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IRL Racer Spoke to Daily News Days Before Death

Days before his tragic death at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Indy Racing League driver Dan Wheldon spoke to Daily News columnist Tom Hoffarth.

The 33-year-old 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner died Sunday following a 15-car crash during Lap 11 of the race.

Wheldon, competing in just his third IndyCar race of the season, had the opportunity to take home $5 million if he managed to win.

Below is a portion of Hoffarth’s interview with Wheldon:

Q: Since the race is in Vegas, you’re pinned with 15-to-1 odds from MGM to win the race. Would you bet on yourself?

A: Well, no, it’s not legal for any driver to bet on himself in the series. But 15-to-1 … it’s one of those things that’s hard to judge. Honestly, do I think I have a shot? Absolutely. The team has given me a car that will be fine, no doubt. But you’ve seen the way races go — everything has to go right. I’ll tell you the truth: I’ll be going for it with everything in my power to finish the season with an exclamation point. I’m not going to underestimate how talented the field is either.

Q: And you’ve apparently pulled off this trick before?

A: Yeah, when I was at Richmond in 2004, I started last and won it. And it’s probably a similar distance here. Maybe a little shorter track. The speedway in Las Vegas definitely bodes for a faster car to get to the front. Don’t count me out.

Q: And you can do it safely?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Then what’s the strategy? Weave a lot? Be patient?

A: Honestly, you get to the front as quickly as possible. You can’t afford to wait. Take the direct route. Run fast, stay out of the danger zone, and once you’re up there it allows your guys to be more flexible with their strategy.

Prior to the race, Hoffarth tweeted out his Q&A and said, “Let’s be careful out there…”

Little did anyone know that tragedy would strike an hour later.

“It’s a very eerie feeling I have today, because I spent the entire day watching the race from the start and it still feels like a bad dream in my head as I replay it,” Hoffarth told FishbowlLA via email Monday. “Having talked to Dan on Tuesday and writing the story for Sunday’s paper, I felt somewhat invested in the outcome.”

No journalist expects their interview subject to die tragically, a reality Hoffarth is still coming to grips with.

“I think by the time they announced his death at about 3 p.m. on the ABC telecast, I figured it out by the reaction of the live shots in the hour before that,” Hoffarth added. “I’ve never had this happen with a story subject before, but then, with a motor racing sport, you should be prepared for it. Still, nothing really does.”

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