1999 VisionAire 500K
|Date||May 1, 1999|
|Official name||VisionAire 500K|
|Location||Lowe's Motor Speedway|
|Course||Permanent racing facility (oval)|
1.500 mi / 2.414 km
118.500 mi / 190.707 km
|Scheduled Distance||208 laps|
312.000 mi / 502.115 km
|Driver||Greg Ray (Team Menard)|
|Time||24.320, 222.039 mph (357.337 km/h)|
|First||None, race was abandoned after 79 laps|
The 1999 VisionAire 500K was a scheduled Indy Racing League event to be run in May 1, 1999 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, USA. The race was to be the third race of the 1999 Indy Racing League schedule, after stops at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
The race was abandoned after 79 laps had been run after an accident involving Stan Wattles and John Paul, Jr. resulted in debris, including the wheel assembly off of Paul’s vehicle, being launched into the stands and killing three spectators.
The race was carried on national television by Speedvision. Dave Calabro served as the lap-by-lap announcer, with Jack Arute and Arie Luyendyk as the analysts. Vince Welch and Calvin Fish reported from pit road.
The start of the qualifying session was delayed for an hour due to localized heavy rain that fell in the preceding four days. Despite failing pre-qualifying inspection for his car running too low to the ground, which allowed him to run only one qualifying lap as opposed to the usual two, Greg Ray rebounded to score the pole position, his second consecutive pole of the season. Steve Knapp failed to qualify.
The air temperature at the start of the race was 65 °F (18 °C), with 20 mph (32 km/h) winds from the northeast. Mark Wingler, Indy Racing League chaplain, began pre-race ceremonies with an invocation. Singer Katherine Parrott performed the national anthem, and actor Cliff Robertson commanded the drivers to start their engines. Just as the green flag was waved to start the race after the pace laps, Robby Unser lost control of his car leaving the fourth turn but avoided sustaining damage. Tyce Carlson and Davey Hamilton then made contact and went into the infield grass, causing the first caution. Carlson retired from the race because of his involvement in the accident. During the caution, Hamilton made a pit stop to allow his team to repair the left-hand side of his vehicle, but was later pushed into the garage and into retirement.
The race was restarted on the ninth lap, with Ray leading Sharp. Five laps later, Jeff Ward overtook Scott Goodyear for third between turns three and four, and passed Scott Sharp on the high banking of the fourth turn for second on the 18th lap. By the 19th lap, Goodyear fell to seventh position. Lazier progressed to third place by lap 25, and he overtook Ward on the low side of between the first and second turns for second two laps later. Ward made two pit stops on laps 29 for fuel and tires and to replace a broken front anti-roll bar on the 36th lap. On lap 39, the second caution was waved for an accident. Unser lost control of his car in the second turn, and struck the retaining barrier on the back straightaway. Several drivers made pit stops for fuel, tires and car adjustments during the caution. Buddy Lazier was first to exit pit road and maintained the lead at the restart on lap 47. Two laps later, Ray retook the lead with a pass on the inside of Lazier leaving turn four. Lazier returned to first place when he overtook Ray on the high banking of turn two on the 50th lap.
On lap 62, Stan Wattles crashed after suffering a suspension failure. John Paul Jr. made contact with debris from Wattles' car, sending the latter's right rear wheel and tire assembly into the grandstands. Scott Harrington also spun in the incident. Three spectators were killed by the flying debris, while an additional eight suffered non-fatal injuries. Due to the fatalities, the race was abandoned after 79 of the scheduled 208 laps; Ray had been leading at the time of the stoppage. Track president Humpy Wheeler stated: "We've never done anything like this before. But it seemed like the right thing to do in respect to those who lost their lives up there." Driver Eddie Cheever Jr. agreed with the decision to stop the race, saying, "My teammates and I are just full of sorrow. Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families. The decision to stop the race was the right one. We all leave Charlotte with extremely heavy hearts."
As a result of the race being abandoned, no official prize money or championship points were awarded. The IRL instead paid each team and driver to cover the expenses occurred for the race. In the aftermath of the accident and a similar accident at CART's U.S. 500 at Michigan in July 1998, several safety improvements were made to the IRL racecars and the track. The IRL added tethers to the wheels of their cars in an effort to prevent them from detaching, while Lowe's Motor Speedway raised the height of the track's catchfence from 15 to 21 feet. Because it was stopped before the halfway point of the race (the moment a race becomes official by IndyCar rulebook), IndyCar does not currently recognize any records related to the event, and omitted the event in its count for the 100th race celebration in 2004.
Two weeks after the incident, a controversy boiled at the 1999 Indianapolis 500 after Sports Illustrated published an article by Ed Hinton, entitled "Fatal Attractions: More fan deaths put the focus on the need for safety innovations" in its May 10 issue. The article discussed the tragedy and proposed safety improvements discussed in its aftermath. The magazine's editors in New York published the article accompanied by an AP photograph taken at the scene. The photo featured a security guard standing next to two dead bodies in the grandstands covered with bloody sheets, and blood covering the steps. The photo drew the ire of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George, and they pulled Hinton's credentials for the 1999 Indy 500. After a few days, the credentials were restored, when it was determined that Hinton was unaware of the photo published along with his article, and when free speech/censorship issues were raised.
Later in the year, a short series of bombings took place in Lowe's stores in North Carolina, injuring three, and prompting some to think there may be a link with a relative of one of the victims. When George Rocha was arrested for the bombings, he claimed that he was angry about the crash at the speedway, but he later confessed that it was retribution for being caught shoplifting and an attempt at extortion.
- "One shot good enough". CNN Sports Illustrated. Associated Press. Archived from the original on December 25, 2013.
- "05/01/1999 race: Visionaire 500K (EX)". Racing-Reference.info. NASCAR Digital Media, LLC. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
- "Trackside Notes (05/01/99)". Indy Racing League. May 1, 1999. Archived from the original on 18 January 2000. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
- "IRL: Preliminary Charlotte Crash Details Outlined". The Auto Channel. May 15, 1999. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- "Tragedy at the track". CNN Sports Illustrated. Associated Press. August 16, 1999. Archived from the original on May 28, 2008.
- "No Points Or Prize Money To Be Awarded For Canceled Event". Indy Racing League. May 7, 1999. Archived from the original on August 28, 1999. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
- Thompson, Jack (May 31, 1999). "Suit Filed Over Charlotte Track Death". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- Hinton, Ed (2010-06-03). "Divide widens while fatalities mount". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Hinton, Ed (1999-05-10). "Fatal Attractions". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Hinton, Ed (1999-05-10). "Inside Motor Sports". SI.com. Retrieved 2017-10-31.
- Sports Illustrated. 90 (19 ed.). 1999-05-10. p. 86.
- Moxley, Jennifer (November 16, 1999). "Agents tracked bomb suspect via internet". Salsbury Post. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
1999 MCI WorldCom 200
|Indy Racing League
1999 Indianapolis 500
1998 VisionAire 500K
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