As we've gone through the nine previous crashes, we've talked about some pretty sad and harrowing events. Heads up: None compare in impact to Pierra Levegh's crash in Le Mans, France in 1955. They don't call it "the worst crash in motor sports" for nothing.
During the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans race, driver Mike Hawthorne cut quickly into the pit area, causing Lance Macklin, who was directly behind him, to swerve. Levegh was behind Macklin and the two collided. Macklin's car went into a wall, and Levegh's Mercedes was launched into the air and landed in the crowd.
This crash is so bad that the exact number of people killed isn't known – estimates range from 70 to 130 [sources: Orlove]. Only a few bales of hay protected the crowd, and pieces of Levegh's car scattered, taking out spectators. Explosions and fires followed.
The aftermath of the crash led to the ban of car racing in France until improvements were made to the cars and the tracks. Car racing is still banned in Switzerland as a result of the crash [source: Orlove]. The biggest takeaway, however, was that motor sports realized if it were going to survive, safety and speed must coexist.
Author's Note: "10 Crashes That Changed Motor Sports Forever"
We all know that driving fast isn't the safest thing a person can do, yet it's what we yearn for when we watch car racing. We want to see the limits pushed and new records set. Still, it's important to remember that as safe as motor sports are today, a lot of people literally had to give their lives for the safety innovations that protect drivers, pit crews and fans today. And despite the massive leaps forward in safety that motor sports have taken in recent years, racing is based on cars going fast — and there's always risk in that.
- Arnold, Mark. "Top Ten Most Important NASCAR Crashes Of All Time." Jalopnik. Sept. 19, 2008. (June 16, 2015) http://jalopnik.com/5052495/top-ten-most-important-nascar-crashes-of-all-time
- Courchesne, Shawn. "NHRA Announces Initial Findings On The Death Of Scott Kalitta; Examination Areas Also Announced." The Hartford Courant. June 27, 2008. (June 16, 2015) http://blogs.courant.com/autoracing/2008/06/nhra-announces-initial-finding.html
- Federation Internationale de l'Automobile. "Accident Panel." March 12, 2014. (June 16, 2015) http://www.fia.com/news/accident-panel
- Hardigree, Matt. "Scott Kalitta, NHRA Champion, Killed In Qualifying Incident." Jalopnik. June 21, 2008. (June 16, 2015) http://jalopnik.com/396757/scott-kalitta-nhra-champion-killed-in-qualifying-incident
- Henderson, Charlie. "F1's pressing safety question." BBC. March 5, 2001. (June 15, 2015) http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/1203620.stm
- Hill, Michael. "NASCAR Safety Improvements Save Lives." RGA Reinsurance Company. 2012. (Oct. 7, 2015) https://www.rgare.com/knowledgecenter/Documents/AW_2012_WhitePaper_NASCAR_Safety_KC_US.pdf
- Hinton, Ed. "Earnhardt's death a watershed moment." ESPN. Feb. 14, 2011. (June 15, 2015) http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/nascar/cup/columns/story?columnist=hinton_ed&id=6116145
- Huff, Richard. "NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt killed in a last-lap crash at the 2001 Daytona 500." NY Daily News. Feb. 19, 2001. (June 16, 2015) http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/nascar-loses-earnhardt-killed-daytona-lap-article-1.2017446
- Johnson, Daniel. "Ayrton Senna's legacy is still saving lives 20 years after tragedy of Imola." The Telegraph. April 30, 2014 (June 16, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/motorsport/formulaone/10790285/Ayrton-Sennas-legacy-is-still-saving-lives-20-years-after-tragedy-of-Imola.html
- Minter, Rick. "How NASCAR has changed since death of Dale Earnhardt." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution." Feb. 8, 2011. (June 16, 2015) http://www.ajc.com/news/sports/how-nascar-has-changed-since-death-of-dale-earnhar/nQqTK/
- Owens, Jeff. "Wreckfest: A look at six of the most spectacular crashes at Talladega Superspeedway." Sporting News. May 2, 2012. (June 16, 2015) http://www.sportingnews.com/nascar/story/2012-05-01/nascar-wrecks-talladega-bobby-allison-carl-edwards-rusty-wallace-ricky-craven-ry
- Orlove, Raphael. "Just How Horrifying Was The Worst Crash In Motorsports, Le Mans '55?" Jalopnik. June 14, 2014. (June 16, 2015) http://jalopnik.com/just-how-horrifying-was-the-worst-crash-in-motorsports-1589382023
- Pearce, Al. "1970 Accident Is A Painful Memory For Petty." The Daily Press. March 29, 1992. (June 16, 2015) http://articles.dailypress.com/1992-03-29/sports/9203290124_1_tumble-richard-petty-accident
- Pearly Huffman, John. "Top 10 NASCAR Crashes That Changed Racing (With Videos!)." Popular Mechanics. Sept. 18, 2008. (June 16, 2015) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/a3569/4280752/
- Schwartz, Nick. "Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi dies nine months after crash in Japan." USA Today. July 17, 2015. (July 17, 2015) http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/07/f1-driver-jules-bianchi-dies-nine-months-after-crash-in-japan
- Smith-Spark, Laura. "Formula One driver Jules Bianchi dies from crash injuries." CNN. July 18, 2015. (July 18, 2015) http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/18/motorsport/formula-one-jules-bianchi-dies/
- The Guardian. "77 Deaths at Le Mans." June 13, 1955. (June 16, 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/sport/1955/jun/13/motorracing
- Top Gear. "The corner that killed Group B." May 19, 2013. (June 16, 2015) http://www.topgear.com/car-news/motorsport/corner-killed-group-b
The Head and Neck Safety device was developed by the late Dr. Bob Hubbard. HowStuffWorks looks at the impact it has made in car racing.