Motorsport has evolved beyond recognition since it was originally conceived in 1900 with the Paris-to-Lyon Gordon Bennett Cup. In fact, ‘Gordon Bennett!’ may be the actual words out the mouths of the founders because, as we’re about to show you, automotive racing has cranked itself up to 11 and then some.
Anything that involves hurtling along at 131mph is bound to include an element of danger, but which races go the extra mile when it comes to peril and horsepower?
Everyone likes a bit of crowd participation and this annual rally in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula regularly includes homemade jumps contributed by spectators. However, when mischievous spectators start sabotaging the 800-mile course by digging holes or setting up hidden traps, things become a little less innocuous.
As if that didn’t sound dangerous enough, by merely attending, you risk the chance of being robbed, shot or kidnapped.
Add in a course length that changes every year, the Baja 1000 is pure Mad Max-levels of untamed lunacy but that hasn’t stopped iconic actors like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen wanting to experience it for themselves.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Home to the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix and one of the most challenging race tracks in the world, the notoriously hilly and twisty Spa has claimed 23 lives since 1922.
One of the most bizarre and tragic deaths at the course involves British driver Alan Stacey, who was knocked unconscious when a bird hit him in the face on the 25th lap of the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix.
With ten driver deaths through the 1960s, Spa had become so dangerous that the 1969 Belgian Grand Prix was boycotted by F1. Safety was vastly improved the following year with the introduction of Armco crash barriers but it wouldn’t be until 1983 that F1 would eventually return to Spa.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
This two-and-a-half mile rectangular oval track birthed the term ‘speedway’ when it was built in 1909. At time of writing, 73 drivers, mechanics, and track workers have died here including two 17-year-old maintenance workers who were struck by lightning in 1964 when sheltering in an outdoor restroom facility.
Again, safety is much better now with only three fatalities in the last 20 years.
Nicknamed ‘The Green Hell’, Nürburgring takes in 174 bends over its 17.5 miles with some blind corners that mean one accident can quickly spawn a second.
It was home to the German F1 Grand Prix until, in 1970, drivers boycotted it until major changes were made, just like they did with Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
The Grand Prix was instead shifted 134 miles south to the Hockenheimring that year, returning in 1971 following modifications to make it smoother and straighter. It wasn’t enough though and Nürburgring staged its final Grand Prix in 1976 when Niki Lauda’s Ferrari burst into flames, leaving the Austrian with breathing problems and severe facial burns.
Some 69 drivers have been killed on the Nürburgring but deaths during sanctioned races are uncommon these days.
Isle of Man / Snaefell Mountain
With its first race taking place in 1907, the Snaefell Mountain course is the oldest motorcycle circuit still in use and anyone that has seen how fast racers go round this 37.7-mile circuit will be able to understand why it is so deadly. The current lap record, set in 2013, recorded an average speed of 131mph.
As the race takes place on public roads, riders have to put up with all the imperfections that come with it, such as potholes. In the early years, the circuit wasn’t closed off during practice so Granny running some errands in her Mini Metro was mixing it up with high-speed motorcycles.
A total of 248 riders have died during the Isle of Man TT, with two of those occurring in 2016’s event. In a cruel twist, Jack Trustham and Peter Järmann, winners of the 1998 and 2003 TT race respectively, died during their parade lap of honour.