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The television ratings from Las Vegas a week ago reflected that. IndyCar chief Randy Bernard had vowed to get at least a .8 rating on ABC for the final race of the year _ compared to .3 a year earlier _ and said he would resign if he didn’t get it.

Bernard ended up doubling the number he wanted, though it took a death to do it. The rating actually peaked at 3.8 in the half hour in which Wheldon’s death was announced, as people tuned in to see replays of the fiery crash and watch the remaining drivers take parade laps in tribute to him.

A lot of things went wrong in a split second in Las Vegas, and it didn’t take much longer for the finger pointing to begin. Among the charges were that the track was too banked for an IndyCar race, there were too many cars bunched together, and too many drivers were too inexperienced for the big stage.

Not to mention the questionable wisdom of offering a $5 million prize to Wheldon if he won the race after starting at the back.

All those factors will be dissected in upcoming months, as well they should be. Change can’t come about until the mistakes of the past are examined and measures are taken to make sure they’re not repeated.

Change is already underway with a new car for next year that reportedly will include a reinforced cockpit and partly enclosed wheels. Wheldon was the main development driver for the car and had extensively tested its new features, only to die in his last race in the old car.

The new car with Wheldon’s name was onstage in Indianapolis, where fellow drivers gathered Sunday in a celebration of Wheldon’s life. Friend and fellow driver Dario Franchitti said Wheldon would have been happy with the big turnout, so much so that he would have said ” `I told you ‘bro, I’m big in Indy.’”

At Talladega, meanwhile, NASCAR drivers raced on the circuit’s fastest and biggest track with stickers on their helmets and cars in remembrance of Wheldon. Brad Keselowski, who drives for top IndyCar owner Roger Penske, went even further, with “In memory of Dan” written across his back bumper.

Great tributes, all, to a driver who will be terribly missed.

The greatest tribute of all, though, would be finding a way to prevent it from happening again.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or at