Vehicles were rustic by today's standards when the sport of auto racing was introduced; tires were narrow and speeds were nothing like is seen on tracks today. Over the years, car manufacturers have made significant strides to improve car performance, increase power and speed, and enhance aerodynamics. As a result, the sport has become more dangerous, and the risk of accidents is high, even though safety standards have increased as well. Drivers put their lives on the line for the thrill of competition, and at the same time are keeping fans happy. As a spectator, the sport offers a level of excitement unseen in other sports. Some venues have become more synonymous with danger than others. Here are some of the world’s deadliest tracks.
10. Targa Florio
When it was first established in Sicily, Italy in 1906, the Targa Florio was slated as an endurance race. The long-distance course started out as a race along the entire mountainous island, but by the 1970’s was cut to a seventy-two-kilometer track of road. From the 1950s through 1970s, it was part of the World Sportscar Championship, but all racing ended in 1977. In all of the track's operational years, the course saw nine fatalities, including spectators, which is a relatively small number in the sport’s history. Citing safety concerns, the plug was pulled on the track in 1977.
9. Baja 1000
Race cars are not the only vehicles to take on this track. There are races for bikes, trucks, and buggies on this course in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The Baja 1000 is a rally race ranging from 600 to 900 miles, consisting of obstacles that add challenge and danger. Spectators are known to surprise drivers by setting up hidden traps and jumps, and they are forced to maneuver around barriers. There was even a nine-day kidnapping of a driver by ex-police in 2008. Not only that, societal threats like gang raids exist and have been the cause of deaths. This popular event has been attracting competitors and spectators since 1967.
This endurance course in Belgium went from a track length of fifteen kilometers in 1921 to a shorter seven-kilometer course. It is the home of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix, Spa 24 Hours and 1000 km Spa races. Listed as one of the most challenging routes because of the terrain and winding, undulating course, the elimination of distance also took out some corners, making it the fastest circuit of open road races in the world. Drivers reach speeds of 241 kilometers per hour. Multiple fatalities have been recorded to date, but the most horrific witnessed was the decapitation of driver Chris Bristow in 1960.
7. Le Mans
Le Mans, home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, makes the list for being renown for its massive fatal accident in 1955. When driver Pierre Levegh crashed into a large crowd of spectators, more than eighty people were killed. Another 120 suffered injuries, including Levegh. Although safety measures were implemented, that did nothing to stop the powerful motors from coming onto the track with increased speeds. Cockpits were also changing from open to closed models and the new aerodynamics allowed drivers to race at more than 320 kilometers per hour. Since it’s inception in 1923, the lives of twenty-four drivers have been claimed on the Circuit de La Sarthe.
6. Paris-Dakar Rally
This long course, a route extending more than 800 kilometers, consists of challenging terrain. Drivers are forced to navigate through dry sand and sinking mud and over rocks and grass. The race made its start in Africa in 1978, running from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal, until it moved to South America in 2009 after the original route was deemed too dangerous. Not only does the circuit itself present risks of crashes and collisions, but the political unrest also poses threats of rebels who have contributed to some of the deaths and injuries by planting landmines and other hazards. Although numbers are not known, there are also deaths of journalists, spectators, and race officials on record.
5. Daytona International Speedway
This classic racetrack is legendary in its own right. It hosts the highly esteemed Daytona 500 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Known for the fatal accident of America’s Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the Daytona 500 in 2001, it also saw the spectacular crash injuring Bobby Allison at Talladega in 1987. That accident heightened awareness for safety, including regulating the use of restrictor plates to control speed. That did not cause an end to crashes, however, and since it was open in 1959, thirty-six drivers have met their deaths on that track.
This track in Italy was built in 1922 and is the third oldest in the world. It also makes its claim to fame as one of the most dangerous. It has hairpin corners and fast straight stretches on which drivers can reach speeds of 372 kilometers per hour. One of the most significant was in 1961, the last time Formula 1 cars were permitted on the banked portion of the circuit. That was when driver Wolfgang Von Trips crashed his 156 Sharknose Ferrari and lost his chance of claiming the title of World Champion.
3. Indianapolis Motor Speedway
This two-and-a-half-mile oval track was built in 1909, and the original is still being used today, most notably for the Indy 500. Some reports claim since that time, there have been forty-two fatalities at the venue, while others state fifty-six. The near-death accident involving Mike Conway took place there at the 2010 Indy 500 when his car flipped in the air and hit the fence. It tends to be the track’s corners that pose the highest threats, but speed and traction control are certainly on par. Drivers race at speeds from 160 to 230 miles per hour.
Jackie Stewart, a Formula One driver who raced during the 1960s and 70s, refers to this dangerous track in Germany as The Green Hell. It was the site of the near-death accident of Austrian Niki Lauda in 1976 where he tried to cancel that Grand Prix over safety concerns. Since that time, safety measures, such as shortening the course and adjusting technical aspects, have been implemented, it still has numerous challenging corners. Although numbers are not confirmed, there have been anywhere from fifty-two to more than sixty-eight driver fatalities at the track.
1. Isle Of Man / Snaefell Mountain
Uncontested as the most dangerous track in the world is the Isle of Man’s Snaefell Mountain. Used for top-speed motorcycle races, this race circuit takes place on 60.72 kilometers of public roads. Since the first Isle of Man TT race in 1911, there have been 248 deaths among competitors and an additional fourteen spectators and officials have been killed. Changes over the years, including widening the roads and removing some barriers, have taken place, but when sixty of its two hundred corners are named after drivers who have either been injured or killed at those locations, you know it is one in which driver precaution is more than recommended.