The 7 Deadliest Racing Circuits in the World

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In the entertainment world, there are few activities more dangerous and more filled with risk for life and finances than racing. The amount of danger that the drivers put themselves into for the sake of sport surpasses nearly that of every other game that is as organized as automotive or motorcycle racing.

Just this passed weekend, veteran motorcyclist Bobby Goodin was killed following an accident at the legendary Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, when he raised his hand to celebrate making it to the finish, and lost control of the front end on the unpaved section at the top. The bike veered right, Goodin was thrown over the edge, and he landed among several boulders.

That’s the fifth racing-related death to occur at Pikes Peak, the last one being in 2005, Autoblog said. And as tragic as that is, it doesn’t crack the top seven deadliest venues for racing — in fact, seventh place has over four times the number of driver casualties as Pikes Peak. Here they are — seven of the deadliest racing venues in the world, which have taken so many from what is truly one of the few global sports.

A tip of the hat to the guys at Autoblog for providing a solid foundation for this material. You can check out their report here. Read on after the jump.

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7. Le Mans, Circuit de la Sarthe — 22 driver fatalities

For Le Mans, what has been perhaps the absolute most grueling moment in the nearly 100 year history of the 24-hour endurance race happened in 1955, when driver Pierre Levegh “vaulted off the rear deck of the Austin-Healey and crash-landed in the middle of a spectator enclosure.” Levegh, who was driving a Mercedes 300SL, was killed — along with more than eighty spectators, making it one of the most horrific accidents in racing history. With it, as a sort of grotesque silver lining, came sweeping safety standards that revolutionized racing safety. 

Levegh was one of the twenty-two drivers killed at the infamous Circuit de la Sarthe, including Swedish driver Joakim Bonnier in 1972, when he was thrown into the woods off the Indianapolis section where he died instantly. Most of the accidents at the track occurred on the Mulsanne straights, and before the 1980s, there were no chicanes to force the cars to slow down. “[The addition of the two chicanes] was made to reduce speeds in excess of 250 mph from being reached,” the Le Mans website says. “This began a trend by the race [organizers], the ACO (Automobile Club de L’Ouest), to attempt to reduce excessive speeds on certain sections of the track.” 

Most recently, just last year as a matter of fact, Danish driver Allan Simonsen crashed in the fourth lap of the race in his Aston Martin, marking the twenty-second and most recent death at the fabled circuit.

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6. Dakar Rally — 27 fatalities

Next to Le Mans, the Dakar Rally — which first began in 1979 — seems almost infantile. However, in its thirty or so years of existence, it has quickly garnered a reputation for being one of the most grueling and driver-unfriendly events in the racing world. See, at the Dakar, there’s no meticulously managed pavement — dirt roads (even that’s a stretch sometimes) are about as comfortable as it gets. To date, some twenty-seven drivers have lost their lives trying to complete the twenty-two-day, nearly 8,000 mile Dakar, and that figure is likely to climb as time goes on.

Reading through stories from the Dakar sounds like early pioneers discovering a new land. In the early 1980s, Mark Thatcher – son of Prime Minister at the time Margaret Thatcher — went missing for six days during the rally before being found by an airplane. The Dakar of 1988 was notably awful: three participants died, two were paralyzed, and three spectators — two of them children — also lost their lives during the race. A mechanic died in 2002 when his car flipped, a co-driver was killed in 2003, and a motorcyclist died in 2006.

But the most recent was in 2012, when motorcyclist Jorge Martinez Boero from Argentina suffered a fall during the first stage of the event. It’s estimated that some sixty people — twenty-seven of the participants included — have died as a result of the rally.

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Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Luca_Ulk

5. Autodromo Nazionale Monza — 42 fatalities

With a history as almost as long as racing itself, Italy’s Autodromo Nazionale Monza claimed its first life in 1922 during the Italian Grand Prix of the same year, when German driver Gregor Kuhn was killed during the practice for the race. Kuhn became the first of forty-two drivers who would ultimately lose their lives at the fabled circuit; the Italian Grand Prix of 1933 was particularly macabre, as three drivers were killed in the same day — three of the top drivers, in one afternoonGiuseppe Campari, Baconin Borzacchi, and Stanisław Czaykowski, all during a qualifying heat on Autodromo’s South Curve.

Two more Italian drivers were killed in 1959,three more in 1973, and many in between; promisingly, however, the most recent death at Monza occurred in 1999 — fifteen years ago, signaling that safety measures taken at the track have made it far safer in recent years.

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4. Spa Francorchamps — 48 fatalities

Its winding, hilly nature isn’t exactly conducive to automotive sporting events, but that’s apart of what makes races at the Spa Francorchamps in Belgium so exciting. The first fatality — of forty-eight – goes back to the Belgian Grand Prix of 1925, when Englishman Bill Hollowell fell off his motorcycle and hit an iron fencing post. The most recent, over a spread of eighty-eight years, was Sébastien Clouzeau in 2013, who crashed during a Classic F3 event last June. 

The years 1967, 1973 and 1985 all saw three fatalities, and 1960 saw two, when both Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were killed in the same race weekend — deemed the original ‘Black Weekend,’ as it happened thirty-four years before the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and F1 legend Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994. 

Spa Francorchamps holds two of the most notorious corners in racing lore, the Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, making it among the most nerve-wracking event for drivers, but also the most exciting for the spectators. Over the years, Spa Francorchamps has become increasingly safer, and fatalities are fortunately far less common than they once were.

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3. Indianapolis Motor Speedway — 56 fatalities

America’s beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also the third most deadly circuit in the world, as fifty-six drivers have lost their lives while navigating it. Rich in history, the earliest recorded death at the Indy circuit occurred in 1909, when William Bourque crashed his Knox killing himself and his riding mechanic, Harry Holcomb. 

The early years of the race frequently produced twice the tragedy per crash that you might expect, too,” Autoblog pointed out. “In the first decades of the race, drivers raced with ‘riding mechanics’ aboard, meaning that most fatal crashes resulted in two snuffed-short lives.”

Tony Renna was the most recent driving-related death, in 2003. Fresh off signing with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2004 season, Renna was taking his new car out for a spin. “On his 4th lap, Tony had the car up to 218 mph and possibly up to 225 mph,” according to the speedway’s website. “He apparently spun in turn three, caught some air underneath the chassis and went airborne. The car cleared the four-foot concrete wall and smashed into the catch fence — snapping posts, scattering parts and killing Renna instantly of massive internal trauma.”

Nurburgring

2. Nürburgring — 68 fatalities

Imagine Germany’s Nürburgring as the Gold Standard of racing circuits; it’s about 13 miles long, made up with winding, twisty, and narrow roads. It’s so challenging that automakers — the vast majority of them — use it as a testing ground for new vehicles, because it’s one of the few places in the world where a car can be put through its full paces largely out of the public eye.

The Nürburgring is also among the most challenging circuits in the world. Sixty-eight drivers going back to 1928 when Čeněk Junek crashed his Bugatti Type 35B have been killed on the famed Nordschleife, the most recent being German driver Leo Löwenstein in 2010 when he crashed his Aston Martin in the third round of the VLN Langstreckenmeisterschaft Nürburgring. 

The year of 1976 saw three separate fatalities during different events, but it was 1970 — when five drivers were killed at the ‘Ring that’s among the worst years for the infamous track.

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1. Isle of Man — 242 fatalities

Set in what is likely one of the most gorgeous, bucolic settings of any major racing event, the Isle of Man — itself an island off the coast of Great Britain — hides what is also perhaps the most sinister of all racing events, the Isle of Man TT. Over the course of its history, the ‘track’ at the Isle — the Snaefell Mountain Course, which is little more than well-maintained roads that are shut down to the public on race day — has claimed the lives of 242 individuals, more than the first five courses listed combined.

Autoblog notes that there have been only two years since World War II (when the race was resumed) which have not seen any casualties from the race. That was 1982 — when somehow, everyone made it through alive — and 2001, because the race was canceled due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the U.K. Sanefell’s history goes back to 1908, and its first casualty would come three years later, in 1911 — when Brit Victor Surridge crashed and was killed at Glen Helen; most recently, motorcyclist Karl Harris, also a Brit, was killed on June 3 this year when his Kawasaki crashed into a ravine at Joey’s Corner.

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