Paul Dana died on Sunday. His Indy Racing League car crashed into Ed Carpenter’s disabled car at 176 mph during the practice session for the first race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He was 30 years old. His wife Tonya survives him.

Paul Dana

The death of Paul Dana was a terrible incident that should be respected, addressed and never forgotten. We do not, however, need to repeatedly remember Paul Dana in the last moments before and beyond his grisly death.

If you’ve been watching ESPN or other sport reports since Sunday you have seen Paul Dana die a thousand deaths as his crash is shown again and again and again to an audience thirsty for blood. Would the television producers choose to show a man leaping out of a building and landing on the ground at 176 mph? Would showing a man getting run over by a motorcycle at 176 mph make the evening news?

Would you see on television a man smashing a bus into a wall at 176 mph? You would only see those deaths on television — and repeated ad nauseam — if they happened during a sport event. The athlete is somehow immune to the respect and honor we give ordinary people in their public executions and I would hope one day soon a moratorium on broadcasting the last moments of a life on television– even an athlete’s — will be put into place.

Respecting the dead and the means of their end should be honored no matter the circumstance surrounding the expiration. Even if the audience begs for blood that does not means a bloodthirst is required to be slaked. Sometimes we need to land above the bar of the lowest-common-human-desire and refuse to abide the gruesome over the dignified. In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Calphurnia says to Caesar in Act II, Scene 2:

When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Caesar answers:

Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

In our Modern Age we can kill our valiant tens of thousands of times in broadcast media replays and that makes us all cowards in the shadow of great risk over gain. Let us give Paul Dana his valiant death because stepping into a car where every moment tempts death at 176 mph is an act that deserves to blaze a heavens end.

35 Comments

  1. The crash was horrific. I saw it on the local news and felt my heart sink to my feet. Luckily, they showed it only once, but that was enough. I agree that showing it over and over desensitizes the seriousness.
    One of the other tragedies about this accident, however, is that had Dana heeded the warnings of his spotter/crew chief about the wreck and the cautions lights that lined the track which were blinking yellow, perhaps he could have avoided fatal injuries and perhaps the crash altogether.

  2. Hi Carla —
    Yes, “horrific” is the perfect word to describe the crash. I could not believe they showed it on television. They won’t show a hostage execution in Iraq on broadcast television but replaying the death of Paul Dana is fair game? I don’t understand the hypocritical disconnect.
    I think it’s hard to condemn the dead for not thinking faster while alive but the uneven and unlucky rate of speed that Ed Carpenter’s car was falling back down the track must be tricky even for an experienced driver to navigate.
    You truly have to make a life and death decision in a split second and Paul guessed wrong and paid for it with his life.
    It is a good thing Ed Carpenter did not meet the same fatal end.

  3. My husband loves NASCAR, but he hates to see wrecks. His favorite driver was Rusty Wallace, who retired last year because as he wanted the time to enjoy the results of his success over the years. Wallace attributes Earnhardt’s death to waking him up to the realization that everything he had built up meant nothing if he wasn’t around to enjoy it.
    It’s also hard for my husband because the driver who replaced Wallace, Kurt Busch, is one of his least favorite. He’s found it hard to pull against that “blue 2.” 😀
    On the plus side, after the first wreck in the Daytona 500 this year, I asked him, “Now, isn’t it such a relief knowing that Rusty wasn’t in that wreck.”
    He smiled, realizing he hadn’t thought of it that way.

  4. Hi Carla —
    Oh, I have enjoyed your hubby’s rants about Kurt Busch and his ear-pinning surgery in the off-season. He makes me laugh!
    😀
    I, too, am glad Rusty retired and I’m glad Mark Martin will soon do the same. NASCAR needs more than one goodwill ambassador beyond Richard Petty. Now they can all enjoy their earnings and not worry about the cars getting faster as they naturally get slower. A sport needs its SuperStars and to have them ageing with and interacting with the fan base is vital to the ongoing success of the sport.

  5. My uncle is from Fort Mill, SC, which is just below Charlotte. He’s a member of the Speedway Club and has given my husband tickets to the Coca-Cola 600 for seven years now, and five of those years the seats have been in the box section. I went only the first year, but the crowd is too big for me, makes me nervous… one of my quirks, I suppose.
    He loves going, though, and last year was the first year he went with our digital camera with the 10x zoom. The pics from pit road were unbelievably excellent. They looked like he was a news photographer right there in the action!
    He’ll be going again this May, although I bet he won’t have any pictures of the #2 Dodge. 😉
    We have found ourselves pulling for Carl Edwards, but I do like Junior’s personality. And Michael Waltrip is hilarious.

  6. Carla —
    I don’t think I could handle the sound and the heat and the crowds either, Carla, but it sounds like your hubby has a really special event to attend every year and that’s a wonderful thing.
    The pictures sound wonderful. They help make the event live forever.
    I love Michael Waltrip. He has a great personality. I also like Junior. Is Jimmy Spenser still racing? He was always a wacko! Fun to watch. Is Sterling Marlin still around? I loved his speech pattern and easy-going personality.

  7. Dave —
    Thank you for making my point! YOU DON’T LET THE INMATES SET THE RULES OF THE ASYLUM! Drivers are made to be macho and fearless and, of course, to save face in public and peer-pressured group no one is going to vote in favor of a sissy HANS device!
    If NASCAR were truly “run by the drivers” then they would have put the HANS device to another stupid vote after Earnhardt’s death and had the same result because their macho was once again being tested. If any professional driver thought they were going to die when they headed on the track there wouldn’t be many drivers.
    NASCAR needs to be safe even if that means ticking off your drivers masculinity because if you make it mandatory they can complain all they want while saving face and rescuing their macho and all the while their lives are being a bit more protected.

  8. He’s gotta do better than Wally Dallenbach on NBC, and he definitely won’t be as over the top as Darrell Waltrip is on FOX. I like Darrell, but he does get on my nerves sometimes when he’s commentating.

  9. I heard a local TV broadcaster talking about the footage of the accident being “teased” for the evening newscasts.
    I was half listening as I was driving in traffic, so I’m not quoting verbatim.
    The broadcaster said that people expect these sorts of accidents to happen in auto racing and that’s why they show them on the news.
    The news business has a code of ethics for showing death and destruction on television. They might not show the full video tape of a terrorist beheading someone — they’ll probably stop it right before the sword swings to protect the sensibilities of the viewing public.
    But, if it’s an auto accident — that’s fair game because it’s par for the course.

  10. Hi David!
    I find it abhorrent that the press and the news go to town on showing these images again and again and again. Sport personalities, Athletes, even members of the UK’s Royal Family (for Royal Family read Princess Diana). The way her death was portrayed in particular was pretty sickening. The french papparazzi swarming around the car after it crashed, reporters and photographers taking pictures and intruding while the poor lady lay dying in the car. Her final moments tarnished by these sicko’s. She couldn’t even die in peace.
    It’s not about slaking a thirst for blood David, it’s about what sells. To a certain extent, yes, especially on Television, they’ll show it because people naturally have almost an urge to see how it happened. It’s like a switch goes on in their heads and they can’t help but be drawn to watch the reports and say omg, so thats what happened.
    But what right do the television and news reporters have to show these images and not give the deceased person the respect they deserve? And how must that make the family of the deceased person feel, having to view the same images over and over again? Being a well known personality does NOT mean that they shouldn’t be afforded the same kind of respect as everyone else. It’s all about the money – Death sells. It’s wrong.

  11. Hi Dawn —
    You make a keen point about the death of Princess Diana. If her death had been captured on video you know we’d be seeing it over and over again everywhere.
    Your “urge to see how it happened” is my “Bloodthirst.”
    😀
    I know there was a big “Freedom of Information” fight in the courts over the Dale Earnhardt autopsy photos. His wife and family didn’t want them published – there were gruesome because his face was smashed in by the steering wheel – while a newspaper claimed the photos belonged to the public since the photos were taken in public service by a public servant.
    The family won in court because the judge did not buy the “need to know” argument the newspaper was making in its want to publish the photos. I believe the family then went to court to have the photographs permanently sealed and that request was granted.

  12. Okay lol, my Bad. I misunderstood what you meant by Bloodthirst. I take things just too literally sometimes.
    I am glad that the family won in court against the press and also to have the photos permanently sealed. It’s good to see that they took this and went with it, but the fact of the matter is, they shouldn’t have had to in the first place. I get SO angry when i see the press intruding in a time of grief and devastating loss.

  13. Hi Dawn —
    I’m with you on sealing the autopsy photos. It’s interesting, though, if the family had sued anyone like the racetrack or NASCAR or the steering wheel company — then those photos would have had public access value beyond the family and they would have been rightly published as part of the contested court case.

  14. I didn’t watch the event yeterday, but it reminded me the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, I watcheed that.Had sleepless nights almost for couple of days – couldn’t even think of his family or freinds….

  15. Ayrton Senna died while participating in San Marino Grand Prix (Formula One) in May 1, 1994 at the age of 34.
    All I remember his car left the track and struck in an unprotected concrete wall and I remember the speed of the car showing 193 mph.
    I am an avid sports watcher, but I quit watching Formula one that day.
    And media cashing the event by repeating the incident as if they were trying to glorify it? Oh yeah….that was there – very much. I felt sickening.

  16. Thanks for the extra info, Katha! That helps people who might be reading this thread for the first time find their way into the din of our discussion.
    I certainly feel your sorrow and anger at how Ayrton Senna’s death was handled on the track on the day of his death and in the media on the long days after.

  17. Paul was a friend, if you never met Paul Dana, I can tell you why I admired Paul – he was always interesting to talk to, extremely professional in how he handled himself. Paul was dedicated to making himself into the best driver he could be. Paul Dana had a dream – he did EVERYTHING he could to make his dream – a reality.
    Paul worked hard to create a program that allowed him to race. After graduating from Northwestern, he found racing, loved it, and pursued it with a passion and determination that most of us in racing can understand. If the rest of us worked as hard as Paul, the world would be a better place.
    RIP Paul, you are missed!

  18. I did some reading about Paul Dana’s accident today. I saw videotape replays and I’m somewhat disturbed by the media playing them again and again. On the other hand, I’m a race fan who cares about drivers and their safety. If viewing tapes and gathering data about this particular accident improves the odds of survival for other drivers, I’m all for it.
    It’s difficult to understand why, after such dramatic improvements in safety, there are still accidental deaths in the top echelons of auto racing. Racers are probablysafer today than they’ve been at any point in history.
    I absolutely don’t agree with the assumption that deep inside all fans watch racing for the destruction and gore. It’s actually pretty uplifting to see a driver walk away from a crash that looks like it could be fatal. It’s a triumph of technology and hard work, not a fortunate roll of the dice as it once was.
    The SAFER barriers at INDY and other high speed ovals are a major advance in safety. HANS devices, secure helmets, form-fitted seats, tethered wheels, energy absorbing chassis – all great improvements. The worst outcome of the IRL race in which Paul Dana died is the way the racing media virtually ignored it in the weeks and months to follow. When something like this happens there should be a renewed dedication to finding out the cause and trying to eliminate it from causing future injuries and fatalities.
    I disagree that racing must always include a random element of danger and death. It can be tamed. Every year efforts are made to reduce speed and ways are found to increase it again. But, there are infinite avenues to improve the sport.
    One possibility is making greater efforts to reduce the mass of open wheeled vehicles. Wheels are too wide and heavy. Engines are too heavy. There is not enough energy absorbing material surrounding the driver. If you could reduce mass by one third and increase energy absorption by a third, what would that do for survivability.
    I admire auto racers not for their bravery, but for their skill. An infintesimal number of people are capable of what they can do. Every time we lose one of these remarkable individuals it is a tragedy for their friends and family, but also a terrible loss for humanity because they are truly super men and women in terms of skill and desire.
    My sympathies go out to Paul Dana and his family.