The worst race car crashes ever

Racing cars is a very risky sport where fatal accidents can occur due to human errors, technical failures or foolhardiness. The worst race car crashes ever to happen showed that although accidents cannot be avoided altogether, the probability of reducing them is possible through making use of technology, enforcement of strict safety measures, building safe race tracks and infrastructure and proper training of crew.

The list

  • Le Mans Crash 1955

One of the worst race car crashes ever to occur was the 1955 crash at Le Mans. At that time, the competition was fierce between Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar and Maserati with all brands scrambling for the top spots. Pierre Levegh was driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR for Daimler-Benz. Towards Lap 35, Mike Hawthorn who was driving a Jaguar D-type apparently missed a pit stop signal to refuel. He slowed down in order to stop. The Jaguar with its new brake discs slowed faster compared to the drum brakes used on other cars such as the Mercedes. Lance Macklin who was driving an Austin-Healey behind Hawthorn also slammed on his brakes because of the slowing Jaguar. Macklin lost control and Levegh who was behind and driving at 150 mph did not have enough time to react. The Mercedes hit the back of the Austin-Healey. Pierre was ejected from the car and killed instantly. Meanwhile, the hood, engine and front axle of the Mercedes landed on the crowd. In total, 83 spectators were killed and 120 were injured.

  • Mille Miglia Disaster 1957

This accident was very similar to the Le Mans crash. Alfonso de Portago who was driving a Ferrari lost control of the car due to a flat tyre. The car slammed on the side of the road killing ten spectators including 5 children. Edmond Nelson, the co-pilot, was killed while Portago was cut in half during the incident. That was the last year the Mille Miglia was run as a full, open endurance race.

  • South African Grand Prix 1977

Driver Renzo Zorzi had issues with his car and pulled over. He got out and in the meantime, the vehicle caught fire. Two race marshals ran across the tracks carrying fire extinguishers. One of them barely made the crossing, but 19-year old Frederick Jansen Van Burem was cleaved in half by Tom Pryce who was driving at 170 mph. The fire extinguisher Van Burem was carrying hit Pryce with such force he was killed instantly. Pryce's car continued at the same speed and crashed into a car driven by Jacques Lafitte.

A risky business

Car racing is a dangerous sport not only for the driver, but also for others participating in the event. The worst race car crashes ever in history showed that even spectators, race officials and crew can be harmed as a consequence of these accidents. Thankfully, new technologies, safety rules and regulations, and enforcement of speed limits have reduced the number of fatal accidents significantly in recent years.

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