One of the most watched sports is auto racing. The popularity of this sport has been slowly building up to a point where today it has as much fan base as would be expected in some of the major sporting actions in the world. There are various reasons, both good and bad, why the sport is famous. This sport has a lot of action and excitement that many sports fans seek. Additionally, a lot of investments have gone into improving the game and making it accessible. However, the other reasons why the sport has hit the headlines are due to the tragedies that have befallen most of the competitors and spectators of the game. Not only does it affect those on the immediate field but also has repercussions on a number of different people, affected in their own way.
The Horrible Season of 1982
It was the worst of the racing games during this season witnessed in Belgium and Canada where several reputed racing drivers died from the most fatal accident ever witnessed since the beginning of the racing sport. One of these drivers is Gilles Villenueve, who reportedly died in the crash due to using his last set of qualifying tires which are past their best. Despite this, he still attempted to improve his time on his final lap. Some say that he did this because he wanted to specifically beat Didier Pironi, his team-mate, whom he has an argument less than two weeks prior the accident.
The 1964 Indianapolis 500 Mandate
This was another worst crash in the racing world. The crash made it unwise to use gasoline and later methane was adopted. Years later, methane was abandoned for ethanol. This season is also best known for the fiery seven-car, second-lap accident that caused the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. It was said that MacDonald’s car, the #83 Sears All-State Special was badly designed, poorly built and difficult to drive. A fellow driver told MacDonald before the race to get out of the car and walk away. During the second lap, his car spun and hit the inside wall causing the 100 US gallons of gasoline to ignite. This caused a massive fire that involved seven other cars. Sachs hit MacDonald’s burning car directly causing a second explosion where he died instantly.
Adam Petty’s Death in 2000
He was envisioned to be the best racer of his time until his death in May 2000 from a stuck throttled that saw him crash straight on a wall during a Busch 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series practice. He got loose on turn three which resulted to a head on against a wall. He died instantly due to a basilar skull fracture. Another great talent, Kenny Irwin Jr. died the same year from the same racing car problem. To avoid having the same accident again, that same year restrictor plates on racing cars were introduce. However, it was abandoned after the September Cup race. This resulted to another death of a racer, Dale Earnhardt due to the same problem. This forced the NASCAR to mandate head-and-neck restraints.
Greg Moore’s Short Victory
At 24, he was the youngest racing driver with many victories under his name. Unfortunately, he died in 1999 Marlboro 500 at the California Speedway which is now known as Auto Club Speedway. Prior to the race, Moore got knocked off his motor scooter which resulted to a hand injury. A medical consultation allowed him to race but he was required to wear a hand brace. He lost control of his car and spun into the infield grass with a speed of more than 200 mph. Moore was critically injured and although he was airlifted to the nearest hopital, the Loma Linda University Medical Center, he didn’t make it.
Death of Mr. Indianapolis
Bill Vukovich who was considered by fellow drivers of his generation as the greatest driver of this century was certainly a big loss in the racing world. He was headed for his 3rd straight win at the 1955 Indianapolis 500 race when unfortunately, a chain-reaction caused his death. His car, after being struck by the driver behind him went airborne and landed upside down and somersaulted four and a half times then burst to flames. Fellow racer, Ed Elisian got off his undamaged car in an attempt to save Vukovich but it was in vain. It was unfortunate how little is known about this great driver today although he was the greatest driver of his time.
Fans Killed in 1999 Visionaire 500k
A suspension failure shot a racer’s car into the wall which caused both of his right wheels to come off. Another racer behind him hit the debris field and the contact caused the rear wheel and the tire assembly to come flying over the catch fence. Three spectators within the vicinity got hit by the flying tire debris and seven others were injured. An incoming driver purposely spun his car to avoid the debris. Fortunately, he didn’t crash against any walls and other cars. Due to the accident, new rules was made up to have tethers attached to the wheel hubs to prevent the same accident from happening again. Catch fences are also improved; they made it curved so that debris won’t easily fly onto the grandstands. This is also a warning for spectators to be careful whilst watching a race.
2001 Daytona 500 Specter
At first, Dale Earnhardt’s crash didn’t look that serious compared to the crash early on in the race that resulted to a total wreckage of a car, although no one got hurt. Earnhardt was keeping in control and remaining in the third position when all of a sudden his car slid off the tracks. It looked like he would manage to avoid the wall ahead but wasn’t able to when fellow racer, Ken Schrader hit his car and pushed him to collide against the wall. His car hit at a critical angle at 160 mph which resulted to his death. The death of Earnhardt and that of many others lead to the reviewing of racing safety rules including the safety belt and the Hans Device. Earnhardt died of Basilar skull fracture and the Hans Device was designed to prevent this type of injury. It was reported that Earnhardt wasn’t wearing this device and his safety belt wasn’t worn properly.
The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix
Ayrton Senna was having the time of his life before he left the racing line at Tamburello corner at 190 mph. He crashed an unprotected concrete barrier. His scar spun for a few seconds before it came to a halt. A considerable amount of blood was found on the ground and although Senna was wearing his helmet, he suffered massive head trauma. Sidney Walkins, a world-renowned surgeon and medical delegate of Formula One racing reported that Senna, “looked serene. I raised his eyelids and it was clear from his pupils that he had a massive brain injury. We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, although I am not religious, I felt his spirit depart at that moment.” The death of racing icon Ayrton Senna in this race was another wake up call to the safety issues involved in the sport. His was the last death ever witnessed in a Formula one race.
The 1955 Le Mans Catastrophe
With regards to human toll, this is the most catastrophic accident in motorsports history. 83 spectators died in this race and 120 other people were injured. Pierre Levegh got in a collision with the car ahead of him which caused his #20 Mercedes Benz 300 SLR to break apart causing heavy and massive flying debris. The bonnet, the front axle and the heavy engine block all broke free and hurtled toward the crowd. Not only that, the car, after slowing from its somersault burst into white-hot flames due to the magnesium content, sending searing embers onto the crowd. Levegh on the other hand, was thrown free from the car and crushed his skull and died. The result was a ban of the sport in various countries due to poor safety standards. Today, Switzerland still has a ban on any kind of motorsport held in the country.
The Worst Crash of 2005
In November 2005 there was a pile-up of 25 cars at Talladega. NASCAR refers to this as “The Big One”. This phrase refers to an accident involving eight or more cars. One error in the racetrack can cause a chain-reaction crash wherein those who scramble to avoid the crash lose their control and end up being in a worse crash. Tire smoke reduces the visibility which results to an increase in risk, as well as the debris left by other cars. This accident proved that restrictor plates were not the only solution to race accidents as there are more factors that should be looked at.
Many of these tragedies are gruesome and the worst crashes in the racing sport. It is these crashes that have contributed to shaping racing sport today, in terms of safety. Preventing accidents like these is of the utmost importance to all members of the sport. Pre-emptive attention can also be the key to ensuring safety and saving of lives.