The Englishtown, N.J., track has endured a pair of recent tragedies in the National Hot Rod Association. In June 2008, Scott Kalitta died when his Funny Car burst into flames, crashed and exploded during qualifying for the SuperNationals. Widespread estimates said he was running around 300 mph. Two years later, with more safety enhancements in force, Neal Parker ran through a containment area at the end of a track and died of head injuries after crashing his alcohol-fueled funny car at what police called a high rate of speed in qualifying.
Road less taken
In racing, danger comes in many forms and with many definitions. There was a time when dangerous tracks were those that offered the potential for serious injury, or worse, among competitors and spectators.
Safety enhancements have altered the racing landscape and made horrifying crashes and vehicles attempting to fly into grandstands significantly less hazardous, but scary nonetheless.
Rea White takes a look at 10 of the most dangerous racetracks in the world, both for their history and for the difficulties they present to those trying to reach the finish line:
The first official race started in Tijuana, Baja California in 1967 and was 849 miles.
Since then, the Baja 1000 race has grown in both popularity and distance – and in danger to those attempting to master the course. It requires steely nerves and engineering prowess as drivers attempt to maneuver on a course that appears to be ever-changing. One of the main problems can come from the spectators themselves. In an attempt to make the racing even more exciting, fans have been known to create additional obstacles and traps along the course, making it even more dangerous on the drivers attempting to manage it at top speeds.
The Dakar Rally hosts racing in a variety of forms, but remains daring for both competitors and spectators. A fan was killed as recently as this January when struck by a competitor and various Internet reports say 49 drivers have been killed in the off-road event over the years. In the past, the danger has extended beyond the racing itself as the 2008 Dakar Rally was canceled because of terrorist concerns, causing the event to be moved to an Argentina/Portugal course for the past two years.
Daytona International Speedway
Hosting events in multiple NASCAR series as well as the Grand-Am and Auto Racing Club of America series, the high-banked, high-speed track has long been one to respect. While the safety of vehicles in each of the series has dramatically improved over the years, the real danger in this race is attempting to get to the end. Injuries are rare, but crashes often end runs prematurely in the event.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Host to both the IndyCar Series premier event and NASCAR’s Cup series, as well as a foray into Formula One, the track features high-speed, high-pressure racing for the competitors involved. Horrific crashes crop up often in both the event and test sessions. While cars have become much safer over the years, the most recent crash in which Mike Conway suffered back and leg injuries is a reminder that danger still lurks at the 2.5-mile oval.
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle event is held on the Isle of Man. In 2007, an investigation into an incident in which rider Marc Ramsbotham and two spectators were killed resulted in the decision not to press criminal charges, but added to the lore surrounding the motorcycle race. According to the BBC, more than 200 people have been killed on the course since racing began there in 1907.
Autodromo Nazionale Monza
The Italian road course annually hosts the Italian Grand Prix — and with its twists and turns has proven difficult to manage. Chicanes have been added over the years to slow speeds. In 1928, 27 spectators were killed as well as a driver. Future incidents also involved fatal crashes and another car going into the crowd, killing spectators. The track still draws remarks for areas that are viewed as perhaps too challenging, but it is embraced by the fans.
The Macau Grand Prix event is held annually in the streets of Macau and features drivers and riders. The motorcycle version of the event is widely reported on Web sites as the most dangerous bike race. In fact, there’s even a DVD available now touting it as just that. It’s a tough course that challenges the talent and skills of the veterans.
A motorsports complex in Germany, this facility features a Grand Prix track built in 1984 and an older track built in the 1920s. The track has undergone alterations over the years, but has hosted Formula One races in recent seasons. It is tough for competitors in the official series that race there, but also continues to host public sessions which offer the chance for drivers to test their own skills and the opportunity for even more crashes at the site. Over the years, drivers have often commented on the difficult technical nature of the track.
Circuit de la Sarthe
The French track hosts the world’s oldest endurance sports car race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, something that lends to both its legend and reputation for being tough to master. The track is still known for the 1955 race in which Pierre Levegh was killed following contact with another car and then hitting a dirt bank. Flying car parts and fire resulted in the death of 87 spectators as well. Safety changes quickly followed, but the race has remained difficult and challenging for those trying to manage its 24 hours.