What’s the best thing about driving a race car? Speed, of course! Sadly, the same thing that makes racing immensely fun and exhilarating is the cause of hundreds of accidents every year. Ever wondered what the most horrifying tragedies were that took place in auto car competitions and tournaments?
If you did, you will get your answer today. You can read about not one, not two, but 10 of the most devastating racing accidents in this article. After all, the fun of jaw-clenching acceleration and roaring engines comes at a very high price. Ready? Let’s have a look at some of the most tragic moments in racing competitions and tournaments.
10. The Paris-Madrid Race, 1903
The Paris-Madrid race in 1903 was one of the first organized motorsport races. However, it was also one of the most menacing races of all time. Organized in France, the race was over 1307 kilometers long. Around 300 racers participated with their motorcycles and cars.
The competition was divided into three legs: Versailles to Bordeaux, Bordeaux to Vitoria, and Vitoria to Madrid. Moreover, repairs were only allowed during the race and not in-between stages. Therefore, it was not a surprise that almost half of the race vehicles crashed or broke down during the event.
On top of that, the organizers, racers, and audiences were not very experienced – resulting in numerous dangerous crashes. Drivers hit trees, railway signs, and even each other! Cars caught on fire or collapsed. Spectators stood on the track – adding to the slew of accident causes. All in all, The Paris-Madrid Race was a recipe for disaster. Dozens of people were hurt, and eight lost their lives.
9. The Marlboro 500 Race, 1999
The Marlboro 500 was the final event in the CART World Series in 1999. Held at California Speedway, this was a much-anticipated event for all racing lovers. However, the competition had a very tragic outcome for Canadian racer Greg Moore. Even though 24-years-old Greg had recently injured his right hand in a motor-scooter accident, he was allowed to participate in the Marlboro 500.
He was speeding through lap 9 when he suddenly lost control of his car. The outcome? The car went spinning at an unimaginable speed of 200mph and dragged Greg off the track. The vehicle flipped and hit a concrete barrier, top first. Of course, the racer was hastily pulled out of the car. However, soon afterward, he succumbed to his internal and head injuries and died.
8. The Belgian Grand Prix, 1982
Another passionate racer who faced the harsh reality of his profession was Canadian racer, Gilles Villeneuve. The accident took place during a 1982 qualifying round for the Belgian Grand Prix held at Circuit Zolder. A few minutes before the session’s conclusion, the racing icon met a fatal car crash.
On one of the bends in the racing track, his speeding Ferrari crossed paths with a much slower vehicle. As Villeneuve was unable to slow down so suddenly, he was trying to overtake the car. However, the slower car cut him off by launching the Canadian and his car into the air.
The racer was strapped into his seat as the Ferrari went cartwheeling at 130mph. Unable to absorb the shock, the racing car disintegrated, throwing Villeneuve 50 meters away, where he hit a fence. He suffered from a severe neck injury but was still alive. Unfortunately, he died at a nearby hospital later.
7. The Tour De Corse, 1986
Back in the 1980s, racing fans saw many cars push their limits on non-race track surfaces at the World Rally Championship (WRC) events. These were Group B cars – very lightweight vehicles with notoriously powerful engines. On gravel, most of these cars could go from zero to 60 in less than 3 seconds.
However, pushing their speed and power limits on surfaces like snow and gravel was very dangerous. Racers and organizers continued to ignore the risks until a drastic accident in 1986 Tour de Corse. Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto, his co-driver, violently crashed their Lancia Delta S4 during the race.
Not only did the car go off the road, but it went down a ravine before landing on its roof and exploding into flames. By the time the fire was contained, both the racers were killed, and the car was damaged beyond recognition.
6. The Rally De Portugal, 1986
The Tour de Corse was not the first time WRC officials noticed how dangerous group-B cars could be on the racing track. They were alarmed by accident earlier in 1986 during the Rally de Portugal. One of the common features of the Portugal stage was fans standing on or near the road.
As you can guess, this is not ideal for events where high-power cars slide around corners. Many drivers used to dread The Rally De Portugal for this reason. In the 1986 event, Joaquim Santos’s Ford RS200 lost traction and swerved into the crowd – injuring dozens and killing three people.
5. The Indy 500 in 1964
It is rumored that Dave MacDonald was driving an extremely fast yet unstable car during the Indianapolis 500 in 1964. Others on the track reported that Dave was flaunting a lot of risky moves. Moreover, it seemed like his car was out of control.
Before anyone could analyze any further, his blazing car spun, hit a wall and caught fire on the second lap. The vehicles then slid back into the race track, causing many other unsuspecting cars to crash. American racer Eddie Sachs tried to escape but ended up crashing into MacDonald’s car instead – leading to another explosion.
Sach died immediately while MacDonald was taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, he too succumbed to the severe burns. Usually, other cars are warned with the yellow flag to drive carefully in case of a crash. However, for the first time, the Indy 500 was stopped due to this accident.
4. The South African Grand Prix, 1977
During lap 22 of the South African Grand Prix 1977, Renzo Zorzi’s race car skidded off the track abruptly, resulting in a fire. Two marshals grabbed fire extinguishers and ran across the track to help Zorzi but were chased by cars that were still on track.
One of them was unaffected, but Jansen van Vuuren, the second marshal, was hit by Tom Pryce’s speeding car. Vuuren crashed into a wall and died at the venue. The fire extinguisher he was carrying landed on Pryce’s head, an accident that almost decapitated him. Pryce tried to maintain balance despite this, but his vehicle crashed at the next bend.
3. The San Marino Grand Prix, 1994
The San Marino Grand Prix 1994 was tainted with an array of tragic moments. First, Rubens Barrichello was badly injured when his car propelled into the air and then crashed into a tire barrier. The accident knocked him unconscious. The victim of the second accident of the series was Austrian Roland Ratzenberger.
Ratzenberger was driving at 190mph when he lost control of his ride and hit the concrete wall. He suffered a severe skull fracture and later passed away. These two serious crashes had already dampened the spirit of the race festivities, but there was another dreadful misadventure that took place.
Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna held the pole position in the first two races for the 1994 season and maintained the same in this third race. On lap 7 of the third race, he fatally injured himself while driving at 135mph. The vehicle’s front wheel came off and struck his head, inflicting major trauma on Senna.
2. The Mille Miglia, 1957
Have you heard of The Mille Miglia? It was a popular annual endurance race very similar to present-day rally races. All kinds of cars could enroll, and the slowest rides would start first. In 1957, two very dangerous crashes led to the banning of the Mille Miglia.
The more serious accident included Alfonso de Portago and co-driver Edmund Nelson’s. They were traveling at 120mph when a tire burst. The car went off track and rolled over. It was so serious that it tore both the race drivers in half. That’s not all, the car struck a crowd, and nine additional people died.
1. The 24 Hours Of LeMans, 1955
The 24 Hours of LeMans in 1955 was even worse! The race killed the maximum number of people at a motorsports race. The brutal accident had a severe impact on the 24 Hours of LeMans races and even triggered new safety regulations.
Wondering what happened? A Jaguar suddenly braked near the pits, leading several other cars to collide while avoiding the Jaguar. Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes was one of those vehicles that could not evade the chaos. His Mercedes rammed into an Austin-Healey and launched into a crowded audience.
The engine, axel, hood – everything broke apart and flew into off-guard spectators, many of whom were crushed and even decapitated. The magnesium-body of the Mercedes caught fire and torched even more spectators to death. In addition to killing Levegh, the horrifying incident claimed the lives of over 80 others. Plus, more than 100 innocent spectators were induced at the race.
Now you have had a look at what swerving and drifting at an unimaginable speed can do. Hands down, these are some of the most tragic accidents that took place in auto car competitions and tournaments.
While racers drift and swerve to entertain the audience, it can put both racers and audiences at risk.