27. TODD SZEGEDY AND THE ORANGE (2004, NASCAR BUSCH, CHICAGOLAND)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 49TH
The Busch race at Joliet in 2004 was…weird. Be it Bobby Hamilton Jr. on pole or midfielder Justin Labonte scoring the win when the leader ran out of fuel, this was a weird, weird race. But possibly the strangest bit came during qualifying.
NASCAR Modified regular Todd Szegedy hopped up to the Busch Series to make a couple of runs in 2004, and was wrapping up his first of two qualifying laps when he came across a massive orange rolling across the track. The large inflatable orange, which according to Online Athens weighed about sixty pounds and was thirty feet in diameter, was supposed to help advertise the race’s sponsor, Tropicana Twister. It sure did much more than advertise…
Szegedy was fielded off the track, and the orange, which had snapped off its tethering in high winds, eventually deflated when it pierced the barbs of the catchfencing in turn one. Qualifying was further delayed by rain, but Szegedy eventually did get back on track for a complete redo of his qualifying run, a rare gift for NASCAR to give, as the events which hindered his lap were outside of his control. He timed the car in 12th, but unfortunately crashed out during the event.
26. AMBROSE TIRE ROLL (2001, VIRGIN SUPERCAR, CANBERRA)
NEW TO LIST
The announcement of a race through the Australian capital of Canberra in 2000 was met with very mixed responses, and this response would dog the race until its cancellation after the 2002 running. The track had an interesting layout, which even sent it in front of the Parliament House, and it was well set up, but due to the fact that important streets had to be closed to hold the event, traffic was often through the roof, and all in all it was too expensive for the cost to be justified. Even still, the Canberra 400 is often remembered for a humorous incident that befell Marcos Ambrose during the 2001 running.
Towards the end of one of the round’s doubleheaders, Ambrose threw a back left wheel and pulled his car off to the side of the road and out of harm’s way. The wheel, of course, kept going, and rolled down the chute for quite a distance. The wheel followed a curve in the road, hopped up a street curb at the upcoming chicane, and promptly planted itself atop a tire bundle, seemingly wanting to join its brethren. It was a comedic moment, but Ambrose’s day was done.
25. PEDESTRIAN CAR ON TRACK (2014, VW FUN CUP, BRANDS HATCH)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 24TH
The VW Fun Cup is a one make series for Volkswagen New Beetles that frequently endurance races, one of its big events being a 25 hour race at Spa. It’s a fairly popular series, but it was also host to one of the more terrifying incidents on this list.
In the summer of 2014, a man decided to drive a Volkswagen Polo through a set of gates and onto the circuit at Brands Hatch with who was described as a female friend in the passenger seat, leading to rather audible confusion from the track’s announcer. The incident, which was being filmed from inside the white Polo, led to the four hour endurance being ended about a half hour early. From inside the car, millions of Youtube viewers (two million plus by the end of the year) were able to watch as the Polo’s driver, 22 year old Jack Cottle of East Sussex, navigated the track at high speed with 18 year old Saskia Fisk, the car’s owner, in hysterics across the center console. Zac Copson sat in the backseat filming Jack laugh like a maniac as confused racers passed what they thought to be a safety car.
The race’s early conclusion led to a loss of money amongst the 26 competing cars, which Judge Martin Joy took into account when he sentenced Cottle to prison for eight months in November of 2014. Dailymail reported that Cottle’s social media was full of boasts and stunts involving fast cars.
24. MANHOLE ENDS RACE (1990, WORLD SPORTSCAR, MONTREAL)
NEW TO LIST
With the new engine rules that would do it in on the horizon, 1990’s World Sports-Prototype Championship was declining, but was still doing well. Grids were still very large, and the beautiful Group C cars were still proving to be enjoyable.
In 1990, Mercedes was absolutely dominating the calendar with its pair of brand new C11s, leaving it a race for third for the most part. With a cavalry of mostly Porsches rounding out the grid, the racing was wild and the crowds were at the track in droves.
One of the sleek 962s that ran as part of the grid was a vehicle entered by Switzerland’s Brun Motorsport, a privateer team owned by Walter Brun. The series did run overseas, with one of the overseas races being through the streets of Montreal at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and Brun Motorsport followed the wagon train to Canada with two cars, the #16 of Jésus Pareja and Bernard Santal and the #15 of Harald Huysman and Oscar Larrauri.
As the race passed the halfway point, the Mercedes were as usual leading when a massive crash broke out heading under the bridge on the approach to turn eight. A manhole cover had been sucked up over the course of the event by the field and Pareja was the unlucky one to strike it. The Porsche immediately caught fire and collected two cars, the #16 of teammate Larrauri and the #12 Cougar C24S of Morin – Thuner. Pareja was all right, seen walking away by the TV crew with Larrauri, but the Porsche was a write off. Organizers were concerned about the rest of the manholes, and as such the race was ended early, with half points awarded.
23. THE ENTIRE START (1997, IRL, INDIANAPOLIS)
NEW TO LIST
The standard rule of the Indianapolis 500 is for 33 cars, no more, no less. It’s how it always been and will be. The rule for the year in 1997 was that the top 25 in owner’s points were locked in as long as they were fast enough in pre-qualifying practice, and eight drivers would race their way in. Only 23 of the top 25 showed up to Indy, leaving ten spots open.
The fight between USAC’s policies and the IRL’s marred time trials. USAC, who believed in the fastest 33, allowed entries which ran backup cars to be locked in, which was against the policy, and the IRL was already looking to dump the 25/8 rule. At the end of qualifying, the grid of 33 was set, yet USAC was not pleased that two cars piloted by Lyn St. James and Johnny Unser were not part of the grid despite being faster than several locked in cars. It was ruled that they would be added to the grid for a field of 35, the second time since 1933 that the grid had not been of 33 cars, the first being 1979.
When the race was eventually started on Memorial Day, the 35 cars began to pace the track, only for some wild events to cause several to retire before the start. Stéphan Grégoire, Alfonso Giaffone, and Kenny Bräck crashed during pace laps, and Sam Schmidt, Alessandro Zampedri, and Robbie Groff all suffered from mechanical woes. Of these six, only Groff continued, leaving 30 cars to take the start. The race was eventually postponed further to Tuesday, where further bizarre rulings and strange officiating by USAC spelled the end for the organization’s partial hold on the Indy 500.
22. PETER BRAID’S CRASH (1949, FORMULA 3, BLANDFORD)
NEW TO LIST
Racing in 1949 was extremely unique. Few safety measures, frequent injuries and little care for wellbeing meant racers were more daredevils than anything else. Tracks had few safety measures, and were rarely permanent layouts. One of these circuits was Blandford, an army camp on the southwestern British coast.
During a meet at the circuit in 1949, driver Gordon Woods spun into an old bus shelter, destroying it and dealing him injuries he would later die from. The meet went on.
Formula 3 cars were very new at the time, rather sleek vehicles powered by bike engines that were popular amongst the masses. One of the new cars’ drivers was Major Peter K. Braid, who according to a WordPress blog by the name of Graham’s World had found much success in his few months of racing. During the event, Braid lost control of the car and slid straight into the demolished bus shelter, leading to a spectacular accident.
Braid’s Cooper vaulted the destroyed bus shelter, flew over a fir tree, and landed atop the roof of the battalion headquarters right side up. Braid stepped out of the vehicle with only bruises, and the Cooper remained atop the headquarters until day’s end. Blandford would continue to see races until the early 1960s.
21. J.M. REIS’ CRASH (2005, FORMULA TRUCK, CAMPO GRANDE)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 15TH
Tractor trailer racing is popular not only in Europe but also Brazil. In fact, before finances ended it after 2016, Formula Truck was one of Brazil’s most popular series, though it was also the most destructive.
During the start of the race at Campo Grande in 2005, driver Fabiano Brito got a very poor jump. Jonatas Borlenghi and Roberval Andrade both saw opportunities to gain position at the same time and their forward dash ended in Brito being spun in front of everyone.
According to campeones.com.ar, 19 of the 23 trucks in the race were involved and eight trucks were completely written off. Heber Borlenghi vaulted the back of another vehicle and went airborne, landing on the pit wall and sending chunks of the barrier and barrier decor into the pit area. The truck took off again, landing on the truck of Jose Mariá Reis and obliterating it.
The race was immediately halted and later cancelled. The broadcast of the race ended up turning into an episode of Rescue 911, where drivers, doctors, marshals and even the President of Formula Truck himself assisted in pulling Reis from the destroyed cab. It took 45 minutes, but eventually Reis was pulled from the vehicle with a busted kneecap.
This crash would actually prove influential in determining the season’s champion. Points leader Wellington Cirino had been injured during practice at the prior race at Londrina, but with the round at Campo Grande abandoned, he lost fewer points than he could have. Wellington would win that year’s title despite only competing in six of the eight completed races.
20. THE MERCEDES CLR (1999, FIA GT, LE MANS)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 25TH
By 1999, Mercedes was quite comfortably back at Le Mans after returning to the track a few years prior, having left after the 1955 disaster. For 1999, Mercedes constructed the Mercedes CLR, a replacement to the CLK GTR. An issue with the aerodynamics, however, allowed for air to almost built up in pockets when going over a hill, of which there are a few at Le Mans, instead of being properly dispersed. Coupled with slipstream, this allowed for the car to easily take flight. During Happy Hour on Thursday, Mark Webber took to the skies down Courbe Du Golf, the chute between Mulsanne and Indianapolis, in the lead car, which was a complete writeoff after apparently going into the trees. Webber emerged from the car unhurt, and for reasons which remain confidential amongst Mercedes according to Road and Track, the team pressed onward.
On Saturday, during a warmup, the chute became a launch pad for the CLR again, with Webber again in the driver’s seat. The car landed inverted on the circuit, and though Webber was all right, the car was promptly withdrawn. Again, the team, still unable to find the issue, pressed onwards with two cars. On lap 75 of the main event, Peter Dumbreck proved that this was probably a bad idea.
Dumbreck flew over the barriers and into the woods down the Courbe Du Golf, thankfully without injury. The remaining Mercedes was quickly withdrawn, and after the issues were identified, most of the CLRs were disposed of with a car crusher, though at least one survives for vintage racing.
NOTE: I WILL BE INCLUDING GRAPHIC PHOTOS IN THIS ARTICLE. I WILL PROVIDE NO PRIOR WARNING, HOWEVER.
On September 11th, 2001, the United States of America was attacked, and almost three thousand innocent lives were ended. Motorsport paid tribute in many different ways, and several races were either postponed or cancelled, including the NASCAR race in New Hampshire, which would eventually be held under the freezing late November sun. On the other hand, the planned German 500 CART race at Eurospeedway Lausitz in Germany was still held, but it did receive a name change to the American Memorial. Horrifyingly, the American Memorial almost saw the end of an extremely experienced and beloved veteran’s life in what is sometimes seen as the most violent non-fatal crash in all of open wheel racing.
If there’s one word that can describe Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi, it’s ‘daredevil’. Born in 1966 in Italy, Alex began karting at the age of four and eventually moved to Italian F3. He did well despite subpar speed, and eventually found his way into Formula 3000 in 1991, where he finished second.
In 1991, Zanardi made his debut in Formula One for Jordan. He finished ninth on debut in Spain, which wasn’t a points spot at the time, but was still a good run. He retired in Japan, and came home ninth again at Australia. In 1992, he attempted three races for Minardi, only qualifying for one, and even then he didn’t even last a lap in that one race. Zanardi switched to Lotus in 1993 and ran well when he finished, even netting a point with a sixth place at Brazil. Unfortunately, his season ended early after he was concussed during practice at Belgium. 1994 went terribly for Zanardi, and Lotus folded their team at year’s end. Zanardi spent 1995 racing sports cars, and during the fall traveled to the United States to see if he could find a ride in CART. He tested with Chip Ganassi and impressed them enough to secure a full time berth in 1996. Though his season started poorly, Zanardi started to pick up the pace, and at season’s end he was third in the points with three wins, one of these coming when he dove the car into the infamous Corkscrew at Laguna Seca on the last lap to pass Bryan Herta. This move, known as “The Pass”, was ruled legal, but is no longer permitted.
Zanardi was a very popular driver on the CART scene. He often got himself into unneeded crashes, but when he finished races cleanly, it was usually towards the front. He won the 1997 and 1998 titles in CART with five wins in 1997 and seven, including four in a row, in 1998. However, Zanardi decided to depart CART for F1 in 1999, signing a contract with Williams. He never scored a point that year, and returned to the States in 2000. Zanardi spent the year testing, and eventually signed with Mo Nunn Racing in 2001.
On September 15th, 2001, Zanardi was leading at Lausitz, a new 2.023 mile oval in Klettwitz, Germany. The race, unlike many other major motorsport events, had not been cancelled, but had been renamed to the American Memorial in tribute to the lives lost during 9/11. The CART drivers were in Germany for a two race jaunt, with another race at the new speedway in Rockingham-Corby, UK coming up shortly thereafter. Zanardi had had a poor year for Mo Nunn Racing. He hadn’t won anything, and had a best finish of fourth. The pressure seemingly got to him when he floored the accelerator a little too hard while leaving the pit lane on lap 142 of 154, something he later admitted was likely on him.
Patrick Carpentier was informed over the radio that Zanardi was approaching. He was running up front, though he wasn’t right behind Zanardi, who was leading by thirty seconds. As Carpentier approached the merging Zanardi, he was stunned to see the #66 car spin. Looking for a lane, Carpentier swerved up the circuit and missed Zanardi by an inch. Unfortunately, Alex Tagliani was right behind Carpentier. His #33 car ran unsighted and full-bore towards Zanardi. He simply was unable to see it coming. Tagliani saw that he was too close to Zanardi to fully circumvent the #66, so he flicked his car to the left a little (which was revealed to have saved them both, as if Tagliani hadn’t aimed for the front, Zanardi would have perished instantly, and it’s likely Tagliani would have as well) and braced. Tagliani remembered screaming in his head, but Zanardi stated that he does not recall his reaction. In fact, the last thing he recalls was driver introductions that day.
Tagliani struck Zanardi’s Reynard at about 195mph, sending the #33 airborne and shearing off the #66’s front end completely and sending the rest of the car spinning around several times until it came to a stop near the wall, Zanardi facing away from the crowd. The race was yellow flagged and finished under caution, with Kenny Bräck being handed the win. In the meantime, officials rushed over to the scene, in disbelief.
The crash had done ungodly damage to Zanardi. Shrapnel and other pieces had gone flying, and the front of the car had been torn off. Even worse, Zanardi’s legs were completely destroyed, with director of medical affairs Steve Olvey noting that his legs had exploded as if he’d stepped on a land mine. His right leg was gone at the knee, and only a few inches of the upper left leg remained. He was bleeding out.
Chief orthopedic consultant Terry Trammell arrived on scene in a truck. From the truck, he thought he saw an oil slick on the circuit. When he stepped on the circuit, however, he noticed that the oil was actually blood, and before he could avoid it, Trammell had slipped. Trammell got back to his feet, slipped again, and then traveled to the scene on his knees. Trammell was stunned by the awful injuries suffered by Zanardi. His femoral arteries were both severed, and he was gushing blood “like a hose” (SI). Trammell opened an airway for Zanardi and used the remaining skin on his right leg to fold over the wound, after which he formed a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. The left leg was another story, as there was not enough left there for the same procedure. As a last resort, Trammell used a crewman’s belt to stop the bleeding, only for it to loosen as Zanardi was loaded into the ambulance.
Olvey decided to request a chopper to take Zanardi to Berlin, and the chopper met the ambulance at the hospital. He was given a fifty-fifty shot of surviving the 50 kilometer trip to Berlin, and as such was given last rites from a priest. Olvey and Trammell went inside the hospital to go check up on Tagliani, who himself was injured, though not seriously. When they left, to their horror, they saw that the chopper was still outside the hospital, the German medics seemingly trying to stabilize Zanardi inside the chopper itself. It had been a little under nineteen minutes since the tourniquets had been applied, and Olvey knew that Zanardi’s chances had decreased further. Olvey recalled taking the pilot by his shirt and demanding he leave, first in English, then in the little German he knew. Within a few seconds, the chopper had departed.
Zanardi arrived at a trauma unit in Berlin fifty-six minutes after the crash. He’d already gone into cardiac arrest once on the chopper, and his vital signs were incredibly low. The average adult has a blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/90, a hemoglobin count of 16, and four liters of blood in his or her body. Zanardi’s blood pressure was 60/0, his hemoglobin count was 3, and he only had one liter left of blood. Daniela Zanardi, his spouse, arrived some time thereafter. According to Ashley Judd, then-wife of Dario Franchitti, Daniela Zanardi took the news of Zanardi’s legs very well.
Zanardi, his wounds finally secured and closed as best as they could, went into surgery some time thereafter, where his legs were completely removed, and was awakened out of a coma three days later. He’d lost his legs, and had a long rehabilitation in his future, but he was alive.
Zanardi, who specially designed his own prosthetic legs, eventually returned to racing. He ran thirteen laps in a special car before CART’s return trip to Lausitz in 2003, those being the thirteen laps he never finished, and began running touring cars. He won several races in the World Touring Car Championship and also ran GT3 events such as Blancpain GT. He has since mostly retired from racing cars, though Zanardi does still run occasional races here and there as a special guest in mostly national events. Additionally, Zanardi competed in the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He took two golds in London, including the Road Race event, which was partially held at Brands Hatch, and won two more golds at Rio. He’s still going strong, and he’s still as inspirational as ever.
“After the Miracle Having barely survived a horrific crash in which he lost both legs, Alex Zanardi is attacking rehab with the same passion and purpose that made him a racing champion”, Sports Illustrated, April 15, 2002
“Zanardi Loses His Legs in Crash”, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2001
“Zanardi crash ‘like bomb had gone off'”, Crash.Net, September 21, 2001
Races are very rarely called off. Usually, when races have to be ended, they’ll try their very best to get it in nonetheless. But sometimes, they must cancel, usually due to a fatal crash early on. Let’s take a look at a few of them. All of these had to be completely called off for whatever reason. No points could be salvaged from the events, and they were all declared non races. The whole event must have been cancelled to count. If one race was thrown out, I won’t include it. The races that were called off due to fatalities will be marked with asterisks.
1967: Italian F3 at Caserta*
By the time summer 1967 arrived, the Italian racing community was mourning. They’d recently lost Lorenzo Bandini, who had crashed in Monaco. To make things worse, on June 4th, Italian F3 driver Boley Pittard’s car caught fire on the grid at the start of a race at Monza. Pittard veered his car to the side to prevent a fiery pileup, but was very badly burned in the incident. He died on June 11th.
Italian F3 raced on. It ran Caserta, a 2.8 mile street circuit, on June 18th. Visible from the track sidelines was Reggia di Caserta, the tallest building in Europe to be built in the 1700s.
On lap seven, backmarkers Beat Fehr and Andrea Saltari made contact on the approach to Via Domenico Mondo. The pair crashed hard, and Franco Foresti soon crashed in response. Fehr and Saltari were unhurt, but Foresti broke his leg. Fehr hopped out of the car and started to flag down drivers. After a little while, Fehr left the scene, where he came across a small field that a car had set on fire. He found some off-duty firemen and alerted them to the fire, then returned to the scene of the crash to continue flagging down drivers. During his absence, Jorg Dubler crashed, vaulting into the air and hitting two poles. Dubler was badly hurt, but was able to get out with the help of two soldiers, one of which called for medics. In the meantime, the race continued. On lap nine, Giacomo ‘Geki’ Russo blew a tire on some debris and went off. He struck Fehr and plowed into a concrete barrier. Over the next two laps, the crash collected Clay Reggazoni, Massimo Natili, Corrado Manfredini, Manfred Mohr, G.R. ‘Tiger’ Perdomi, Silvio Moser, and Maurizio Montagnani, with four drivers, Antonio Maglione, Ernesto Brambilla, Sverrir Thoroddsson, and Enzo Corti, dodging the mess. The race was eventually ended on lap 11 when Natili, who was able to drive away, drove to the pits and let officials know. At last, the race was stopped.
Three drivers died in this. Giacomo ‘Geki’ Russo, who was being courted for an F1 ride, was instantly killed when the car hit the wall, which ejected him and split the chassis in two. Geki was a rich man from Milan whose father started a successful tissue company. His family disapproved of racing, which is why he raced as Geki. Beat Fehr died on the way to the hospital, having been struck by Geki’s errant car. G.R. ‘Tiger’ Perdomi was severely injured when his car crumpled. It took 30 minutes to extricate Tiger, who died a week later. He was conscious and alert during his removal, his leg pierced by the tachometer.
Racing never returned to Caserta. Officials decided to cancel any championship aspect that year, as the points leader (Geki) was dead. Geki actually held the points lead until the finale, where Maurizio Montagnani overtook him, but neither man was crowned champion.
1973: MotoGP at Monza*
What exactly caused the events of May 20th, 1973 to turn out the way they did is debatable, but it’s believed that, during the 350cc World Motorcycle Championship (now MotoGP) race at Monza, Walter Villa’s bike had a mechanical issue in the concluding laps, spilling oil everywhere. Rider John Dodds and several journalists alerted officials to the oil, but they were told that the races would continue. Dodds pushed the issue, and was threatened with police and gave up. The field quickly moved on to the 250cc race.
Late in the 350cc race, local boy Renzo Pasolini had blown a piston and retired from the event while running up front, heavily upsetting the popular rider. He got ready for the 250cc race with every intention of riding aggressively to the front of the pack.
Entering turn one on lap one (motorcycles did not use the first chicane at Monza), Pasolini, either unaware or uncaring of the oil, fell and went into the hay bales, sending his bike bouncing along the circuit. Pasolini and Jarno Saarinen were killed in the ensuing pileup, which collected Walter Villa, Borje Jansson, Chas Mortimer, Fosco Giansanti, Hideo Kanaya, Victor Palomo, and at least two others. Pasolini had skipped most of the hay bales and struck the steel guardrail directly, and Saarinen, the defending 250cc champion, was hit in the face by Pasolini’s Harley Davidson. The race was called on lap three, and both it and the 500cc race afterwards were cancelled.
Emanuele Maugliani just barely avoided the minefield of wreckage and suffering in the crash, but was killed a few days later during a race in what is now Slovenia when he crashed and his bike flew into the crowd. Maugliani’s bike killed five spectators and injured many more.
1973: Italian Junior Racers Championship at Monza*
Fifty days after the deaths of Saarinen and Pasolini, more tragedy struck. During the Italian Junior Racers Championship 500cc race, again at Monza, again in the first corner (they still were not using the frontstretch chicane). On lap three, as the field exited the first turn, Renzo Colombini crashed into the guardrail on the track’s outside. Trying to avoid him, Vittorio Altrocchio went into the haybales on the inside of the circuit. The field panicked, and several riders went down, with the pack still bearing down on them.
Colombini struck the bare guardrail, dying instantly. Renato Galtrucco was part of the first pack that had crashed in response, and he had been struck by Carlo Chionio. Galtrucco died shortly after arrival, and Chionio seemed to be in stable condition at first, but it quickly worsened and he died some time later. It apparently took a couple minutes to find Altrocchio – he’d flown over the guardrail and gotten stuck in the tree branches, and even more amazingly was relatively uninjured. Altrocchio suffered some facial injuries, but was released a few hours later.
Motorcycle racing ditched Monza after this. It only returned in 1981, and even to this day mostly national events are held.
1990: Copa Nissan Sunny at Roca Roja*
The Copa Nissan Sunny was a one make series for the Nissan Sunny that got underway in Chile in 1990. Chile had very few major race tracks in 1990, so all but one of the races in the series were at Las Vizcachas in Santiago, the capital. The one race outside of Las Vizcachas was at Roca Roja, in Antofagasta, in the northern part of the country. J.M. Silva entered Roca Roja as the points leader, with Carlos Polanco not far behind.
Polanco started the late November race towards the front. On lap two of the race, Polanco made contact with another car and flipped. The Nissan’s door flew open, and Polanco was thrown from the car, which eventually came to a stop inverted. Polanco died shortly thereafter.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Roca Roja race was immediately cancelled, though the planned Chilean F3 race sometime later went on as intended. The Copa Nissan Sunny’s organizer assigned Silva the title and immediately shut the series down, meaning it only lasted one season. Roca Roja was also done in by the crash, as it saw very few events after 1990. A few years later, a flood struck the area, and being as Antofagasta is just north of the Atacama, it was a vicious one. Roca Roja suffered severe damage and was demolished instead of being rebuilt. It is now a landfill.
1997: Japanese Formula Three at Fuji*
October 19th, 1997. Shigekazu Wakisaka and Tom Coronel made contact while battling for the lead on lap one of the penultimate race of the Japanese F3 season in 1997 at Fuji. Wakisaka turned over, doing several rolls in the sand trap. Coronel, the points leader, came a few inches away from almost certainly being beheaded by Wakisaka’s chassis, and had tire marks on his helmet. The two were able to climb out of their cars unhurt.
As they slowed for the caution, backmarker Takashi Yokoyama, the teammate to Shigekazu Wakisaka, didn’t seem to notice what was going on. While Wakisaka was fast and contending for podium finishes, Yokoyama’s results were very poor, this mostly being due to him running a 1996 model car instead of Wakisaka’s 1997 model car. As usual, Yokoyama had fallen back already and was a few seconds behind everyone. As they slowed on the front chute, Yokoyama approached them at a very high speed. Either he hadn’t noticed the safety car boards or had but was unsighted due to the fairly blind nature of the final corner’s exit, but either way he was running at high speed. Yokoyama’s car struck another one at 160mph, launching him airborne and into a gantry positioned sixteen feet in the air across the circuit. The car shattered, and Yokoyama died instantly. The race was red flagged and called off. Coronel was the champion that year, having secured the title with the race’s cancellation.
1999: Indycar at Charlotte*
May 1, 1999. On lap 61 of the Visionaire 500k, the third round of the 1999 Indy Racing League, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Stan Wattles crashed in turn four. Open wheelers are made to break apart in accidents to help dissipate the energy, and that was the case with Wattles’ car. Wattles himself was unscathed. However, Scott Harrington and John Paul, Jr. proceeded to pile into the debris field, sending pieces of Wattles’ car and their own cars, including at least one tire, over the catchfence and into the crowd. While Paul, Jr. and Harrington were both unhurt as well, several fans were injured by the flying debris. The caution flag immediately came out, and the cars were paced around the track as they confirmed injuries. On lap 79, the cars were stopped, and it was announced that there had been fatalities. The race went no further, and, having not yet hit halfway (104 laps), it was declared a non-event. The Indy Racing League never returned to Charlotte.
In all, nine fans were severely injured, and three were killed. They were identified as Jeffrey Patton, Randy Pyatte, and D.B. Mobley. The fan fatalities were announced on air, though their identities were only announced later. A nine year old girl was critically injured, but survived. In 1999, most catchfences jutted straight upwards, but after this a curve to help keep debris in-bounds was mandated.
Interestingly, during the U.S. 500 CART race at Michigan in 1998, Adrian Fernandez crashed in the trioval, throwing debris over the fence and killing three people. The race continued on, so it’s possible that the IRL called the race off to show that it had a sense of decency and thus prevent fans from ditching the IRL for its rival.
2001: CART at Texas
The situation during pre-race for the Firestone Firehawk 600k at the Texas Motor Speedway was one of the most complicated in history, but in short, drivers were experiencing extremely heavy G-Forces.
A few drivers reported to teams that they’d been experiencing the onset of vertigo during practice. CART cars were faster than IRL cars, and usually when it oval raced it ran flat ovals, with the few high banked ovals on its schedule being wide-open. Texas is rather high banked and is a very tight oval, and the added speed made for some incredibly high G-Forces and the very real possibility that drivers would have to withdraw due to fatigue. CART held a driver’s meeting and polled drivers to see who had experienced the symptoms, and to the amazement of everyone, every single hand in the drivers’ section went up. Drivers later explained that they had experienced the symptoms during pre-season testing at the track, but had kept them to themselves, assuming that they were the only ones with those symptoms. Two hours before the green flag was supposed to fly, CART decided, out of concern for the safety of the drivers, to pack up and go home, and the race was never rescheduled. This was yet another piece of straw placed upon the camel’s back as CART started to lose favor with the public. It folded after 2007, and was merged with Indycar.
2005: Italian GT at Imola
Most of the countries that possess permanent race tracks have national Grand Touring series, and Italy is no exception. It’s a fairly nondescript series, and nothing special goes on in it, but it’s always nice to have a series where drivers can show what they’ve got against those of similar skill (not necessarily similar budget, though…), and national level series are extremely important to furthering the careers of aspiring young talents.
26 cars were entered into the season opener in 2005, to be held at the Imola circuit near San Marino. GT cars are quite well known for being absolutely lovely, and the cars that showed up to Imola were no exception. The standard Ferrari 360s and Porsche 996s were on the grid, along with some more obscure cars such as the Saleen S7-R and the Lister Storm. Practice was held on April 2nd.
That same day, Pope John Paul II, who had become the Pope in 1978, died. Organizers chose to cancel the race, which had been scheduled for April 3rd. Oddly, the race was not rescheduled for a later date as is traditional when an event is cancelled due to the death of a prominent figure. As such, Italian GT did not race at Imola whatsoever in 2005, only returning for the season opener in 2006.
2008: NEMA at Thompson*
Midget racing is one of the most popular and common forms of motorsports in the United States. Midgets are also extremely popular in Australia and New Zealand, where they are known as speedcars. These cars are lightweight and easy to turn over, but they’re thrilling to watch. Midgets usually race on short dirt tracks, though they do run paved tracks from time to time.
The NorthEastern Midget Association is a pavement midget series that has been going for well over 60 years. In 2008, one of the racers in the series was Shane Hammond. Hammond had overcome many adversities to even get into a race car, having survived a brain tumor at the age of 15. Race one of the series’ schedule that year brought them to the high banked 0.625 mile Thompson Speedway in Connecticut for the historic track’s season opening weekend. The Thompson Speedway’s season opening weekend, known as The Icebreaker, contains many different events such as late models, modifieds, and of course, the NEMA Midgets. The headliner of The Icebreaker is the NASCAR Modified Tour, with NEMA following not far behind on the ‘priority’ list.
On April 4, 2008, Hammond’s throttle stuck in the entry of a corner and the 27-year-old flew over the wall and into a billboard, collapsing it. The race, which was on lap four of 25, was called off immediately and the races were halted while the track workers removed what was left of the billboard. The NEMA race was not restarted, but after the billboard’s remnants were scrapped, officials decided to continue with The Icebreaker.
Hammond was dead on arrival to the hospital. Spectators were aware of his passing by the final race of the day. NEMA took some time off from the Thompson Speedway for the next few years, but has since returned to the somewhat large one kilometer oval. A new race joined the schedule in 2010 at the Waterford Speedbowl by the name of the Shane Hammond Memorial, and it’s still held to this day.
2011: Indycar at Las Vegas*
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway…where should I even begin with one of the most controversial, destructive, and tragic abortions of a race in motorsports history?
It was announced early in the year that Indycar would be opening up the entry list to the Las Vegas race to non-Indycar drivers. If they received more than five of these entries, a panel would choose which five would be allowed to race. If one of these drivers won, they would receive five million dollars. Two dozen drivers said that they were interested in competing, but only six drivers actually were able to put together deals. All six deals fell apart, however. Scott Speed’s deal fell apart after he didn’t qualify for that year’s Indy 500, Kasey Kahne was dissuaded from running the race by Rick Hendrick, his new car owner, Travis Pastrana’s deal was cancelled when he was injured at the X Games, and the reasons as to why Kimi Raikkonen, Alex Zanardi, and Joey Hand’s deals fell through was never given.
On September 4th, 2011, Indycar announced that there would be no wild cards. It was then announced on September 13th that popular Briton Dan Wheldon, who had spent most of the rest of the year testing the new vehicle model that would be instituted the next year, would start the race in the back, and would split the 5 million with a lucky fan if he managed to win. Entry forms were due on October 6th.
On October 13th, Ann Babenco of New Jersey was chosen as that fan, meaning she’d get a large chunk of money if Dan brought it home in first. Ann got to meet Wheldon, and flew to the track to watch the race live.
Behind the scenes, however, things weren’t so rosy. Drivers were used to the speeds of 225mph, but they heavily questioned Indycar for allowing them on such a thin track. Addtionally, with an entry list of 34 drivers (some of whom very rarely raced in Indycar) and no intention to have anyone fail to qualify, drivers were worried as to how large the packs would be. Indycar ignored both concerns.
On October 16th, 2011, Tony Kanaan led the massive 34 car grid to the green at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Dan, who was the in race reporter and had the onboard camera, quickly worked his way through the field. He seemingly played it cool, though other drivers could be heard over their radios swearing frequently and questioning how they’d get through 200 laps. It was only on lap 11 of 200 that tragedy struck.
Contact between J.R. Hildebrand and Wade Cunningham set off a vicious 15 car crash in turn two that sent many cars flying and several rolling. When the wreck began, ABC had been showing Dan’s onboard. Wheldon’s onboard camera was cut away from, but the Verizon subscribers who were watching his view live viewed it all the way through. Dan slammed into the back of Vitor Meira and took off, flying headfirst into the catchfence. The 2001 Indy Lights champion, 2005 Indycar champion, 2005 and 2011 Indy 500 winner, and Indycar veteran had no chance, dying on the helicopter. Pippa Mann and Will Power also turned over in the crash and both suffered injuries. One yellow flag lap was run before the race was red flagged, and several drivers reported that it looked like a bomb had gone off.
The track had suffered severe damage, and with few days left in the year to run the event, the race was likely to be cancelled regardless. In any case, when the confirmation came in that Dan Wheldon was gone, the 19 cars left were lined up three wide and did a 5 lap tribute to Dan with Amazing Grace playing on the PA system and every single crew member and 11 of the 14 other drivers who had crashed (Mann, Hildebrand and Power were still in the hospital, Hildebrand was not seriously injured but was badly shaken) standing by on pit road. 7 of those 33 have not stepped foot in an Indycar since, those being Danica Patrick (who was already planning on leaving beforehand), Davey Hamilton (who fully retired after the crash), Vitor Meira, Tomas Scheckter, Paul Tracy, Buddy Rice, and Alex Lloyd. ABC signed off with a last line from Marty Reid that ended with an explanation behind his preferred signoff phrase, ‘Until we meet again’, and that he usually used the phrase due to the finality of ‘Goodbye’ – a word he used to bid farewell to Wheldon as the screen faded.
Dan was officially killed by massive head injuries when his head hit a support pole in the catchfence. The fans who were watching the Verizon livestream saw his accident all the way through, but ABC cut away when the pileup began. The full footage belongs in the hands of Indycar, who have not released it beyond allowing a small extension to be shown for a Canadian documentary on the World Championships. The footage shown in the documentary shows Dan’s onboard as he tries to navigate the minefield, and freezes when Dan hits Vitor Meira.
In the aftermath, the public heard of the safety concerns that the drivers had lodged towards Indycar, and while the drivers mourned, the fans protested. In the end, Indycar lost a large chunk of its fanbase, but has stayed in operation. It had already planned for the Las Vegas race to be the last race with the old car type, as a new car type was to be introduced in 2012. Originally called the IR12, it was eventually renamed the DW12 for Dan.
Indycar will likely never return to Las Vegas, as the track has been shown to be unsuitable for Indycars after further testing. There were serious talks of never oval racing again in Indycar besides the Indianapolis 500, but Indycar eventually settled on cutting the oval count down to five (currently six). Indycar had been oval only until 2005, and in 2012 they were only running five. Interestingly, the first road course Indycar had run in 2005 had been St. Petersburg, Dan Wheldon’s hometown (Wheldon was actually much more well known in the States than in Britain; He’d moved to the States in 1999, and had become so attached to the United States that his resting place is Pinellas Park, Florida).
Even more so, St. Petersburg was the next race out for the Indycars. The new chassis was implemented for the St. Petersburg race, which was the 2012 season opener (Las Vegas had been intended to be the 2011 finale). Helio Castroneves won, and in one of the loveliest tributes ever seen in racing, drove up to the newly renamed Dan Wheldon Way, one of the roads that makes up the course, and gave his fallen friend a salute.
2011: MotoGP at Malaysia*
One week after the death of Dan Wheldon, on October 23rd, 2011, tragedy struck at Sepang in Malaysia during the MotoGP race. On lap two, Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards were running side by side for fifth when they were suddenly blindsided by another rider, who was hanging onto his bike after falling off of it. The pair struck the rider, and all three crashed extremely hard. It was a crash that unfortunately occurs every now and again in motorcycle racing.
Rossi and Edwards eventually rose to their feet, but the other rider wasn’t moving. It was evident by his #58 who he was: Marco Simoncelli, a popular young rider who had been running in fourth. He had lost control of his bike and fallen, and in a last ditch effort to at least bring it to a stop on the inside of the course and continue, had hung on to it. Simoncelli himself had been struck by Rossi and Edwards. Despite medics’ best efforts, the 24-year-old, who was often called Supersic by his fans, was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. A MotoGP race must last three laps in order to be official, and since the crash happened on lap two, the race was abandoned.
Two weeks later at Valencia, an incredible tribute was done for Simoncelli, in which the MotoGP, Moto2, and 125cc (renamed Moto3 the next year) riders all took to the track at once for a lap in memoriam, the first known time that all classes lapped the track together in any context.
When they got back, Paolo, Marco’s father, asked for a somewhat different tribute: something known in Italy as ‘casino’. It’s the opposite of a minute of silence, instead it’s a minute of extremely loud noise, in which everyone gathered attempts to generate as much noise as they can – and so they did, shouting, cheering, banging tools, and even shooting off fireworks.
Marco is remembered with the Misano Circuit in Italy, which has since adopted the full name of ‘Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli’. The #58 will never be available to anyone ever again in the MotoGP, Moto2, or Moto3 series unless they are specifically allowed to run the number by the Simoncelli family.
2012: Russian Racing Championship at Smolensk*
Russia has quite the motorsport fanbase. Circuits have been popping up all over Russia in the past few years. In 2006, Russia only had one permanent track, but as of 2017, I am aware of eight. In fact, there’s even a circuit called the Red Ring located in Siberia.
The Smolenskring is another one of the circuits. It opened in 2010, and sits about halfway between Moscow and the Byelorussian border. It’s a fast circuit despite its many twists and turns, which led to tragedy one day a few years after it opened.
On August 19th, 2012, during the second lap of the Super Production race, Yuri Semenchev entered the long, sweeping last turn with no brakes or steering and went straight on into the barrier. The Honda Civic flipped over and violently bounced every which way before eventually coming to rest on its side. Yuri died a few minutes after admission, and the race went no further. All other Russian Racing Championship races that day were also called off.
The top Russian touring car series saw many fatalities in the Soviet era, however Yuri Semenchev was the first driver to die in the series since the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. He was 49 years old, and was rather new to racing. He began racing in 2010, two years before his death.