- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - As a driver, Sam Schmidt understood the inherent danger of driving a car at more than 200 mph. Even after a practice crash left him in a wheelchair, he accepted the this-is-part-of-it perils that go along with racing.

After watching Dan Wheldon’s death punctuate an emotionally draining month, Schmidt may have had enough.

Speaking Monday from his go-kart facility not far from the Las Vegas Strip, Schmidt acknowledged that Dan Wheldon’s death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway had left him shaken _ maybe even enough to leave the sport he loves.

"I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t _ you’ve got to think about it," Schmidt said. "It’s one thing to take the risk yourself and my situation, it’s something I was doing since I was 5 years old and I’m still here to watch my kids grow up. It’s an amazing parallel between Dan’s age and my age when I got hurt and the ages of his kids.

"I just don’t know if I can be this tightly associated with something like that in the future."

Schmidt knows a bit about adversity.

A rising star in the IndyCar series, he became a quadriplegic following a 2001 practice-session wreck near Orlando, Fla. Instead of folding his hand, the Las Vegas transplant instead used the cards he was dealt to start his own racing team.

Sam Schmidt Motorsports has been hugely successful in Indy Lights, winning five series titles, and this season in IndyCar _ its first as a full-time team in the series _ earned the pole at the Indianapolis 500 with Alex Tagliani. Sam Schmidt Motorsports also supplied Wheldon’s winning car at the Indianapolis 500 last May for Bryan Herta Autosport.

The past month, though, has been trying for Schmidt and his team.

It started on Sept. 12, when Indy Lights team manager Chris Griffis died after collapsing during a pickup basketball game.

The team got an emotional lift when Josef Newgarden drove to the team’s fifth Indy Lights title at Kentucky two weeks ago, and again when Victor Carbone drove to his first race victory at Las Vegas on Saturday.

The joy didn’t last a day.

Starting from the back of the field as part of a $5 million promotion, Wheldon had moved up to the middle of the pack when cars started crashing all around him. Unable to avoid what would become a 15-car melee, Wheldon got caught up and his car went sailing over another vehicle and whirled into a catch fence, where it landed cockpit-first and burst into flames.

Wheldon was airlifted to the hospital and declared dead about two hours later from what the Clark County coroner said Monday was blunt head trauma. The 33-year-old Englishman was survived by a wife and two kids under 3.

"It’s been a roller coaster," Schmidt said. "We lost a team member five weeks ago and we’re still kind of reeling in that. Winning the championship in Kentucky really kind of uplifted the guys’ spirits over that, then come here and have this happen. It’s pretty trying.

"I’m generally a positive guy, silver lining and everything, but I haven’t been able to find a silver lining lately."

Wheldon had teamed up with Schmidt for the chance at a $5 million promotion being offered by IndyCar to any non-full-time driver who could win the race. Wheldon and the team did a warmup race at Kentucky, finishing 14th, and had to start at the back of the field for Sunday’s race as part of the promotion.

The partnership came to a disturbing end with the crash that left Wheldon dead and Schmidt devastated.

"I still feel like I’m in a state of shock," he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide