Auto racing emerged not long after the invention of the “horseless carriage” in the late 19th century. The fast-paced excitement would attract both thrill-seeking competitors and spectators alike with an adrenaline-injected need for speed. Unfortunately, the lethality of flammable fuel and high-velocity collisions can result in tragic consequences with the blink of an eye, ranging from go-karting kids to racing legends such as Ayrton Senna and Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
The fabled 24 Hours of LeMans is one of the sport’s most celebrated events. It also holds the distinction of producing the worst disaster in motorsports history. On June 16, 1955, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR driven by Frenchman Pierre Levegh slammed into the rear-end of a race car driven by Britain’s Lance Macklin at 150 miles-per-hour. This set off a chain reaction of mayhem and carnage in which Levegh’s car became airborne and launched into the packed grandstand.
By the time the smoke cleared, fire and metal debris had claimed 80 people’s lives, including Levegh, and injured more than 100 other spectators. A subsequent inquiry proved inconclusive regarding responsibility, but the proximity of the front stands to the track undoubtedly played a crucial role.
Additionally, race organizers would be heavily criticized for their decision to complete the race, eventually won by Jaguar drivers Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb.