INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 17: Roses are left at the gate of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway along with other tributes left by fans to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon on October 17, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Wheldon, winner of the 2011 Indy 500, was killed in a crash yesterday at the Izod IndyCar series season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)2011 Getty Images
His car got caught up in a fifteen car pileup, sailed over another vehicle and smashed into a catch fence at IndyCar's season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor S"Things happen in this kind of racing," said Wade Cunningham, also caught up in the wreck. "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."
The green flag had barely stopped waving when disaster struck.
Wheldon, driving from the back of the field for a chance at $5 million, was moving through the pack when he drove into a tangle of cars careening off each other in every direction.
Unable to avoid the massive wreck unfolding before him, Wheldon clipped another car and went hurtling through the air, his car bursting into flames as it flew into a fence.
After just 11 laps, the race was over. Two hours later, track officials announced that Wheldon was dead. The Englishman was 33.
"One minute you're joking around at driver intros and the next, Dan's gone," said Dario Franchitti, whose wife, actress Ashley Judd, had to bring him a box of tissues. "I lost, we lost, a good friend.
Everybody in the IndyCar series considered him a friend. He was such a good guy. He was a charmer."
With the speed -- close to 225 mph during practice -- and a crowded 34-car field, a big worry was aggressive driving early in the 200-lap race.
Chaos started when two cars touched tires coming around turn 2 and almost no one had time to react.
Within seconds, several cars burst into flames and debris covered the track nearly halfway up the straightaway. Some points of impact were so devastating workers had to patch holes in the asphalt.
Video replays showed Wheldon's car turning over as it went airborne and sailed into what's called the catch fence, which sits over a barrier designed to give a bit when cars make contact.
Rescue workers were at Wheldon's car quickly, some furiously waving for more help to get to the scene.
An autopsy is planned Monday for Wheldon.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.