We have always loved the sport of racing, whether it be directly competing or merely watching. At the turn of the 20th century we replaced horses with internal combustion motors and brought competitive racing to a new level. Over 100 years later, motorsports – or auto racing – is one of the most exciting spectator sports around. Almost every weekend somewhere you can find a competition that pits a field of racers against one another. We love the cars, the sounds they make, the drivers who fearlessly pilot them and all the drama that seems to unfold during and after every battle on the track. Formula 1 is the most popular worldwide motorsport and in North America, the king remains NASCAR. In between there is everything from the Japanese Super GT series (formerly known as the JGTC) to the World Rally Championship (WRC) introducing us to a variety of new tracks, cars, drivers and challenges.
What draws spectators to the race day itself is the competition and excitement occurring on the track. Drivers overtaking one another, cars breaking down, underdogs coming from behind to snatch a victory – these are all crowd pleasers. Of course, what also attracts much attention to this high-speed sport are the crashes. That’s not to say fans love a crash – most cringe and worry at the sight of one – but they do provide a mix of the spectacular with the tragic and unexpected. When they do happen, crashes remind us that motorsports are exciting but extremely dangerous.
The following list looks at 15 of the worst crashes in auto racing history. As you’ll see, no one sport holds the monopoly for crashes as these tragedies strike as easily on the Formula 1 tracks as they do on the gravel and snow of the Rally circuits. These crashes are all considered bad for a number of reasons. Some are rated as the worst because of the number of people killed and injured. Other crashes are listed because of the spectacular nature of the crash itself. Many led to the introduction of new rules and regulations meant to keep drivers and fans safe, while others are simply remembered because they took the life of a well-liked or promising driver.
16 Honorable Mention: Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, 2008
15 The 1964 Riverside International Raceway
14 The 1976 German Grand Prix
13 The 1998 JGTC at Fuji
12 The 2001 Daytona 500
11 The 1978 Italian Grand Prix
10 The 1903 Paris to Madrid Race
9 The 1999 Marlboro 500
8 The 1982 Belgian Grand Prix
7 The 1986 Tour de Corse
6 The 1964 Indianapolis 500
5 The 1977 South African Grand Prix
4 The 1986 Rally de Portugal
3 The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix
2 The 1957 Mille Miglia
1 The 1955 24 Hours of LeMans
This is deadliest single race and killed the most spectators at a motorsport event. The races at LeMans are legendary in the world of motorsport. In 1955 an accident occurred which left a black mark on this event and led to new safety regulations. A sudden braking by a Jaguar near the pits caused a number of cars to try and avoid a collision. A Mercedes driven by Pierre Levegh could not avoid the chaos, hitting an Austin-Healey and launching up into the crowd. The hood, engine and an axel flew into the crowd crushing and decapitating spectators. The car, built with magnesium, caught fire and burned even more to death. Levegh was thrown from the car and killed. In total, the crash claimed the lives of 84 people and injured over 100 others. Truly tragic.
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