10 Crashes That Changed Motor Sports Forever


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Pierre Levegh's 'Worst Crash in Motor Sports'
The 24-hour race at Le Mans in 1955 ended in tragedy when dozens of people died because of Pierre Levegh’s wreck. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

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.

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Sources

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  • 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
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