Top 10 Most Dangerous Auto Races

Top 10 Most Dangerous Auto Races



While there might be more statistically treacherous
sports, auto racing, particularly the less mainstream brands of rallying and motocross,
still remains the most prominent—and often deadly—daredevil sport in the world. Drivers often reach speeds of over 250 mph,
and that kind of pace, while exciting, has often been a recipe for disaster. Even with today’s more sophisticated safety
equipment, not a year goes by that the sport doesn’t claim the lives of several competitors. With the new year about to mark the start
of what has been called “the deadliest sporting event in the world,” the following is a
list of the most dangerous auto races in history. 10. The Paris-Madrid Race of 1903 As soon as there were cars, there were car
races, and 1903’s Paris to Madrid endurance race stands as one of the most ill conceived
of these early attempts. 275 vehicles, 59 of them motorcycles, began
the race in Versailles, and it was not long before the mayhem began. Spectators, not yet aware of the real dangers
involved in motor sport, crowded the sides of the course, and the contestants had not
made it 45 miles out of Paris before a woman was struck and killed by one of the cars. Competitor Charles Jarrott would later write
that the spectators were “insane and reckless, holding themselves in front of the bullet
to be ploughed and cut and maimed to extinction.” But this was only the beginning. A dangerous combination of inexperienced drivers
and unreliable cars combined to produce numerous collisions and crashes. Several drivers were killed when their cars
struck trees, while others died after their vehicles flipped and caught fire. The extreme rate of attrition caused the race
to be abandoned before it passed into Spain, and the French government, fearful of even
more deaths, ordered that the cars be towed back to Paris by horse. At least eight people were killed in the contest
(though the number is probably much higher), and the papers would later dub it “the race
to death.” A Deadly Accident: There were a number of tragic driver and spectator
deaths in the Paris-Madrid race, but the most famous is probably that of French racing pioneer
Marcel Renault, co-founder of the Renault car company, who died in an accident after
leading the race for several miles. 9. Motordrome Motordrome refers to a type of racing that
was popular in the United States in the 1930s. A precursor to the oval-style races later
popularized by NASCAR, the contests were held on small wood plank courses with as much as
60 degrees of banking. This allowed the cars, among them early Ballots
and Duesenbergs, to reach breathtaking speeds, but it also led to a number of tragic accidents. Breakneck speeds of over 120 mph meant that
collisions were common, and out of control cars often spun over the track’s outside
walls and into the stands, killing spectators. Newspapers eventually began reporting on the
sport’s extreme mortality rate—several competitors would often die over the course
of a single race—and started calling the circuits “murderdromes.” This, along with the extreme amount of upkeep
needed to keep the tracks intact, eventually led to the sport being abandoned, but not
before it claimed the lives of many drivers. A Deadly Accident: One of the most famous examples of the dangers
of board track racing occurred during a motorcycle race in Atlantic City, NJ. Rider Eddie Hasha was competing for the lead
when he lost control of his bike and crashed into the wall. Four boys who were watching by the fence were
killed, and several other bystanders were injured. Hasha died after he was thrown from his bike
into the grandstands. 8. The Mille Miglia After the debacle that was the Paris-Madrid
race, open-road endurance races were abandoned for several years. The Mille Miglia, a thousand-mile long race
through Italy first held in 1927, marked their return. The race featured high-powered touring cars—among
them some of the first racing vehicles designed by Porsche, Alpha Romeo, and Ferrari—tearing
along public roads from the city of Brescia to Rome. In addition to becoming known for featuring
some of the world’s fastest cars and top drivers, the Mille Miglia was also notorious
for terrifying crashes. Benito Mussolini briefly banned the race in
1938 after a tragic accident took the lives of several spectators, but it was restarted
in a different format in the years following WWII, where it continued to be famous for
the all-around reckless behavior of its competitors. In one famous example, German driver Hans
Herrmann and his navigator were approaching train tracks with the barrier gate lowered. To the astonishment of spectators, Herrmann
floored it and the duo ducked their heads under the gate and crossed the track just
as a high-speed train came flying by. A Deadly Accident: The Mille Miglia Came to a tragic end in 1957,
when it was banned after a horrific crash took the lives of 12 people. Ferrari driver Alfonso de Portago was running
in third place when his car blew a tire around a high speed corner, sending it flying into
a crowd of spectators standing nearby. The race disappeared for nearly 25 years,
before it was revived in 1982 as a safer event devoted to racing vintage cars made between
1927 and 1957—the span of years in which the original race was held. 7. The Baja 1000 One of the most famous rally races in the
world, the Baja 1000 is an off-road race that takes place each year on the arid Baja peninsula
south of California. Racers drive everything from trucks and rally
cars to dirt bikes and ATVs, with the singular goal of being the first one to go from start
to finish across the rocky and barren course. In addition to the usual rallying threats
of near-inaccessible roads, blind turns, and equipment failure, the Baja 1000 also features
more creative hazards in the form of course sabotage. Since the race is open to the public, it has
become common for spectators to place booby-traps around the course. These might include buried jumps, deadfalls,
and other dangerous attempts at illegal track alteration. This sabotage has led to many unfortunate
accidents when drivers and riders, unaware that they are about to encounter an obstacle,
approach the traps at dangerously high speeds. Crime More Dangerous than the Race: The Baja 1000 race has had its share of spectacular
wrecks, but these days the most dangerous aspect of the race might just be the high
level of crime that happens in and around the course. One of the strangest incidents occurred during
the 2007 race, when a helicopter crashed near the circuit, killing several people. One of the deceased was revealed to be a high-level
member of a Mexican drug cartel, and in a bizarre turn of events, a group of unknown
gunmen later raided the local morgue and stole the bodies of the crash victims, killing two
police officers in the process. 6. The Macau GP China’s Macau GP is a massive series of
auto races held every November that features everything from motorcycles and touring cars
to high-powered Formula 3 machines. The races take place on a specially designed
course that is set up on the city streets, and because of its insanely tight corners
and long straights (cars often reach speeds of 160 mph), it has become known as one of
the most challenging and deadly circuits in the world. The street setup means Macau is unusually
narrow, and steel walls stand where there would normally be tire barriers. It only took one year for the Macau track
to record a fatality, when a motorcycle rider crashed in the 1967 race, and since then the
track has become notorious for dishing out some of the worst accidents in motor sports. As a result, drivers and motorcycle racers
have come to regard Macau as one of the most bare-knuckle and potentially deadly courses
in the world. Worst Incident: Macau has seen a number of tragic crashes
over the years, but one of the most unusual incidents happened off the track. In 1993, Andely Chan, a member of the infamous
Triad crime organization, was competing in one of the car races at the circuit. After his car was disqualified for having
illegal parts, Chan and his mechanic returned to their hotel, where a rival gang gunned
them down in a hit. 5. The German Grand Prix (Nurburgring) The world’s most famous racing series, Formula
One features the most talented drivers negotiating the most technically difficult courses, often
at speeds of over 200 mph. It’s a sport that’s become notorious for
its high fatality rate, thanks to treacherous courses like Spa-Francorchamps and Italy’s
Monza circuit. But perhaps no track has proven to be as dangerous
as Germany’s famed Nurburgring, which once claimed the lives of 5 F1 drivers in a fifteen-year
span. The track was first built in 1927, but it
has been redesigned several times over the years, as its fast speeds, elevation changes,
and tight corners have time and again proven to be too dangerous. In 1969, the track was even boycotted by Formula
One drivers who, wary of deaths at the Nurburgring and other tracks like it, refused to race
unless changes were made to the course. Since then, no fatalities have occurred at
the track in Formula One competition, but the course has continued to be one of the
world’s most deadly places to hold an auto race: since 1970, as many as 25 drivers have
been killed during other races at the track, and famed F1 driver Jackie Stewart has since
declared it “the most dangerous circuit in the world.” Most Famous Incident: One of the most famous accidents at the Nurburgring
occurred in 1958, when F1 driver Peter Collins became the last competitor to be killed during
the actual running of the German Grand Prix. Collins was racing for the lead when he lost
control of his Ferrari and spun over one of the course’s banked turns. In the ensuing crash, he was thrown from the
car into a grove of trees, and sustained a deadly head injury. 4. The Indy 500 The Indy 500, held every May at the Indianapolis
Motor Speedway, is arguably the most famous auto race in the world. It’s list of winners—among them Mario
Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Juan Pablo Montoya—reads
like its own racing hall of fame. But along with being the track at which every
driver wants to win, Indianapolis also has the dubious honor of being one of the most
high-tension, dangerous, and downright deadly courses in the world. Over 40 drivers have been killed in competition
or practice since the race first began in 1911, along with several crewmembers, track
personnel, and spectators. In the race’s early days, just being near
the track was deadly, and in one bizarre incident in 1931, a young boy playing in his yard across
the street from Indy was killed when a wheel from a race accident flew over the fence and
struck him. The track itself consists of two long straights
with flat, sweeping turns at each end. But it’s the simplicity of the Indianapolis
course that makes it so dangerous: drivers enter the corners at extremely high rates
of speed, and the low degree of banking makes for what has been described as one of the
most dicey turns in motor sports. Most Famous Incident: One of the most famous crashes at Indy remains
the 1973 incident where driver Swede Savage, running in second place, lost control of his
car in turn four and hit the inside retaining wall head on. His car exploded in spectacular fashion, and
he was thrown from the vehicle only to land against the outside wall in a puddle of burning
race fuel. Amazingly, Savage survived the accident and
was taken to the hospital. Doctors expected him to survive, but he died
33 days later, supposedly due to complications from a transfusion of contaminated plasma. 3. The Isle of Man TT The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, or TT, is
a famous series of motorcycle races that takes place every year on the blustery Isle of Man,
a small island located off the coast of England. At more than a hundred years old, the TT is
one of the most storied competitions in all of racing. It’s held over several days and is scored
on a time trial format, with racers averaging over 120 mph around the perilous Snaefell
Mountain Course. Because the races take place on public roads,
the circuit is lacking in safety, and the TT has often been the subject of controversy
because of the extreme dangers it presents to riders. The roads are severely narrow, and where traditional
courses would have safety barriers, the TT often just has stone walls, fences, and cliffs. 227 participants have been killed at the race
since 1907, an average of more than two a year, and with the speeds and cornering abilities
of the bikes only improving with each season, it seems there is little hope to ever truly
minimize the level of danger at the track. Most Famous Incident: The Isle of Man TT was once one of the highlights
of the Grand Prix Motorcycle Championship, but concerns about track safety eventually
caused it to be stripped of its championship status. Since the late eighties, it has operated as
an independent festival. The biggest catalyst for the change was the
death of Gilberto Parlotti, an Italian racer who was killed when his bike crashed during
a race held in heavy rain. His death led many riders to begin boycotting
the TT, and after a few years it was eliminated from the competition calendar altogether. 2. The 24 Hours of Le Mans One of the most unique and prestigious events
in all of motor sports, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a nearly 90-year-old endurance race
held every June in France. Unlike most car races, which prize speed above
all else, the 24 Hours not only tests car reliability and performance, but also the
stamina and awareness of the drivers. These challenges have made Le Mans a crown
jewel of the racing calendar, but they’ve always ensured it to be one of the most dangerous
auto races in the world. The modern supercars that race at the track
today are capable of blistering speeds of over 250 mph, and with competitors in all
classes on the same track simultaneously, cars often close in on one another at an astonishing
pace. Up until the 1960s, Le Mans also featured
what many would now consider to be a downright psychotic starting procedure: drivers would
line up several feet from their cars, and at the start would sprint to their vehicles
on foot and speed off from a dead stop, often without properly fastening any kind of safety
harness. This lead to a number of tragic accidents
at the race, which has seen as many as 24 drivers die since its inception. The Deadliest Sporting Accident Ever: In addition to being the home of the most
storied race in the world, Le Mans also has the sad distinction of being the site of the
worst accident in racing history. In 1955, driver Pierre Levegh crashed after
he made contact with the back of another car. The accident made his car ramp over the retaining
wall and into a dirt mound, which sent it somersaulting into the nearby crowd of spectators. Levegh and 84 spectators were killed in the
crash, and as many as 100 people were injured. The accident had far-reaching effects in the
world of racing. Most competitions for the year were abruptly
canceled, and France, Spain, Switzerland, and Germany briefly banned car races altogether. Though tragic, the accident did signal a change
in auto safety. When the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other competitions
were reinstated, they were better equipped to deal with the inherent dangers of high-speed
racing. 1. The Dakar Rally For sheer danger, excitement, and outright
insanity, no race compares to the Dakar Rally, a yearly off-road extravaganza that traditionally
begins in Paris, travels across Europe and the deserts of Africa, and ends in the Senegalese
city of Dakar. The race, which includes drivers in classes
ranging from SUVs to motorcycles, has been called “the most dangerous sporting event
in world” for its scale and degree of difficulty. Because the race course is so expansive, drivers
can easily become separated from the pack or veer off course, and in the event of an
accident, it can be hours before proper medical care is available. These dangers, along with the environmental
impact of the race, have seen the Dakar Rally become perhaps the most controversial competition
in all of motor sports. Drivers have been known to tear up the countryside,
accidentally hitting livestock and other vehicles, and on at least one occasion the race was
blamed for starting a wildfire that killed three people. Meanwhile, the toll on the drivers has proven
to be equally tragic. Since its inception in 1978, the race has
claimed the lives of 49 people, nearly two a year, but this figure is thought to be extremely
low, as many claim the rally to be responsible for the deaths of countless pedestrians. In recent years, political turmoil in Africa
has forced the race to be relocated to South America. As such, the 2010 race, which kicks off January
1, will be held in Argentina and Chile. Most Famous Incident: In 1982, Mark Thatcher, son of the English
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was competing in the Dakar Rally in a Peugeot 504. While traveling through the Sahara Desert,
Thatcher, a mechanic, and his co-driver, Anne-Charlotte Verney, had to stop and make repairs to a
damaged fuel arm. But by the time the problem was fixed, the
trio found the other drivers had left them behind, and they soon became lost in the desert. They were missing for six days before they
were spotted some 30 miles off course by a search plane. Luckily, the three all escaped their ordeal
without injury.

40 thoughts on “Top 10 Most Dangerous Auto Races

  1. Swede Savage was a childhood friend of my brother. They raced quarter midgets together in Southern California in the late 50s and early 60s. Our families were friends, and his death was shocking to all of us.

  2. 250MPH!?!! BWHAHAHAHAHA

    Simon, please at least take a photograph of the event for us peasants next time you get a solid gold invitation to a secret high class autocross where all the Kings of the world race each other in their specially modified Bugatti Veyrons.

    "And on todays TopTenz video, the top 10 Kings of the world in the top 10 fastest cars ever to race. We're sure, you're gonna like it."

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