|By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Farm World Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Just a few hours before ethanol was to make its big-time, motorsports debut, one of its leading advocates died in a horrific, pre-race accident.
Paul Dana, 30, Indianapolis, died shortly before noon on Sunday from injuries sustained in a two-car accident in preparation for the Toyota Indy 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, near Miami, Fla.
Dana was the pilot of the ethanol-sponsored No. 17 racecar owned by former Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and television talk-show host David Letterman. Not just a driver, Dana pulled together the sponsorship package that features many ethanol industry companies into one cohesive team.
The accident occurred shortly after the 10 a.m. practice session began. Race driver Ed Carpenter hit the wall and spun into the middle of the track. Dana struck the side of Carpenter’s car at an estimated 180 mph. Both drivers were air-lifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, a Level 1 trauma center, where Dana was pronounced dead. Carpenter is in stable condition, the hospital said. Indy Racing League (IRL) executive Brian Barnhart said Dana died of “multiple traumas.”
“It is a black day for us, and behalf of Rahal Letterman Racing, our sponsors and associates, our prayers and sympathy go out to the entire Dana Family,” Rahal said. “This is a great tragedy. As a result, and in honor of Paul, we will not run the team’s No. 15 (Buddy Rice) and No. 16 (Danica Patrick) cars in today’s event.”
Dana had qualified a career-best ninth for this race. The Toyota Indy 300 was the first IRL race in which all of the cars were powered by a 10-percent blend of ethanol. Next year, the IRL plans to race with a 100 percent ethanol fuel. Dana is credited with working with the IRL to gain acceptance for ethanol as a high-performance fuel.
Ethanol industry leaders are mourning Dana.
“I don’t think there is another person who has done more to change the image of ethanol in this country than Paul Dana,” said Ron Lamberty, American Coalition for Ethanol vice president.
“He challenged us to think bigger, and ultimately, that is what brought all of us to Sunday. We all wanted to be celebrating the arrival of ethanol as the fuel of the Indy Racing League, and instead, we’re all mourning the loss of one of our most intelligent and articulate spokesmen, and to many of us, a good friend.
“As sad as this tragedy is for all of us, we know it is a much greater loss to his wife Tonya, his brother Greg, and the rest of Paul’s family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with Paul and his family. Paul was a wonderful guy, and he will be missed.”
Rahal Letterman Team Ethanol Racing is made up of 23 ethanol industry supporters, including plant manufacturer ICM. “Paul was a very special guy,” said ICM President and CEO David Vander Griend.
“He demonstrated his belief in what ethanol can do for all of America through his racing. He helped us with so many things in bringing ethanol to the IndyCar Series. He will be missed tremendously. Our thoughts are with his family today.”