Racing is among entertaining sports because of the thrill it causes. The display of driving skills combined with dangerous tracks keeps people on the edge of their seats. However, drivers sometimes take too much risk, resulting in serious misfortunes. Therefore, every accident is a warning, and many of them cost lives. The worst crashes serve as cautionary tales about what happens when risky behavior meets dangerous environments. These are the top ten worst race car accidents that should never be forgotten.
10. Tetsuya Ota at Fuji
When people talk about horrible racing accidents, Tetsuya Ota's crash at Fuji in 1998 isn't mentioned as much as it should. This horrendous incident happened during an All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship, or JGTC. The main reason this crash is so infamous is the lackluster response of the track marshals.
The accident happened during the parade lap. Tetsuya Ota was driving his Ferrari F355 when he suddenly crashed into the Porsche. Both cars burst into flames, and everyone thought both drivers were gone. Thankfully, a fellow racer, Shinichi Yamaji, got out of his vehicle and used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire.
9. Alfonso "Fon" de Portago at the Mille Miglia
This horrible race accident almost ended Ferrari's run in road racing. This awful crash happened in 1957 during Mille Miglia. Portago was some 40 miles from the starting point in Brescia when a tire exploded on his 335S. As a result, the car slammed into a ditch before hurling into the crowd along the highway.
Alfonso de Portago died on the spot, but he wasn't the only one. His co-driver Edmund Nelson also passed with ten spectators, five of them being children. Portago's body was found severed in half next to the overturned car.
8. Lorenzo Bandini at Monaco
This terrible crash took place during the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix. Lorenzo Bandini, driving for Ferrari, was second when he went into the chicane by the harbor. He hit the guardrail with his rear wheel, which spun his car and made it slide sideways into a light pole near the track.
The car flipped over, and sparks ignited the content of the ruptured fuel tank. Even worse, Bandini was trapped underneath the burning car. When help arrived and tried to rescue him, the car exploded. Allegedly, track marshals accidentally allowed leaking fuel to get in contact with the hot exhaust headers.
7. Henri Toivonen at the Tour de Corse
This crash is one of the two main reasons Group B's rallying at the Tour de Corse stopped. The other was Joaquim Santos' crash in Portugal, killing three people and injuring 31. Toivonen's Lancia Delta S4 hurled off the cliffside right into the woods, causing one of the worst car crashes in history. The fuel tank ruptured on impact, and gasoline sprayed on the hot turbocharger, making the car burst in flames.
Race officials weren't aware of what happened to Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto until they realized two of them didn't cross the finish line. It took half an hour for the rescue to finally arrive, but it was too late by then.
6. Greg Moore at California Speedway
Greg Moore lost his life at the CART championship in 1999, aged only 24. When the accident happened, he was racing in the last round of the championship. Just the day before, Moore injured his hand in a paddock. Nevertheless, the medical team cleared him to drive, and he got a green flag.
After the restart of lap nine, Moore's car spun out of control. The car collided with an access road and flew into the infield wall at full speed. The impact completely destroyed Moore's vehicle, rendering him dead on the spot. Like many on this list, a promising career ended abruptly.
5. Niki Lauda at the Nürburgring
After Niki Lauda's infamous crash at Nürburgring Nordschleife, Formula 1 never returned to this beloved racing track. It happened during the 1976 Championship, marked by rivalry between Lauda and James Hunt. The Nürburgring race was decisive for the championship, putting more pressure on them. The suspension on Lauda's Ferrari failed, and he hit the barrier before colliding with Brett Lunger's Surtees-Ford.
Lauda's car burst into flames, and Lunger pulled the unconscious Austrian out with three more drivers. Niki Lauda suffered severe burns and inhaled a lot of toxic fumes. The racer was in a coma for a while, with little chance of survival. In a feat of incredible willpower, Lauda recovered in six weeks and returned to the cockpit for the final Championship race.
4. Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder
This race accident took place during the qualifying round at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. Gilles Villeneuve was trying to overtake Jochen Mass, who moved right to let him pass. Unfortunately, Villeneuve moved right, too, and they collided. Villeneuve's car flipped over Mass and started tumbling.
The vehicle rotated so fast it catapulted Villeneuve along with his seat. He flew more than 100 yards before hitting the protective fence. A doctor and a pair of drivers helped him immediately, and he was airlifted to the nearby hospital. Unfortunately, it was already too late.
3. Dale Earnhardt at Daytona
This is one of the most infamous race car accidents at Daytona. It was so shocking that it changed the face of American stock-car racing forever. During the 2001 Daytona 500 championship, Dale Earnhardt battled Sterling Marlin with three laps to go. Dale's rear fender collided with Marlin's front, damaging Dale's car's backside and making him lose control.
As a result, the car slid off the bank into the track's inner apron. Then, it made a sharp turn right, climbed up the track, and smacked the outer wall. Earnhardt's car also picked up Ken Schrader's car, which hit the wall next to him. At first, the accident didn't seem serious. Sadly, it made Earnhardt's head snap and hit the wheel, which turned out to be fatal.
2. Pierre Levegh at Le Mans
This is the most important racing accident of all time as it changed the racing forever. It happened during the 1955 Le Mans Race, where Levegh was at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz. The disaster happened only two hours after the start of a 24-hour event. Pierre Levegh tried to overtake Austin-Healey in his significantly faster Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
Confusion about track position caused Levegh to miscalculate his trajectory and collide with Healey. The crash made his Mercedes-Benz fly into the air and hit the protective trackside barrier. This only made the car shatter, sending a hail of flaming debris into the audience. More than 100 spectators were wounded, and 82, including Levegh, died instantly. That evening, Mercedes hung the black flags and announced they won't compete in racing, which lasted for 30 years.
1. Ayrton Senna at Imola
The tragic death of one of the best Formula 1 drivers of all time ended what's now known as "Black Weekend." A day before Senna's death, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger lost his life, with Rubens Barrichello surviving one of the worst car crashes in history. Senna complained about safety measures at Imola track but to no avail.
Right after another Rubens Barrichello accident and the safety car, Senna was leading when his car went straight off the Tamburello curve and hit the wall at full speed. The force of the impact disengaged the front wheel of Senna's car, which hit his helmet, inflicting fatal injuries. Senna's deadly race accident changed many of Formula 1's rules and regulations regarding safety.
High-speed and risky maneuvers are what make driving so popular to watch. Unfortunately, to reach today's level of safety, many terrible race car accidents had to happen. These tragic events shocked the world and hopefully helped racing become less dangerous for drivers and audiences.
What do you consider the worst racing accident of all time? Which accidents would you add to this top ten list?
Cover photo: xotc66/Pixabay