Top 10 Racers Who Won Championships Posthumously

Tags: #racingdriver ,   #Racing ,   #NASCAR

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-12-22 08:20:21

Motorsport remains extremely dangerous, even though driver safety is much better than a few decades ago. Thus, hundreds have died on dangerous race tracks, or have suffered horrific accidents. In some cases, this had led to bittersweet moments, where a driver wins a title posthumously. While this happens extremely rarely, we need to remember the names of these heroes. All of them have won professional racing championships, and hopefully, our list will help save them from being forgotten.

10. Nasif Estéfano

Estéfano is still a legend in Argentina
Date of death and age: 21 October 1973 (Age 41)
The title won: Turismo Carretera
Other noteworthy results: Eighth place in the Formula One Grand Prix race
What if he survived: A few more years of successful racing would follow
Driver info

While Juan Manuel Fangio won the Formula One Championship five times, other Argentinian F1 racers are quickly forgotten. Therefore, Nasif Estéfano is one of the obscure many. As a young driver, Estéfano honed his skills in Turismo Carretera races. As one of the top Argentinian talents, his reputation took him to Formula 1 in 1960. His home grand prix race at Buenos Aires was a relative success, as he finished eighth in the private Maserati 250F. Unfortunately, his second and last race came two years later, but he couldn’t even run a single complete lap in qualifying. After that, Estéfano returned to Argentina, where he was highly successful, winning the top single-seater championship twice in a row. He still competed in Europe, with a few solid results in endurance racing.

The various titles kept piling up and even at 41, he was unstoppable. In 1973, Estéfano dominated Turismo Carretera with five wins, taking a big lead a few events before the championship completion. At the second leg of the Gran Premio de la Reconstrucción race, Estéfano was leading before making a fatal mistake. With his two wheels dropping off the road, he lost control as his car violently rolled. With his safety bell broken, Estéfano was thrown out before tragically, his car landed on top of him. Unfortunately, he died on his way to the hospital, while his co-driver was unhurt. Despite this, his lead was enough to win the championship, as he became the first and the only man to do it posthumously.

9. Jimmy Caruthers

Jimmy dominated the competition that is still going strong
Date of death and age: 26 October 1975 (age 30)
The title won: USAC Silver Crown Series
Other noteworthy results: National Midget Series champion
What if he survived: He would reach the IndyCar Series and have a decent career there
Driver info

While we can’t call him a multi-sport athlete, Jimmy Caruthers did great in many racing series. This includes sprint cars, midget cars, and IndyCars. At 25, Jimmy won his first title - the National Midget Series. However, the Sprint car title eluded him, as he couldn’t complete the whole season. Most importantly, Jimmy was a successful IndyCar racer finishing in the top 10 in almost 50% of his races. In 1975, he joined the USAC Silver Crown Series, won by the great Mario Andretti in the previous season.

This looked like a great move, as before Andretti, two other massive legends won it - Al Unser and AJ Foyt. Jimmy was terrific that season, but not many knew he had terminal cancer. Despite this, he clinched the title only six weeks before dying. As his death happened before the end of the season, he could never claim his trophy. Luckily, Jimmy lives through the “Jimmy Caruthers Award,” a symbol of incredible determination and bravery. Tragically, both his father and brother have suffered the same fate as they won the title, but died before they could officially claim it.

8. Jimmy Murphy

Murphy's two best races
Date of death and age: 15 September 1924 (age 30)
The title won: US National Championship
Other noteworthy results: Triumphs at Le Mans and Indy 500
What if he survived: A few more National Championship titles could follow
Driver info

The early days of racing were wild, and being incredibly brave was the imperative. Yet, at first, Jimmy Murphy was a riding mechanic, meaning that he was only helping the driver, mainly by constantly checking the car. Thanks to his friendship with one of the racing drivers he worked with, Jimmy got his car, and won the first race he ever entered! Incredibly, in the next two years, Murphy conquered both Le Mans and Indy 500, officially becoming the best racer in the United States. In 1923, Murphy won third place at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. Bizarrely, Benito Mussolini was the Grand Marshal for the event and was impressed by Murphy. The future Fascist dictator even found out that Murphy loved dogs, so he gave him two German Shepherds.

The following was like a dream for Murphy, as he had a massive lead in the American National Championship. Hence, he won it even a few weeks before the last race. While he never enjoyed dirt racing, he decided to be a guest driver at one event promoted by his friend. As per usual, Murphy was leading, but only 12 laps before the goal, he lost control and hit the wooden rail which impaled his chest. There was nothing that anyone could do, as he died on impact. Many believe that either his car had a failure, or that was very unlucky, hitting oil on the track. Only after he was buried, Murphy was awarded the 1924 National Championship. Thus, he became the first American driver to win the title posthumously.

7. Danny Caruthers

Midget Series remains intense, as something can go wrong anytime
Date of death and age: 4 November 1971 (age 21)
The title won: National Midget Series
Other noteworthy results: None
What if he survived: He would move to the IndyCar Series and maybe challenge for the title
Driver info

While his older brother Jimmy was doing great and even won the National Midget Series in 1970, Danny was virtually unknown. Even though he loved racing, his focus was academic life. Yet, that all changed, especially once he was given a chance to race alongside his sibling. In 1971, Danny had his first professional racing season and showed tremendous potential. Thus, he triumphed in only his second race, and soon became unstoppable! With 12 victories, Danny won the title before the end of the season. Unsurprisingly, he became the series’ youngest champion. 

Yet, he continued to push himself and at the next race, where he was also leading the pack. Unfortunately, his throttle got stuck, and he crashed straight into a wall. With a broken neck and fractured skull, Danny fought for five days, before succumbing. At only 21, he had a spectacular future in front of him. Thus, there’s no doubt that he would follow his brother into the IndyCar Series and maybe even win it. Instead, only a few dedicated web pages keep his memory.

6. Gaston Chevrolet

In 1920, Gaston got everything and lost everything in races
Date of death and age: 25 November 1920 (age 28)
The title won: National Champion
Other noteworthy results: Indy 500 win in 1919
What if he survived: A few more titles and Indy 500 wins could follow
Driver info

When his older brother Louis founded the famous Chevrolet car company, young Gaston decided to join him. While a mechanic, he also loved racing and even won the 1920 Indianapolis 500. It took 99 years before another French driver achieved the same. His winning was a work of art, as he drove the race without ever changing the tires. Yet, Gaston raced in every discipline he could, winning several more races the same year. Nevertheless, his last planned race in 1920 was the one that proved fatal.

Gaston was competing in a now long-forgotten board track at the Beverly Hills Speedway, when he crashed in the second half of the race, after colliding with another racer, Eddie O’Donnell. Unfortunately, Chevrolet died instantly, with O’Donnell succumbing the next day. Despite this, he had enough points to win the 1920 National Championship. Unfortunately, this title was falsely attributed to his rival, Tommy Milton. Yet, the decision was eventually reversed, and Gaston Chevrolet is now the officially best American racing driver of the 1920, despite dying before the end of the season. As he was only 28 and capable of producing excellent cars, there’s no doubt we never saw his full potential.

5. Paul Warwick

British racing has lost so much with his death
Date of death and age: 21 July 1991 (Age 22)
The title won: British Formula 3000
Other noteworthy results: Formula Ford 1600 champion
What if he survived: He would end up in Formula 1, with a decent chance to become a Grand Prix winner and even challenge for the title
Driver info

Like his older brother, famous F1 racer Derrick, Paul Warwick loved being behind the wheel. At 12, he was already competing at the national level while forging his racing license to contest against much older opponents. At only 16, Paul already had numerous titles and was a British champion. Continuing to improve, he won Formula Ford 1600 the next year, eventually reaching highly competitive Formula 3. Thus, many believed that he’ll earn his place in Formula 1, and have a much better career than his sibling. While he struggled for a few years due to a poor car, his luck struck in 1991. That year he signed for a Formula 2 racing team backed up by Nigel Mansell, a future F1 World Champion.

A competitive car was all that Warwick wished for, so he won the first five races, with five pole positions and the fastest laps. Furthermore, in four of these races, he set the lap record. Unfortunately, at the fifth race at Oulton Park, he had a horrific crash, hitting the barrier at 140 mph (230 km/h). This violent incident left him dead instantly, with his body thrown out of the car. As the investigation showed, wishbone failure created the incident. Despite his death, Warwick was awarded the victory. Even more impressively, he won the British Formula 3000 Championship this year, even though he participated in only five of eleven races. Thus, we can only wonder what Paul could do with such incredible potential. 

4. Ted Horn

Years before his death, Horn already witnessed the horror of racing
Date of death and age: 10 October 1948 (age 38)
The title won: AAA National Championship (IndyCar)
Other noteworthy results: Three AAA National Championships
What if he survived: A few more titles could follow
Driver info

No one in history had such a strange start to his racing career! As a speeding punishment, young Ted Horn had to go to a local racing track and drive until he satisfied his craving for speed. Yet, he became addicted, and decided to become a professional racer! Despite many injuries, disappointments, and even a three-year break, Horn was constantly improving. Finally, in 1946 and 1947, he won the AAA National Championship (now IndyCar), despite never winning the Indy 500. However, he was very consistent, rarely being out of the top five. 

In 1948 he was even more spectacular, building a massive lead before the last race of the season. However, on the second lap at DuQuoin, Illinois, Horn got involved in a massive accident. While he was alive and transported to hospital, the doctors couldn’t help him. Consequently, he died 20 minutes after he was admitted. Those who knew him claim that he was incredibly modest, despite all his fortune and glory. Thus, he never forgot those who helped him, paying them back every cent, even if that meant he wouldn’t have enough money to eat.

3. Davey Allison

Allison remains beloved to this day
Date of death and age: 13 July 1993 (age 32)
The title won: International Race of Champions
Other noteworthy results:19 NASCAR Cup Series wins
What if he survived: He could challenge for the NASCAR Cup Series title
Driver info

While Davey Allison was always into sports, it looked like he would choose either athletics or football. However, his father had a NASCAR team, which influenced him to get involved in racing. Slowly progressing, he kept winning in various series, moving to lower NASCAR’s division. Finally, in 1985, he had his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race, and finished at an impressive 10th place! Since 1987 he was a regular in the series, winning twice in his first complete season. In 1991 and 1992, Allison was terrific, both times finishing third in ranking. Thus, he became one of the favorites to eventually win the championship. Yet, Allison was everywhere, often competing at the Busch Series and International Race of Champions. Despite the name, the later competition was basically the same as NASCAR, but all the cars were identical, so the driver skills would prevail.

In 1993, Davey had another promising Winston Cup Series season while doing excellent work in the International Race of Champions. Unfortunately, on July 12, he crashed his helicopter and suffered a critical head injury. Despite this, he won the series, as his rival Al Unser Jr. needed a win to better him. However, he only finished third. The race happened only 19 days after his death, with Terry Labonte taking his place. Interestingly, the rules meant that Labonte’s nine points were awarded to Allison - enough to make him a champion. With 19 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series and almost a hundred top tens, Allison will never be forgotten.

2. François Cevert

Maybe the most brutal incident in F1 history
Date of death and age: 6 October 1973 (29)
The title won: French national champion
Other noteworthy results: French Formula 3 Champion, 2nd at 1972 Le-Mans
What if he survived: He could potentially win the Formula One World Championship 
Driver info

Cevert had an unusual start to his racing career, competing on his mother’s Vespa scooter. Only in his twenties, he switched to cars, while mostly spending time in racing schools. Yet, at 24, he was finally the French Formula 3 Champion, opening doors for better opportunities. At one Formula Two race, legendary F1 champion Jackie Stewart was so impressed that it helped Cevert earn a place in his Tyrell team in 1969. That was a great decision, as the Frenchman continually improved. In only his second full season, he had four podiums, including a victory, the only one of his career. Consequently, he finished third in the championship. While the following season was awful for the team, the 1973 was incredibly promising. Tyrell was fast again, and Cevert was the only one who could compete against Jackie Stewart. Thus, he finished second six times, often behind his teammate. Yet, he never challenged the Scotsman only because the team asked him not to. 

As Stewart was about to retire, Cevert would become the team’s number 1 driver in 1974, giving him a real chance at the World Championship. Yet, during the training for the Watkins Glen Grand Prix, Cevert had an incredible qualifying session, where he battled Ronnie Peterson for the pole position. Going above his limits, he had a massive crash at a nearly 90-degree angle, which killed him instantly. The incident was so horrific, that his body was cut in half. Despite his death, Cevert finished 4th in the championship where he could have ended up second with the win at Watkins Glen. However, he is on our list as he became the French national champion, a title he also won two years earlier. Thus, the country lost its best racer.

1. Jochen Rindt 

A reminder of how good Rindt was
Date of death and age: 5 September 1970 (Age 28)
The title won: Formula One World Championship
Other noteworthy results: British F2 championship, 24 Hours Le Mans
What if he survived: Another title would be hard to get, but more victories would follow for years to come
Driver info

Born in the middle of World War II, Rindt never met his parents, who died in the Hamburg bombing when he was only a baby. Despite having a shorter left leg after a skiing injury, Rindt invested his future into motor racing. However, it took a while before he found the right car, winning eight races in his Alfa Romeo GT 1300. Slowly, Rindt was getting closer to Formula One, finally debuting in 1964. In his third season, he finished 3rd in the standings but won his first race only in 1969. While everyone knew that he was exceptionally fast and brave, it looked like Rindt still wasn’t close to winning a championship. It sure looked like that in 1970, as he scored zero points in his first two races. However, then he had one of the most spectacular series of wins, with five triumphs in six races! That helped him create a massive lead five races before the end of the season.

At the beloved but high-risk Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Rindt decided to run without rear wings, helping him gain more speed. However, the car became incredibly unstable, making him crash during the practice session. As he wasn’t properly protected in his car, his belts slit his throat after he hit the barrier. Later investigation attributed the accident to the car, as the inboard brake shaft collapsed. Rindt died before he reached the hospital and was buried before the next race. Two races later, his only title rival Jacky Ickx failed to win in the United States, making Rindt the first and the only posthumous Formula One World Champion. Even half a century after his death, Rindt remains in everyone’s memory, with many tributes in Austria, including a corner at the Red Bull Ring. 

Racing drivers are a special kind, as they risk a lot every time they are on the track. Even if they don’t make mistakes, the car can always fail them, or some rivals could hit them and change their lives forever. Our only hope remains that our list will stay evergreen, with no more tragedies like this. While all the safety measures impact the quality of racing, always remember what’s the alternative.

What is your favorite driver on this list? What do you feel is the most dangerous racing series right now?

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