and then I went over Alex Lloyd and I just flew and I was, you know, thinking, you know, this is my worst nightmare. It's what I've been fearing my whole career. In IndyCars, when the car flies, you know, when I came out of it, I thought, wow, that was real lucky.

BLOCK: You were able to walk away?

POWER: Yes, I was. Yeah. I got out of the car myself and walked away.

BLOCK: I wonder, Mr. Power, if you think that your concerns as a driver are understood by race officials. I'm thinking about the race this summer where you crashed. It was an IndyCar race and you thought that the race had been started under dangerous conditions. The track was wet. You got so angry at officials that you flipped them the bird and you got fined for that. Do you think they understand what your real concerns are?

POWER: Yeah. Well, that was definitely - I was angry and I was angry because I felt that, you know, we were all screaming on the radio that we should not start this race. It's too dangerous, but - yeah. I think that the officials in the series really need to sit down with the drivers themselves, not the team owners, not the old drivers, not the guy that used to race in a different formula. And I think they need to sit down with the drivers that race this current car with this current formula and listen to what we think should be done and, you know, where we should race.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Power, thank you very much for talking with us.

POWER: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Penske racing driver Will Power, talking about the demands for changes in IndyCar racing after Sunday's crash that killed Dan Wheldon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.