/Motorsport Tragedies

Motorsport Tragedies

Crash main at Motorsport Tragedies

Those of you who saw the recent Rush movie might remember what James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) says at one point: “The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. It’s a wonderful way to live. It’s the only way to drive.” This probably best describes every racer out there.

Yes, even though most are fully aware of the dangers involved in this sport, many drive to the limit for that extra tenth of a second. And while safety measures became more and more strict, to protect everyone involved, from driver, to team members, press members and spectators, every once in a while the sport takes its toll and claims the life of one or more drivers. It’s true, things aren’t as bad as they were a few decades ago, when a lot of drivers lost their lives each year, but still, bad things still happen sometimes.

As a tribute to them, we’ve put together a list of the most talented and famous drivers that lost their lives during racing, whether we’re talking about Formula One, NASCAR, Moto GP, rally or any other motorsport.

Scott Kalitta (June 21, 2008)

Scott Kallita was one of the most popular drag racers in the United States and he died in a crash during qualifications at the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in New Jersey. His father was veteran National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) driver Connie Kalitta, with Scott beginning his racing career in 1982 at, ironically, the same track in New Jersey where he will lose his life, 19 years later. After achieving his first win in 1988 (at Baton Rouge, Louisiana), he won his first event a year later, in the Funny Class race in Houston, Texas.

Scott Kalitta at Motorsport Tragedies

After that, in the early ‘90s, he moved up to the Top Fuel class and this is where he achieved his greatest results, winning the championship in 1994 and 1995. In 1994 he also became the first driver to win four and five events in a row. He won more races and set the top speed several times in the following seasons, but never managed to win the championship again. After retiring in October 1997, he made a short comeback in 1999 for a final round, before coming back for full three seasons in 2003.

He switched to the Funny Car class in 2006 and in 2008, during the final round of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Supernationlas in New Jersey, Kalitta was fatally injured after his engine exploded at around 300 mph. The explosion damaged the parachutes and the clutch (which got locked and kept sending power to the wheels) so Kalitta’s vehicle went through a sand trap at 125 mph before hitting an ESPN telescopic boom vehicle. According to investigators and data recordings, the crash was so violent that it produced 100G several times (even 200G or more at some point). Scott Kalitta was taken to the hospital, but pronounced dead on arrival. He was 46 and left behind a wife and two sons.

Following his death, several actions were taken to make sure a similar crash won’t happen again. All Funny Car and Top Fuel races were shortened from the traditional quarter mile to 1,000 feet and additional safety measures were taken on the tracks, such as padded retaining walls. Also, starting with 2009, all vehicles are required to have their engines fitted with a sensor that automatically shuts down the fuel pump and deploys the parachutes if the engine backfires.

Michele Alboreto (April 25, 2001)

The famous Italian driver started his racing career in 1976 in Formula Monza. After successfully competing in Formula Three (champion in 1980), Formula Two and World Championship of Makes, he made his Formula One debut in 1981, running for Tyrrell Racing. After two more seasons without any significant results, he signed with Ferrari in 1984, becoming the first Italian driver to race for the Scuderia. He finished fourth in his first season with Ferrari, preparing for his best season in Formula One, the 1985 season. With two wins, in Canada and Germany, he finished second, 20 points behind the champion, Alain Prost. Many experts agree that before Ayrton Senna, Alboreto was the only other driver to actually challenge Prost and if the Ferrari cars would’ve been more reliable, his results would’ve definitely been better.

Michele Alboreto at Motorsport Tragedies

The following years were even worse, the new Ferrari engine proving to be even less reliable than its predecessor. After several years without any notable results, Alboreto left Ferrari and joined Tyrrell. During his stay at Ferrari, he set a new record for the driver with most races for the Italian team, a record which lasted until 1995, when Gerhart Berger broke it. Alobreto continued racing in Formula One until 1994, racing for different teams such as Arrows, Footwork, Scuderia Italia and Minardi, but his best result remains the second place from 1985.

Even though he left Formula One, he continued racing in other competitions such as The International Touring Car Championship, the DTM or IndyCar, but he was most successful at Le Mans, being a part of the team that won the 24-hour endurance race in 1997 (Joest Racing, driving the Porsche WSC-95). He also came in third in 1999 (Audi R8R) and 2000 (Audi R8).

In April 2001, Alboreto lost his life on the Lausitzring track in Dresden, Germany. While testing the Audi R8 race car for the new season, Alboreto was involved in a fatal crash, after a tire blew at more than 210 mph, made him lose control of the car and crash into a wall. Several years later, fellow Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella came in third at the 2005 Italian Grand Prix held at Monza and dedicated the podium to Alboreto, who was the last Italian driver before him to win a podium in Monza.

Roland Ratzenberger (April 30, 1994)

The Austrian driver’s death will always be overshadowed by Ayrton Senna, because both died in the same weekend at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, but, nevertheless, both are equally important. Ratzenberger started racing in 1983, in the German Formula Ford, and two years later he won both the Austrian and Central European championships. He also raced at the Formula Ford Festival, in British Formula Three, World Touring Car Championship (came second in 1987), British Touring Car Championship, Formula 3000 (finished third), Le Mans 24 Hours and in several competitions in Japan.

Roland Ratzenberger at Motorsport Tragedies

In 1994, his dream came true and he entered Formula One, joining the new Simtek team. But, unfortunately, it was this dream that killed him in the end. After failing to qualify for the first race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix, and finishing 11th at the Pacific Grand Prix in Japan, Ratzenberger died at the San Marino Grand Prix. During qualifications, he went off-track and damaged his front wing. However, he didn’t come into the pits, as he was supposed to and kept racing, because there was only spot left on the starting grid. But on the following back straight, the high downforce completely broke the damaged front wing, which was sent under the car and Ronald was unable to make the turn, crashing into the outside wall at 195.7 mph.

Even though Ayrton Senna’s death, a day later, received a lot more attention, Ratzenberg’s legacy is extremely important. First of all, the day after he died, all drivers decided to revive the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (first ones in charge were Michael Schumacher, Senna and Gerhart Berger), an organization which will be crucial for implementing future safety measures that probably saved other lives. One of these was the HANS device (Head and Neck Support), whose purpose is to protect drivers from a basilar skull fracture, the type of injury that killed Ratzenberger.

Ayrton Senna (May 1, 1994)

Perhaps the world’s most famous motorsport death is the one of three-time world champion Ayrton Senne, just one day after Ratzenberger’s. Widely considered one of the best drivers motorsport has ever seen, the Brazilian entered his first karting competition when he was 13. But what a debut it was! He won the pole position and led most of the race before being forced to retire due to a collision with another kart. Seeing potential in his son, Senna’s father, a wealthy businessman, supported him and four years later Ayrton won the South American Kart Championship. After that, he raced in the World Kart Championship for four seasons, finishing second in 1979 and 1980.

Ayrton Senna Crash at Motorsport Tragedies

Senna also competed in the Formula Ford 1600 Championship (which he won in 1981), Formula Ford 2000 (also won, after being very close to quitting motorsport in favor of family business) and British Formula Three Championship (won, after a great battle with Martin Brundle). During the 1982 season, while racing in the Formula Ford 2000, it was the first time he raced using the Ayrton Senna name. His father’s name was Silva, but Ayrton thought it would be a better idea to use his mother’s maiden name, Senna.

After testing for several teams such as Williams, Brabham, McLaren and Toleman, Senna finally entered Formula One in 1984, signing with Toleman. The season wasn’t excellent, but the Brazilian did manage to finish second at Monaco and third on two occasions, Britain and Portugal. The following three seasons he raced for Lotus and showed his potential, finishing fourth in 1985 and 1986 and third in 1987. But Senna’s true rise to success came after he signed with McLaren, starting his glory days in Formula One. He was world champion in 1988, 1990 and 1991 and runner-up in 1989 and 1993, following a spectacular rivalry with Alain Prost.

For the 1994 season, Senna joined the Williams-Renault team for an impressive salary ($1 million for each race). However, due to new regulations, the Williams car wasn’t as good as he hoped and he had the worst season start of his career, not finishing the Brazilian Grand Prix and the Pacific Grand Prix (after taking pole in both). More than that, Senna expressed concerns about driving the Williams, saying with multiple occasions that he wasn’t feeling safe at all.

And then came the San Marino Grand Prix. He won the pole on Friday (setting a new record at the time, 65 poles), but was extremely critical of the way his car handled. The same day, Rubens Barrichello had a terrible crash which forced him to retire with a broken arm. And the following day brought Ronald Ratzenberger’s death, which influenced Senna very much. He began talking to fellow drivers about doing something to improve safety in Formula One and the next day, the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association was reborn, for that purpose exactly.

However, it was too late for him, because during the seventh lap, while he was leading the race, a steering column failure sent his car into a concrete wall at 145 mph. Pieces from the car hit Senna’s helmet, some of those even breaking the helmet visor, and Senna suffered multiple skull fractures, brain injuries and ruptured temporal artery. The medical staff wasn’t able to do much and he was later pronounced dead. More impressive was that officials later found a folded Austrian flag inside Senna’s cockpit, as he wanted to dedicate the win or the podium to Ratzenberger. Senna was buried in his home town of Sao Paolo, with an estimated 3 million people attending the funeral.

Gilles Villeneuve (May 8, 1982)

The legendary Canadian driver lost his life in the final minutes of the qualifying session for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix which was taking place on the famous Zolder track. Even though he was never world champion, Gilles Villeneuve was extremely popular back then and he became a legend after his death.

Gilles Villeneuve at Motorsport Tragedies

Villeneuve first started racing in local drag events with a modified version of his own car, a 1967 Mustang. He gained his racing license after attending the Jim Russel Racing School and successfully started racing in Formula Ford (again with his own car), followed by Formula Atlantic. During this time, he also raced in several snowmobile competitions for some extra money and this, according to him, will later be extremely useful since it taught him to ride in the worst conditions and with almost zero visibility. Also, in 1971, Villeneuve’s wife gave birth to their son, Jacques, who followed on his father’s footsteps and would later become a Formula One driver and World Champion in 1997.

In 1976, Gilles Villeneuve beat James Hunt in a Formula Atlantic race and the British Formula One driver was so impressed by him that persuaded McLaren to offer him a five-race deal in the ’77 season. Even though he didn’t have any notable results, a lot of people saw great potential in Villeneuve, but not McLaren, who decided to let him go. After a short meeting with Enzo Ferrari, the Canadian joined the Italian team for the 1978 season. It was a poor season, but during which Gilles won his first race, in front of his home fans, the Canadian Grand Prix. However, the following season will be his most successful one, winning three races and finishing second in four others which brought him a second place at the end of the season, with Jody Scheckter winning the championship.

After that, Ferrari failed to create reliable cars and this also reflected in Villeneuve’s progress: 12th place in 1980 and 7th in 1981. The 1982 started just as bad, with the Canadian failing to finish any of the first three races of the season (he finished third in the third race, but was later disqualified). However, after a second place in San Marino, his hopes were high for the next race, the Belgian Grand Prix. But during the final qualifying session at Zolder, Villeneuve hit Jochen Mass’ car, became airborne at around 130 mph and was thrown out of the car while still strapped to his seat. He was rushed to the hospital but diagnosed with a fracture of the neck and kept on life support until his wife reached the hospital.

Like we said, Villeneuve was extremely popular and many things remind us of him. The racetrack in Montreal that hosts the Canadian Grand Prix is named after him, just like a corner of the Zolder and Imola tracks. Also, a Canadian flag is painted on the third slot of the starting grid, in memory of the place where he started his first race there.

Dale Earnhardt (February 18, 2001)

One of the best and most famous NASCAR drivers in history, Dale Earnhart had an impressive career that tragically ended in 2001. Born in North Carolina, Dale was the son of NASCAR driver Ralph Lee Earnhardt whose career highlights include a NASCAR Sportsman Championship title in 1956 (runner-up in 1957 and third in 1958), plus the 1967 South Carolina state championship. Despite Ralph not agreeing to his son racing, Dale inherited his father’s passion and started racing at a young age.

Dale Earnhardt at Motorsport Tragedies

His professional debut took place at the Winston Cup in 1975, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Later that season, he joined Rod Osterlund Racing where he was teammate with two other future legends, Terry Labonte and Harry Gant. At the end of that season, with one race won, four poles and many good finishes, Dale won the Rookie of the Year award.

An amazing career followed and naming every award and honor Dale Earnhardt has received would probably take us a while. He was seven times Winston Cup champion (1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994), won the International Race of Champions five times (1990, 1995, 1999 and 2000), Daytona 500 winner in 1998, Winston 500 winner in 1990, 1994, 1999 and 2000) and many more. He won a total of 76 races throughout his career and was included in the inaugural class of NASCAR Hall of Fame.

His aggressive driving style earned him the nickname “The Intimidator”, first used in 1987 after he forced Bill Elliott (his main title competitor) to spin out in the final part of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Next year, his black car and uniform also made people call him “The Man in Black” or “Darth Vader”.

Earnhardt’s last event was the 2001 Daytona 500.  He started the race in the seventh place, but he climbed up to third until the final lap, with his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr, in front, trying to beat leader Michael Waltip. But Sterling Marlin’s car touched Earnhardt’s and sent him nose-first into the outside wall at 160 mph. His car also hit Ken Schrader’s car and, with both cars stopping on the infield grass, Schrader was able to get out of the car, rushed to Earnhardt’s car and immediately started waving for paramedics. Dale was taken to the Halifax Medical Center, but nothing could be done for him. Autopsy revealed that he died from a basilar skull fracture.

His death outraged the entire world, being the first high-profile fatality in motorsport since Ayrton Senna. An unprecedented investigation started and many safety measures were implemented by NASCAR, including making the HANS device mandatory (it was optional until Earnhardt’s death and he refused to wear it because he felt it was restrictive). His son successfully continued racing and one of his most notable results include winning the Daytona 500 three years later, in 2004.

Pierre Levegh (June 11, 1955)

The Frenchman’s Le Mans crash in 1955 is widely considered the worst motorsport disaster in history, with a total death toll of 84 deaths (Levegh and 83 spectators), plus more than 100 injured.

Levegh was born Bouillin but used the Levegh name in memory of his uncle, which died a year before his birth. After successfully competing in ice hockey and tennis, Levegh started racing after World War II. He competed in Formula One’s inaugural seasons, 1950 and 1951, with the Talbot-Lago team. After starting six races, finishing only three and without scoring any points, he retired and competed in other events, including the Le Mans endurance race, starting with 1951. He raced at Le Mans four times, for Talbot, finishing fourth in 1951 and eighth in 1953 (the other two times he didn’t finish, once due to engine failure, once because he crashed).

Pierre Levegh Crash at Motorsport Tragedies

And then came the 1955 race, when Levegh decided to switch teams and raced in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. During the third hour of racing, following a maneuver by Mike Hawthorn, Lance Macklin cut in front of Levegh, on the Tribunes Straight. The Frenchman had no time to react, hit Macklin’s left rear part and became airborne, hitting the retaining wall. The impact took place at around 150 mph and was so violent that the car disintegrated and large parts flew into the crowd (the bonnet simply decapitated several spectators). Also, due to the Mercedes having a magnesium body, it burst into flames and was responsible for more injuries. Levegh was thrown out of the car when it hit the wall, but due to the high speed at which he was traveling he died of skull fractures. Formula One legend Juan Manuel Fangio, who was racing just behind Levegh, says he only escaped the crash because the French raised his hand, showing him to slow down, moments before he hit Macklin’s car. Fangio never raced at Le Mans again.

Following Levegh’s tragic crash, motorsport was banned in several countries across Europe, such as France, Germany, Spain or Switzerland and forced racing officials significantly improve driver and spectator safety during this kind of events.

Jim Clark (April 7, 1968)

We also must remember Jim Clark, one of the best drivers to ever race in Formula One. Clark was born in Scotland and raced, against his parents’ will, in his first event when he was 20 years old. Two years later he was already driving in all sorts of national events, winning 18 races. After competing against him, legendary Colin Chapman was so impressed by Clark’s skills that he offered him a spot in the Formula Junior. Clark kept confirming and in 1960 he made the big leap and joined Formula One, racing for Team Lotus, for which he’ll race his entire career.

Jim Clark Crash at Motorsport Tragedies

The first two seasons weren’t quite impressive, but after that he started one of Formula One most impressive line of results: was World Champion in 1963 and 1965, runner-up in 1962 (behind Graham Hill) and third in 1964 and 1967. He started in 75 races, won 25 and achieved 33 poles. Clark also raced in other competitions such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, NASCAR , Touring Cars (won the 1964 British Touring Car Championship) and IndyCar (won the Indy 500 in 1965 and was runner-up in 1963 and 1966).

But during the 1968 Deutschland Trophae Formula Two race which was taking place in Hockenheim, Clark lost control of the car, left the track and crashed into the side trees. The British died on his way to the hospital, being diagnosed with a broken neck and skull fracture. A later investigation revealed that a deflating rear tire was what made Clark lose control of the car. He was 32 when he died and will always be remembered as one of Formula One’s finest.

Ronnie Peterson (September 11, 1978)

The “SuperSwede”, as people called him, started racing at a young age, in karting. After quickly advancing from local competitions to the European championship, Peterson left karting and started racing in Formula Three with a car designed by him and his father based on a Brabham car. He was soon noticed by Italian constructor Tecno for which he signed in 1968. A year later he won the Formula Three Championship and in 1970 made the big leap to Formula One. But even though he started competing in Formula One, Peterson still raced in lower Formulae, winning the Formula Two Championship in 1971.

Ronnie Peterson Crash at Motorsport Tragedies

The Swede started his Formula One career with Antique Automobiles Racing Team and his debut was not bad at all, a seventh place at the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix. However, since the team only had limited resourced, that was the best result of the season. But things changed the following season, when Peterson joined March and, with a total of five second places, he was runner-up at the end of the season, behind World Champion Jackie Stewart. He kept racing with March for another season, after which he switched to Team Lotus, March again, Tyrell and his final season was with Team Lotus again. During this time, he won 10 races (the first one being the 1973 Austrian Grand Prix), 14 poles, 26 podiums and set the fastest laps 9 times.

His final race was the 1978 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. That weekend, he had a crash that seriously damaged his Lotus 79 (he had to race in the spare one) and also caused him some bruises on his legs. Despite the crash, Peterson qualified fifth, but things would get worse during the race. Because the race officials made a huge mistake and signaled the race start before all cars were in place. In the confusion created, a maneuver by Ricardo Patrese caused James Hunt to steer left and hit Peterson’s car.  A major pile-up followed, with nine cars involved, including Hunt, Peterson, Carlos Reutemann or Clay Regazzoni. Petereson’s car hit the barriers and caught fire, but the other drivers quickly intervened and pulled him out of the burning wreck. Even though he had severe leg injuries (James Hunt said he tried to force Peterson not to look at his legs) after they pulled him out of the car, everyone’s attention was turned to Vittorio Brambilla, who was also involved in the melee and was left unconscious after being hit in the head by one of the flying wheels.

Peterson was taken to a hospital in Milan where he underwent several surgeries to fix the severe fractures in both legs. However, following the surgery, Peterson developed fat embolism that lead to renal failure and died the following morning. Even though there were still two races remaining, Peterson finished the 1978 second, matching his best performance from 1971. The championship was won by Mario Andretti but, of course, everyone wonders what would’ve happened if Peterson’s fate would have different. He was 34 and left behind a wife, which committed suicide in 1987, and a daughter, born in 1975.

Richard Sainct (September 29, 2004)

Rally raids have always been known as one of the most dangerous branches of motorsport, especially motorcycle ones. The tough conditions drivers have to face claimed many lives in the past decades and the best known is probably Richard Sainct.

The Frenchman will always be remembered for winning the Paris-Dakar rally, probably the most famous rally raid competition in the world, three times, in 1999, 2000 and 2003. He also won the FIA Rally Raid World Cup (2002), the Moroccan Rally four times (1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002), Tunisia Rally two times (1998, 1999) and the Pharaohs Rally (Egypt) in 2002.

Richard Sainct at Motorsport Tragedies

His life tragically ended on September 29, 2004 when racing in the Pharaohs Rally. He crashed during the fourth stage and since no one was around (he was discovered later by fellow competitors), medical assistance arrived too late for him. The 34-year old driver was pronounced dead and his team, KTM, announced their retirement from that year’s edition of the rally, as a sign of respect to Sainct.

Fabrizio Meoni (January 11, 2005)

Like we said, rally raid’s history is extremely violent and deaths or serious injuries are quite common. Besides Sainct, another rally raid iconic driver, Fabrizio Meoni, has died recently. Even though he successfully raced in many competitions, he is best known for winning the Dakar Rally twice, in 2001 and 2002.

Fabrizio Meoni at Motorsport Tragedies

On January 11, 2005, during the eleventh stage of the famous rally, he crashed and died before medical assistance arrived. Meoni was the second Dakkar driver to die that year, just one day after Spain’s Jose Manuel Perez. Out of respect for the Italian, the 12th motorcycle stage was cancelled. He was 47 years old and left a wife and two children behind.

Henry Surtees (July 19, 2009)

The British driver had a tough task living up to his father’s name, the famous John Surtees, the only man in history to win World Championships on both two and four wheels (he was 500cc World Champion in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960 and won the Formula One Championship in 1964).

Henry started his professional career in the Formula BMW UK, where he finished seventh in his first season. He then switched to Formula Renault before competing in Formula Three in the 2008 season. Actually, he only competed in two races in the 2008 Formula Three season, winning one and finishing second in the other. In the 2009 season, Surtees joined the recently revived Formula Two championship.

Henry Surtees Crash at Motorsport Tragedies

On July 19, 2009, during a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch, Surtees’ career suddenly came to a tragic end. On the eighth lap, Jack Clarke lost control of his car and spun into the outside wall. Following the impact, one of his car’s wheels flew onto the track and bounced right on Surtees’ head. Most probably he fell unconscious and drove right into the barriers. Surtees was taken to the Royal London Hospital, but pronounced dead later that day putting an end to what could’ve been a promising career (he was just 19 years old).

Greg Moore (October 31, 1999)

The Canadian was one of the most talented drivers to race in the Indy Lights and CART championships in the 1990s. He was born in British Columbia and started racing in karting competitions, winning his first North American Enduro Kart Championship in 1989, when he was just 14. He won the title again next year and moved up to Formula Ford in 1991. He finished his debut season fourth and was named Rookie of the Year. The following season, Moore won four races and four poles, becoming USAC Formula 2000 West Champion and, again, Rookie of the Year.

Greg Moore Crash at Motorsport Tragedies

In 1993, he made his debut in Indy Lights and finished the season ninth, with his best result being a third place in Portland. In 1994 he won his first Indy Lights race, the Phoenix season-opener, also becoming the youngest driver ever to win a CART event. He finished the season third, which was impressive for an underfunded team like his.

But in 1995 he signed with Player’s Forsythe racing and won the championship, also setting a new record with 10 out of 12 wins (five of which were consecutive). In 1996, he moved up to the CART series, with the same Player’s Forsythe team, finishing his first season ninth. He won his first race in 1997, in Milwakee, and kept racing in CART, with his best season result being a fifth place in 1998.

In 1999, Moore started the season extremely well, leading the championship after the first few races, but lost that lead soon due to his uncompetitive engine. He had already signed a contract with a new team, the powerful Penske Racing, but never got to race with them because October 31, 1999 came. Before the final race of the season in Fontana, California, Moore injured his right hand in a minor accident in the paddock, but was allowed to race with a special hand brace. However, on lap nine of the race, Moore lost control of the car which spun into the grass infield and was thrown in the air at 200 mph after hitting an access road. It then violently crashed into a concrete wall, then rolled several times and disintegrated on the grass infield. Moore was rushed to the Loma Linda University Medical Center but pronounced dead due to head and internal injuries. He was just 24.

Following his death, the Auto Club Speedway track was immediately modified to improve safety, with the backstretch infield being paved. Also, a head and neck restraint system such as the HANS device would later be mandated, even though, given the extreme impact of Moore’s car, many agree this would have not saved his life.

Dan Wheldon (October 16, 2011)

The English driver was one of the most talented ones in motorsport after 2000 and his career is extremely successful. Wheldon started racing in karting when he was just 4. In his early 20s’, he moved to the United States to race and, after competing in the US F2000 National Championship (1999, he won), Toyota Atlantic Championship (2000, came second) and Indy Lights (2001, again second), Wheldon moved up to IndyCar in 2002. Even though his first season wasn’t the greatest, he kept improving and after being runner-up in 2004, he won the championship in 2005, while driving for Andretti Green Racing. The following year he tied to the first place with Sam Hornish Jr., but lost the title because Hornish won more races.

Dan Wheldon Crash at Motorsport Tragedies

Other highlights of Dan Wheldon’s career include winning the Indianapolis 500 two times, in 2005 and 2011 and the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2006. In that year, 2006, BMW Sauber offered Wheldon a place in their Formula One team, but he refused because they wouldn’t guarantee him a regular drive.

On October 16, 2011, Wheldon was racing in the IZOD IndyCar championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when, during the eleventh lap, he was involved in a massive crash (15 cars involved). Wheldon was unable to avoid one of the cars in front of him, hit it at full speed, became airborne, flew for more than 300 feet and violently hit the catch fence. He was immediately transferred to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada but was pronounced dead on arrival due serious trauma to the head. He was 33 years old. Among other tributes to him, the Australian V8 Supercars Gold Coast 600 trophy for the best performing international driver was named after Dan Wheldon.

Daijiro Kato (April 20, 2003)

The Japanese motorcycle racer started his career at an early age, competing in miniature bikes competition in his home country and he was extremely successful, winning the national championship four times.

He then moved up to road racing and in 1996 made his Grand Prix debut in the 250cc class at Suzuka, in Japan, placing third. He continued racing in the Japanese Championship and in 1997, 1998 and 1998 raced in only one 250cc Grand Prix race per season, the Suzuka one, winning twice and finishing fifth in 1999. His first full season was 2000, when he finished third at the end of the season (winning four races). In 2001 he won the 250cc class and a year later made his debut in the top class, MotoGP. After a season dominated by Valentino Rossi, who was reigning world champion, Kato finished seventh, with his best results being two second places (Jerez and Brno).

Daijiro Kato at Motorsport Tragedies

During the first race of the 2003 season, in front of his home fans at Suzuka, Kato lost control of his bike, left the track and violently hit a barrier. According to the investigation, the speed at which Kato was traveling when he hit the wall was about 125 mph. He was left with irreversible injuries to the head and died after being in a coma for two weeks. As a result of his death, the Japanese Grand Prix was moved from Suzuka to Motegi for safety reasons. Also, his team mate, Sete Gibernau, who went on and won that race, has worn Kato’s #74 number on his racesuit ever since.

Marco Simoncelli (October 23, 2011)

One of the most recent motorsport deaths was that of Italian motorcycle racer Marco Simoncelli. The Italian started racing when he was seven and two years later he was already competing in the Italian Minimoto Competition, which he won in 1999 and 2000. He was also runner-up in the 2000 European Minimoto Championship, in 2001 won the Rookie of the Year title in the 125cc championship and in 2002 started competing in the European 125cc Championship.

Marco Simoncelli 600x398 at Motorsport Tragedies

He started his Grand Prix career in 2002, in the 125cc class, with best performance being a fifth place in the 2005 season. He moved up to the 250cc class, which he won in 2008 and ranked third in 2009, before advancing to the queen class, MotoGP.

He finished his first MotoGP season eigth and during the second he was sixth (after winning his first MotoGP race, the 2011 Czech Grand Prix) with just two races left of the season. But on October 23, 2011, he lost control of the bike at the Malaysian Grand Prix, fell on the track and was hit by two other racers, Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards. The American’s bike hit Simoncelli in the lower body (Edwards was also thrown off his bike) and Rossi’s in the head, causing Simoncelli to lose the helmet. This was, according to experts, what caused the injuries that led to Marco’s death, an hour later. Simoncelli was 24.

The list could probably go on, because there are still other talented racers that lost their lives doing what they liked most. Patrick Depailler, Jochen Rindt, Francois Cevert, Allan Simonsen, Shoya Tomizawa, Andy Caldecott, Alberto Ascari, Henri Toivonen, Craig Jones or Wolfgang von Trips. These are just a few of those whose life was claimed by motorsport. But just like the ones mentioned in our article, they will always be in our memory. Also, it’s extremely important to remember that their lives weren’t lost in vain, with many safety improvements being made after each fatal crash. And we have no idea how many lives were possibly saved. May all of them rest in peace and let’s hope that Heaven has a racing track for them.

(Journalist) – Vlad Balan is an automotive journalist from Eastern Europe and he has been blogging about cars, reporting from auto shows, taking interviews or test driving cars since 2007.