#1- 1955 Le Mans Disaster
The 1955 24 Hours Le Mans holds the distinction for playing host to the worst accident in motorsport history. A huge crash during the race caused fragments of car and debris to enter into the crowd killing 83 spectators including the driver and injuring 120 more. Although the footage caught is rough by today’s standards they don’t lessen the impact to how grizzly this car crash turned out to be.
Racing in the 1950’s had different standards for safety that are archaic and laughable by today’s standards. Top speeds eclipsed 190 MPH with drivers not opting to use seatbelts thinking that it would be better to be thrown from a crash than to be stuck in a car.
On Lap 35 of the race Pierre Levegh was following the D-type Jaguar of Mike Hawthorn. Mike Hawthorn pulled in front of Lance Macklin’s Austin Healy who was traveling slower before pulling into the pits himself. Lance Macklin swerved right to avoid hitting Hawthorn entering the pit area but then swerved back into the center causing Pierre Levegh to collide into Macklin’s Austin Healy.
Levegh’s 300 SLR became airborne with many of its body parts separating from its chassis. The SLR’s hood flew out towards a tightly packed crowd literally decapitating the heads of a couple of spectators. The motor and front axle also flew off wildly killing numerous other spectators. Levegh himself was thrown free but died upon landing.
The fuel tank ended up catching on fire fueling the burning of the Elektron bodywork. Due to its high magnesium content in the car itself, water put on by officials to extinguish the flames only made the fire worse. And even Macklin’s car hit a pit wall killing one.
Inadequate safety standards and track design were the main causes of so many casualties and both the spectator area and pit space were demolished and rebuilt.
The 1955 Le Mans Disaster is the worst catastrophic accident in motorsport history and holds the distinction on this list as being the worst car crash of all time caught on video.
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