Dan Wheldon Tragedy: Racetrack Officials Fire Back

PHOTO: Drivers Dan Wheldon and Will Power crash during a wreck that involved 15 cars during the IndyCar Series auto race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas on Oct. 16, 2011.
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Officials in charge of the Las Vegas racetrack where two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon died in a fiery crash are defending the speedway's conditions.

Las Vegas Speedway President Chris Powell spoke after comments were made by critics and drivers that the track was unsafe leading to Sunday's 15-car pileup.

"We as a speedway make sure we provide a venue that they come in and make an assessment when they're ready to race -- and they did that exact thing," Powell said late Monday. "Our speedway conforms to every regulation that any sanctioning body has ever held it to, and we're very proud of that."

Now that the debris and mangled metal has been removed, there are questions about whether the track was too fast, too small and too crowded.

The track where Sunday's tragic accident took place is relatively small -- a mile-and-a-half-long oval. Because of its smaller size, drivers are constantly turning. Comparatively, the Indianapolis 500 track is two-and-a-half miles long, giving significantly more room for drivers to spread out and to see in front of them.

Driver Scott Meadow says that he has raced the Las Vegas speedway countless times on the turn that claimed Wheldon's life at speeds of up to 220 miles an hour. He described the conditions during competitive racing as very tight.

"It's more like 30 airplanes racing together than cars," Meadow said.

Still, it is that speed, that danger, that two-time Indianapolis 500 winner craved. Just days before his death, Wheldon told the television show "Extra" that he couldn't wait to take on this challenging track.

"I think it's going to be one of Indy Car's finest races outside of the Indianapolis 500," Wheldon said.

Before the race Wheldon blogged for USA Today that he was concerned that he and his team wouldn't be able to get his car fast enough, and that it was currently three miles off pace.

"It's actually been a very difficult weekend for us so far. Basically we carried over our problem from Kentucky Speedway, where we just didn't have the speed and never really found it," he wrote.

Now Sunday's fateful race will be remembered for robbing this sport of a champion and a young family of their husband and father.

"Daniel was born to be a racer and yesterday left us doing what he loved to do. He was a true champion and a gentleman on and off the track," his father Clive Wheldon said.

As for the Las Vegas track's safety, drivers seem to be split. At least one driver, Scottish racer Dario Franchitti said Sunday after the crash and before it was announced Wheldon died that he felt the track was not fit for racing.

"This is not a suitable track, and we seen it today its nowhere to get away from anybody. One small mistake from somebody and there's a massive thing," Franchitti said.

New Zealand driver Wade Cunningham, who was also caught up in the wreck, said that crashes are a fact of the sport.

"Things happen in this kind of racing," said Cunningham. "It's so close. Not much room for error. I was near the front of what caused all this, so I'm not thrilled about it. At this point, whose fault it was is kind of immaterial."

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