10 Extreme Motor Sports for Thrill Seekers

Does doing acrobatics on an airborne motorcycle near the highest mountain in Germany sound like your kind of activity? Well this is the perfect list for you!
Sebastian Marko/Getty Images Sport/Red Bull via Getty Images

Sometimes, as the great B.B. King said, "the thrill is gone." Sure, you loved your car when you first got it, but using it for commuting and running errands can quickly make you feel like you've gone from finding your groove to being in a rut. While you're sitting in traffic, it's easy to wonder if the boredom of inching along and staring at brake lights is all there is. And although doing an extreme sport like a Spartan Race, helicopter snowboarding or BASE jumping sounds good in theory, doesn't having an engine do a lot of the work sound faster and more exciting than having to move yourself?

While responsible ownership of a vehicle and your body is all well and good, sometimes you have to push the limits to bring the thrill back. Launching a snowmobile off a ramp may not endear you to your life insurance agent, but it will certainly remind you that cars, motorcycles and other motorized machines can do so much more than just commute.


10: Rally Racing

These grueling, rain-or-shine competitions take car racing to the extreme.

If you've ever felt like turning off a clogged freeway to race to work through fields, woods and dirt roads, rally racing is for you. Adding to the thrill factor of rally racing is that many of the best rally cars are based on models you can actually buy. In fact, many automakers use rally racing as a showplace for their best small, agile and grippy cars. If you like combining nature with nurturing as much speed as possible from a hot hatchback, you need to get into rally racing.

In rally racing, cars race on closed-off courses or real roads — most of which are unpaved. Rally racing is one of the toughest driving sports out there. It's extreme because races can go on for days regardless of weather, which puts lots of stress on the cars. A race can be run on several different road surfaces, and fans are so close to the action that being hit by a race car is a real concern. Sound thrilling enough for you? Check out Rally America for upcoming races.


9: Drag Racing

Even though drag strips are only a quarter-mile long or shorter, dragsters still reach speeds of over 300 mph (483 kph).
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

To some people, a drag race involves men dressed in exaggerated women's clothing, catfights and RuPaul. While that kind of drag race is an extreme sport all its own (you better work!), we're talking about drag racing as a motor sport.

In drag racing, two cars (or pretty much anything with a motor and a seat) line up to see who can cover a distance — usually a quarter-mile — in a straight line the fastest. Now, to be fair, you can start drag racing at any traffic light with the guy in the Honda Accord next to you. That's one way to get into the sport if you also like getting arrested.


The safest place to drag race is on an actual drag strip with organized races and automatic timing. Depending on the class, dragsters may have up to 10,000 horsepower and get to speeds of more than 330 mph (531 kph) [source: NHRA]. Drag races are organized by class, so even if you have an old station wagon you like to wrench on, you can find a way to compete.

8: Demolition Derby

Don Clobes Jr. gets hit on both sides of his car at the Ventura County Fair Demolition Derby.
What’s more thrilling than ramming other cars on purpose?
Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

While wrecks are common in all types of motor sports, wrecking is the entire point of a demolition derby. In this sport, drivers try to take out everyone else's cars, and the last car running wins. How do you take out everyone else's cars? Ram them with your own. In a demolition derby, you have to figure out how to inflict maximum damage on your competitors while keeping your own car alive.

What makes demolition derbies challenging is the fact that they're run in muddy pits, so getting traction and maintaining control of the car is difficult. What makes them even tougher is that most drivers try to ram the rear of their car into the front of other cars so they can protect their vital components, like their engine, while taking out the key car parts of the rivals. That strategy works well, but it means driving backwards. Trying to get out of a crowded mall parking lot during the holidays can make you want to release your inner demolition derby driver, but it's better for your insurance rates if you save that kind of rage for a real derby.


7: Drifting

Normally, driving your car sideways at high speeds would be a terrifying ordeal — but it’s the rule in drifting.
© Roma Yandolin/Demotix/Corbis

Usually when you're racing a car, you don't want to lose traction and have your car go into a slide or a drift. In most races, slides cost you speed and time. But conventional wisdom goes sideways — along with the cars — when it comes to drifting.

Drifting is a car race where oversteering and losing traction through turns is the point. The courses are so curvy that the fastest way through them isn't to slow down and brake before turns but to slide through them, losing traction yet keeping control. The most skilled drifting drivers can put their cars sideways through several turns in a row. Drifting is about more than speed, though. Drivers get points for the angle of the car and wheels during the turn and for showmanship (i.e., more smoke).


Though it's a relatively new sport in its own right, drifting has been around as long as people have raced cars — it just wasn't always considered a skill. Now drifting has its own governing body and race schedule, making it easy for fans to slide in and watch the fun.

6: Motocross

Cleanliness is not an option in motocross races
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When the pavement ends, most mainstream motorcycle riders head home. They do the same thing when it rains (getting pelted by raindrops while going 50 miles per hour [80 kph] isn't exactly fun for most people). Motocross riders, on the other hand, love to ride in the dirt and rain.

In motocross, riders on off-road motorcycles scramble around a dirt track with steep hills, sharp curves, plenty of danger and lots of air time. In essence, motocross races recreate an exhilarating off-road, hilly motorcycle race but in an arena. Motocross races are organized by class depending on the type of motorcycles involved. They feature a large number of racers all jockeying for a position on the track, which leads to some impressive displays of skill, as well as some impressive crashes.


What's appealing about motocross is that many areas have dirt motorcycle tracks, and an off-road motorcycle can be relatively affordable. If you don't mind broken bones and the risk of more severe injuries, this is one extreme motor sport that has a relatively low price of entry.

5: Freestyle Motocross

Spanish rider Dany Tores does the lazy boy trick on his motorcycle.
Mark Wieland/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

In regular motocross, riders often catch air while going over hills on the race course. It's an added bonus for fans but not the main point of the race. In freestyle motocross, catching air is the point.

To win in freestyle motocross, riders launch their bikes over jumps and perform intricate tricks while airborne. Stunts include the can can, where riders put both legs on the same side of the bike (extra points for landing in the position), and the lazy boy, where riders put their feet up beyond the handle bars and lay back on the bike with their hands extended behind their head (that doesn't sound very lazy at all, actually).


The more impressive and well-executed the tricks are, the better score the judges give the rider. In this way, freestyle motocross is like gymnastics — only instead of acrobats flipping on mats and parallel bars, there are riders covered in mud hanging on to a gas-powered machine as they fly several stories above a dirt track. See? Exactly the same.

4: Figure 8 Racing

The track at Slinger Super Speedway is equipped to host Figure 8 races.
© 2006 Royalbroil/CC BY-SA 2.5

If you read about demolition derby a few pages back and thought, "that sounds great, but it would be better if the crashes were a little less planned and more spectacular," then Figure 8 racing is for you.

Figure 8 races are run on a dirt track that's shaped like — wait for it — the number eight, so they combine racing with wrecking. Because the two circles of the track cross, drivers have to power through oncoming traffic to get the best time and win. The downside of going as fast as you can around the track is that everyone else is doing the same thing, and when two speeding cars meet ... well, you know what happens. Figure 8 drivers have to have the skills to drive fast on a curved course and be alert enough to avoid a collision on a track that's built for crashes.


The best thing about Figure 8 racing is that races are organized by class. So while you'll have one class racing beat-up old cars, you could also see a race that's just school buses. No, we're not kidding.

3: Ice Racing

Driving on ice causes difficulty maintaining traction, but these racers are up for the challenge.

Ice racing isn't just for Canadians trying to make a Tim Hortons run before work in January. It's an actual motor sport. While ice racing tends to be more popular in places that have large expanses of ice, like Canada or Minnesota, it's a sport that even the most devout Texan can get behind. While most mainstream competitions (think F1 or NASCAR) call off races if the track isn't absolutely clear, foul, icy conditions are just what ice racers need.

The "ice" in "ice racing" refers to the track, not the vehicle being raced. In this race, the entire track is ice. Let that sink in.


Almost any type of vehicle, from cars to motorcycles to four-wheelers, can be used in ice racing — and most of them have been. Ice racers typically use spiked tires to help grip the ice (though they can use regular tires as well), and from there, they go as fast as they can. Ice racing is one of those sports that proves great things can happen when people who go ice fishing get bored.

2: 24 Hours of LeMons

Not all races require souped-up cars: Only hoopties are allowed at this one.
Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most exalted races in the world, testing the endurance of teams with multi-million dollar cars and the latest technology in a grueling endurance race. The 24 Hours of LeMons, on the other hand, is extreme not because of how fast or expensive the cars are but because of how fast and expensive they aren't.

In the 24 Hours of LeMons, teams compete with beater used cars. In fact, no car in the race can cost more than $500, and teams decorate their heaps with plenty of style. The teams rotate drivers and try to complete the most laps of a race course in 24 hours. Of course, because the cars are so cheap, they also have to stop and make repairs. The 24 Hours of LeMons isn't extreme in terms of tech, speed, injury or flaming crashes, but it is extreme when it comes to the number of times people ask participants why they'd want to do something so silly.


1: Snowmobile Watercross

Snowmobile watercross is a risky sport — it’s even banned in some U.S. states.
© 2010 Vidar Hoel/CC BY-NC 2.0

Snowmobiles, as the name implies, are meant to be used on snow. They don't sell so well in Florida. Some snowmobile riders, however, realized that water is just snow that's melted, and a new motor sport was born: snowmobile watercross. In snowmobile watercross, competitors ride snowmobiles across race courses on ponds and lakes.

Let's just take a moment to recall that snowmobiles are not boats.

But if snowmobiles are not boats, how the heck do they make it across water without Jesus driving them? What makes snowmobile watercross work is how fast snowmobiles can go. That facet of snowmobiles is also what will save you if you're ever snowmobiling across a lake that isn't as frozen as you think it is. Snowmobiles don't float, and when they cross water, they're aren't pushing through the water like a boat would. Instead, they're skipping along the surface of the water like a stone. Maintaining control when skimming across a lake or pond is incredibly impressive. And like the title of this article implies, it's extreme.

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Author's Note: 10 Extreme Motor Sports for Thrill Seekers

For most of us, the most extreme motor sport we'll ever compete in is merging on the freeway. While most people are familiar with car and motorcycle racing, the sheer number of ways we as a species have found to make up competitions based around vehicles with engines is astounding. It's also highly entertaining — this article took forever to write mainly because I kept getting sucked into watching YouTube videos of all the sports listed here. If you're not on deadline, I highly recommend setting aside a few hours and absorbing all of these extreme motor sports

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  • 24 Hours of LeMons. "FAQ & How To." (June 16, 2015) https://www.24hoursoflemons.com/faq-how-to
  • Formula Drift. "Judging Criteria." (June 16, 2015) http://www.formulad.com/fd101
  • International Watercross Association. "International Watercross Association Rules 2015 Competition Rules." (June 16, 2015) http://www.iwaracing.com/IWA_Rules.htm
  • Lowenburg, Bill. "The History and Future of the Demolition Derby." PBS. Aug. 24, 2004. (June 16, 2015) http://www.pbs.org/pov/speedo/special_history.php
  • Rally America. "Rally FAQs." Rally America, Inc. (June 16, 2015) http://www.rally-america.com/faqs
  • NHRA. "NHRA Classes Overview." NHRA. (June 16, 2015) http://www.nhra.com/nhra101/classes.aspx
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  • Promotocross. "Series Overview." (June 16, 2015) http://www.promotocross.com/mx/series-info Prusak, John. "Grantsburg Arrives: Who'll Be the King of Snowmobile Watercross?" SnowGoer. July 17, 2014. (June 16, 2015) http://www.snowgoer.com/snowmobile-news/grantsburg-arrives-wholl-be-the-king-of-snowmobile-watercross/0717/
  • Russell, James. "About Us: Demo Flashback." Nation-wide Demolition Derby. (June 16, 2015) http://www.nationwidedemoderby.com/about.php