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NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 on Sunday, and Danica Patrick made history by becoming the first woman to crack the top 10.
On Saturday, during the Nationwide Series race at Daytona, a nasty wreck on the final lap sent Kyle Larson’s car up against the barrier, spraying debris—including tires—into the crowd. WARNING: the details of this tragedy are gruesome, so if you are squeamish, proceed with caution.
You see, during a qualifying run at the 1982 Indianapolis 500, Smiley collided nose-first with the all at 200 mph. Thus, while only one person died in this wreck, it has to be considered one of the most deadly in the history of motor sports. On May 27, 2012, two spectators were killed while watching a rally car race in rural Ireland. Sadly, it often takes a tragedy to prompt major changes in motor sports that enhance safety. At the time, the cars at the Indy 500 still used gasoline for fuel, which is extremely flammable. Unfortunately, one of the marshals, a 19-year-old named Frederick Jansen Van Buren, never made it. In 1999, less than one year after the tragedy at Michigan, three more fans were killed at the VisionAire 500K, an Indy Racing League event at the CHarlotte Motor Speedway. However, what makes this tragedy worse is the fact that the fans killed were sitting in a section of the grandstands that was only opened to accommodate an unexpected influx of additional spectators.
If the danger is high in professional auto racing events, it’s astronomically high at amateur events–a lesson learned the hard way back in 2010. At a Mojave Desert Racing 200-mile off-road race in the desert east of Los Angeles, California, a truck crashed into a crown of spectators, killing eight.
THe Mille Miglia was a very popular open-road, 1,000-mile endurance race that ran from 1927 through 1957.


The deadliest crash in the history of motor sports happened at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans—an epic endurance race that still goes on today.
Though motor sports deaths are quite common, there are surprisingly few examples of multiple deaths at a single event. NHRA star Antron Brown’s dragster inexplicably lost a wheel during a Top Fuel drag race at the Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, AZ.
The impact completely disintegrated the car, causing the fuel tank to explode and sending Smiley tumbling hundreds of feet across the track. The car ran out of control, crashed through a fence, and into a crown of 30 people about 50 miles northwest of Dublin, killing a 29-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man and injruing seven others.
Such was the case with the wreck that killed Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs at the 1964 Indianapolis 500.
So when MacDonald spun and hit the wall after just the fourth turn, his car turned into a raging inferno as it slid back across the track. At the 1987 South African Grand Prix, a driver named Renzo Zorzi pulled off to the side of the course with car trouble.
As he was running across the course carrying a fire extinguisher, the car driven by Tom Pryce hit him at 170 mph, and basically tore his body in half. On July 28, 1998 at the 1998 Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, a single car crashed sent debris flying over a 15-foot barrier and into the grandstand, killing three spectators and injuring 6 others.
And once again, the deaths were the result of debris—in this case, a tire off the car of Stan Wattles—flying into the stands. Driver Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR got into a wreck and flew into a grandstand.
And if they had perished, the tragedy would have made that wreck one of the most deadly in the history of motor sports. The wheel flew up and over the grandstands entirely—avoiding multiple deaths—before bouncing and hitting a woman seated next to a camper in the parking lot.


According to CART medical director Steve Olvey—this is where it gets bad—Smiley’s body suffered severe trauma.
The car, a modified Ford Escort, went over a hump in the road and into the air, and the river lost control upon landing.
Soon his car caught fire and sent Zorzi scrambling, so race marshals rushed to the scene with fire extinguishers. After that, attendance at the race declined (go figure), and in 2001 the struggling CART series left the MIS, handing the Firestone Indy 400 over to the IRL.
Rather, it seems that fans ignored barricades and the warnings to stay 100-feet back from the course.
In that last running, a Ferrari driven by Alfonso de Portago and Edmund Nelson crashed into a crowd of spectators along the road in the village of Guidizzolo. So as terrible as it sounds to say, the NHRA was actually lucky only one person was killed.
His helmet and the top of his skull had been ripped off, and his brain was scattered on the track. The drivers both died (reportedly cut in half when the car fell on top of them) as did nine spectators—five of whom were children.
In addition, there was a huge wound in his side that looked as though he’d been bitten by a shark. The absurdly dangerous conditions outraged the French Parliament, and a special council of ministers was called that forced organizers to shut the race down.



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