Indy 500 Winner Dan Wheldon Dies in 15-Car Crash

VIDEO: A fiery crash involving 15 cars claims the life of Indy 500 winner Dan
WATCH Indy Car Driver Dan Wheldon Dies in Pileup

Dan Wheldon loved to drive fast, from the time he first took the wheel of a go-kart when he was 4 years old, but the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner had begun to have concerns about the speeds cars were reaching on the IndyCar circuit.

He and other drivers had also expressed concern about the conditions for today's IndyCar series final at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was crowded -- 34 cars -- and drivers were speeding, even by Indy standards, getting up to 225 mph. As ABC News' Josh Elliott noted, "Even the tiniest mistake can touch off wrecks like we see today."

Only minutes into the race, two cars touched tires, setting off the 15-car crash that would claim Wheldon's life and send three fellow racers, including championship contender, Will Power, to the hospital.

Wheldon was 33 years old and is survived by his wife, Susie, and two children, Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 8 months.

IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard made the official announcement of Wheldon's death without further comment. Officials decided to call the race.

"IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries," Bernard said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute to in his honor."

The horrific crash occurred on lap 11, and for several long shocking moments, several cars were engulfed in flame as debris smacked the track so hard that workers would have to repair the asphalt.

"I saw two cars touch each other up in front of me and then I tried to slow down, couldn't slow down," driver Paul Tracy told ESPN. "Then Dan's car, from what I saw in the videos, came over my back wheel and over top of me. Just a horrendous accident."

Wheldon's car was thrown into the air and sailed into the "catch fence," designed to give cars a bit of cushion if they make impact. Workers almost immediately rushed to Wheldon's car, frantically waving for more help, but in the end, as Bernard described it, Wheldon's injuries were "unsurvivable."

"I'll tell you, I've never seen anything like it," driver Ryan Briscoe told The Associated Press. "The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere. So it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt because there's just stuff everywhere. Crazy."

Wheldon was airlifted from the Las Vegas track at 1:19 p.m. local time Sunday and taken to University Medical Hospital, becoming the first IndyCar driver to die on the track since rookie Paul Dana was killed in 2006.

He died, surrounded by his wife and sons, as well as two brothers and sister.

The melancholy sounds of "Amazing Grace" played on bagpipes could be heard as the drivers ran the memorial laps. Wheldon's crew solemnly walked out to the track for the parade laps and Ashley Judd, wife of IndyCar racer Dario Franchetti, cried before official word came out.

Wheldon was there competing to earn a $5 million bonus that was part of a league promotion for drivers who didn't compete full-time in the series this year. The only driver to accept the challenge, Wheldon would have split the money with Ann Bavenco, a randomly chosen fan.

Just hours before the fateful crash, Wheldon had tweeted: "Big day today, $5,000,000.00 at stake!!! Heading to the track."

'I Love the Go-Karts

Born in Emberton, England, he began racing go-karts at the tender age of 4 years old after his father got him started in competitive racing.

"I love the go-karts," he told the Los Angeles Times last week. "I get them up to around 90 on the straights."

He competed in England, winning eight British national titles along the way before moving to St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1999.

After time in a few low-profile series, he joined the IndySeries in 2003. In eight full IndyCar Series seasons, he has posted 132 career starts, collected 26 top-three finishes, 93 top-10 finishes and five pole positions, also winning the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Wheldon, who won the Indy 500 in 2005 and 2011 and won 16 other races, was set to replace Danica Patrick next season in the Go-Daddy-sponsored car for Andretti Autosport after she moves to NASCAR fulltime in 2012.

Family has been a staple in Wheldon's life. In 2010 he released a photo book in collaboration with photographer Michael Voorhees. The book includes pictures of his wedding, candid photos off the racetrack, as well as a photo tribute to his racing career.

Wheldon said last year of the book: "Lionheart documents my IndyCar Series career starting with my rookie year in 2003 through my Indianapolis 500 win, to this season with Panther Racing. It gives fans a behind the scenes look at my life both on and off the racetrack. I think people who buy this book are really going to enjoy the candid moments captured by photographer Michael Voorhees and I can't thank him enough for his hard work and support on this project."

The Associated Press and ESPN contributed to this report.