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Drivers speak about Dana tragedy

Drivers found themselves in a strange juxtaposition Sunday - mourning a fellow driver killed in a racing accident while strapping themselves in to race cars and preparing to risk their lives

Paul Dana, a 30-year-old rookie who went from racing journalist to race-car driver, died of multiple injuries sustained in a crash Sunday morning during the final practice session before the IRL IndyCar Series season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Drivers learned of Dana's death three hours before they returned to their cars to start the race.

Afterward, they spoke of their approach to the danger of racing, the tragedy of losing a fellow competitor, and their philosophy regarding the risk of death.

"I would say it's destiny," said Helio Castroneves after finishing second in Sunday's Toyota Indy 300. "I wouldn't say it's fate; I'd say it's destiny. You're not the one to write that. It's the guy upstairs. If it's your time, it's your time. Yes, it's hard, but at the same time we need to know how to deal with it. It's not the first time that it's happened, and unfortunately I don't think it will be the last time."

For many drivers, Dana's death conjured memories of previous fatal accidents in open-wheel racing. Greg Moore, who was killed during a CART race at Califronia Speedway in 1999, was close to several current IRL drivers, including Dario Franchitti.

"I'm still in shock about the whole thing," Franchitti said of Dana's death after finishing fourth Sunday. "I didn't know Paul very well, but I've been through this before. I just feel for his family. It's such a tragedy."

IRL officials considered the possibility of postponing or canceling the race, but decided to go on with the show after consulting with track president Curtis Gray and officials of International Speedway Corp., which owns and operates the track.

"We all feel bad about it," said Sam Hornish Jr., who led 187 of the 200 laps Sunday before finishing third behind Dan Wheldon and Helio Castroneves. "We don't want to see anybody get hurt. It's a tough situation to be in, but the decision to race was made even before we knew the severity of the accident. We all saw it on TV and knew it was bad, but none of us knew the extent of it until the decision had already been made. We all knew what we needed to do was go out there and race."

The accident shook Rahal Letterman Racing (RLR), which hired Dana during the off-season to drive its No. 17 Honda/Panoz. Dana was instrumental in convincing the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council to put the Ethanol brand on an IRL car - a move that eventually led to ethanol becoming the league-mandated fuel. RLR drivers Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice sat out the race.

"Paul Dana's passing is a terrible tragedy," talk-show host and team co-owner David Letterman said in a statement. "I want to express my condolences to his family and friends. We were all proud to have him on our team and are deeply saddened by his tragic passing at such a young age."

A graduate of the school of journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Dana wrote about racing for several publications, including AutoWeek and Sports Illustrated, in 1997 and 1998 before pursuing a career as a racer. He raced in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Series in 1998 and 1999, then moved on to Formula Fords and U.S. Formula 3.

In 2003 and 2004, he raced with the IRL Infiniti Pro Series. Last year, after putting together the Ethanol sponsorship, he competed in three IndyCar Series races with Hemelgarn Racing before a bad crash in practice at Indianapolis last year left him with serious back injuries.

Whether his competitors knew Dana or not, he was on their minds before, during and after the race.

"I did think about him during the race," Felipe Giaffone said. "I do believe that when your time is up, that is it. God has a plan for everyone, and there's nothing you can do about it. God bless his family during this terrible time."

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