Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Barnhart absolved of blame

Race director remorseful, not responsible for Wheldon's death

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INDIANAPOLIS -- IndyCar executive Brian Barnhart wonders every day whether he could have done something to save Dan Wheldon's life.

Anything, really.

Two months after calling his final race in the control tower, a 49-page report released Thursday absolved Barnhart and series officials of any blame in the crash that killed the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Oct. 16 at Las Vegas. It determined several factors contributed to what became a "perfect storm."

It didn't make it any easier for Barnhart to accept.

"It's extremely difficult and challenging," he said, bowing his head after a long pause, minutes after the news conference ended. "It's devastating to us, I think, second only to what the family is feeling and experiencing. It's something you never want to have happen."

Wheldon died from head trauma caused by hitting a pole in the safety fence.

What could have been done differently?

"I think when you have an accident of this significance, your mind always wants to wonder," series CEO Randy Bernard said. "I want to make sure my focus stays on what we can do to make sure this never happens again."

Barnhart believes the solution is extensive testing, which was scaled back in 2009 to save money. He'd like to see as many as 20 cars help simulate race conditions and give the control tower a better vision of what to expect on race day.

Although it won't change what happened in Las Vegas, it might help someone else. That's all Barnhart can hope to do now.

"I have talked to Susie (Wheldon's widow) a couple of times, and I'd like to keep those conversations confidential," Barnhart said. "I can only imagine what she's going through."

For Barnhart and series officials, it was a stormy season.

Two weeks ago, Barnhart was removed as head of race control.

"I want to clearly say that Brian Barnhart, for 16 years, did an outstanding job as chief steward," Bernard said. "Anyone in that position for 16 years is going to come under attack many times. This move was being discussed way before we want to Las Vegas, and I just felt with a new car coming in, it was a great opportunity to create a race director."

The move came after a controversial season in which drivers publicly questioned Barnhart's decisions.

Four-time series champ and two-time Indy winner Dario Franchitti was angered by the blind draw that set the lineup for the second Texas race in June. Three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves was fined after referring to Barnhart as a "circus clown" on Twitter after being penalized in September. And two-time IndyCar runner-up Will Power made an obscene gesture at race control when Barnhart decided to restart the New Hampshire race in wet conditions that led to a crash.

Barnhart acknowledged he made mistakes.

"I get sick to my stomach when I make a mistake like I did at New Hampshire," he said. "It's not the first one (mistake) I've made, but it's the first one I made that caused a crash."

------ The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 16, 2011 C6

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