Letterman grieves over racing fatalities

SONOMA — This kind of list makes David Letterman sick to his stomach and question his love of auto racing.

The retired late-night comedian and IndyCar team co-owner rattled off a number racing deaths — Justin Wilson, Dan Wheldon, Paul Dana, Dale Earnhardt, Ayrton Senna, sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. — and wondered if “maybe we’ve reached diminishing returns at making this sport safer.”

Letterman expressed his grief in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Montana ranch. He spoke days after Wilson died from a head injury suffered last Sunday when he was struck by a piece of debris at Pocono Raceway.

“It’s just like, ‘Whoa, is this really the sport that you can embrace entirely?’ I don’t know. It’s a real self-examination,” Letterman said.

Letterman is part owner of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the team goes into today’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway thick in the championship hunt. Graham Rahal trails leader Juan Pablo Montoya by 34 points in an event that will count for double points in the standings.

“I talked to a lot of people about this: Racing is fun, but people are not supposed to get killed,” Letterman said. “I am brokenhearted for his family, for his kids, and everybody says, ‘Well, this is what the guy wanted to do.’ And of course, that’s the case.

“But we’re not supposed to have people die in the middle of this competition. I think he has two children, and that just breaks my heart, that dad loves driving race cars.”

Improvements were made following Dan Wheldon’s death in the 2011 season finale in Las Vegas. The two-time Indianapolis 500 champion died almost instantly when his car went airborne and his head slammed into a post in the fence. Wilson’s death was the first fatality in IndyCar since then, and it was almost a fluke accident in that the nosecone from Karam’s car bounced down the track and into Wilson’s cockpit as he was the 12th driver to pass through the crash scene.

IndyCar is honoring Wilson this week, beginning Thursday when Marco Andretti drove Wilson’s car across the Golden Gate Bridge. James Hinchcliffe, who has been sidelined since his own life-threatening accident in May during preparations for the Indianapolis 500, drove the IndyCar’s two-seater with the championship trophy in the car.

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