Motor racing has never been 100% safe. There’s always risk involved when you’re going at such high speeds and pushing the limit. While racing is safer than it’s ever been, not all tracks are created equal and there is always the chance something terrible may happen. But which tracks is that more likely? Here are the 10 deadliest racetracks in the world.
For those who need it to be told plainly, there will be discussions pertaining to death and injury so consider this your trigger warning.
10. Carrera Panamericana, Mexico – 27 Fatalities
The Carrera Panamericana was a Mexican border-to-border rally racing event similar to the Mille Miglia in Italy though it was so dangerous in only ran from 1950 to 1954 having been cancelled by the Mexican government after the 1955 Le Mans disaster.
Despite its short life, 27 drivers were killed handing the circuit one of the highest mortality rates in the history of motorsports. Only a third of the entrants would typically finish the race and when crashes did happen, it could take several hours before anyone noticed. If you’re car ended up falling 190m (630 feet) into a ravine, like Jose Estrada and Miguel Gonzalez did in 1951, there was no one to pull them from the wreck. In one incident that same year, competitor Ricardo Ramirez, drove the crash victims to the hospital rather than finish the race.
It may be at the bottom of this list, but if it were allowed to continue as long as something like the Mille Miglia, many more drivers would have lost their lives.
9. Daytona International Speedway, USA – 41 Fatalities
Since the Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, there have been 41 on-track fatalities. These include 24 car drivers, 12 motorcyclists, three go-kart drivers, one powerboat racer, and one track worker.
The most notable incident involved Dale Earnhardt in 2001 who made contact with another car going into turn four on the last lap of the Daytona 500. The contact caused Earnhardt to slide towards the apron before shooting up the banking. His car was his passenger side by an oncoming car sending both of them into the wall. Earnhardt died instantly.
Why is the track so dangerous? High banking, long straightaways, and high speeds. The banking was implemented specifically so that cars could go faster around the circuit with the start/finish straight banked at 18 degrees while the corners are banked at 31 degrees.
8. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium – 53 Fatalities
Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most iconic tracks in all of motor racing, but the high-speed circuit has claimed the lives of 49 drivers and four marshals. The most recent was in July, 2023 when Dilano van‘t Hoff got caught up in a multi-car crash in a Formula Regional European Championship race in the heavy rain at the exit of Raidillon, just before the Kemmel straight.
The track used to be far more dangerous. In 1960, two British drivers, Chris Barstow and Alan Stacey were killed in Burnenville corner while Stirling Moss broke both his legs and several ribs the day before on the same corner. These incidents prompted changes to the track and that has continued to this day to the point that the track barely resembles its historical layout today.
7. Mille Miglia, Italy – 56 Fatalities
The Mille Miglia was known for danger. In its 30-year run, 56 people died including 24 drivers/codrivers and 32 spectators. Most of the fatal accidents at this circuit almost always involved spectators. The most notorious part of the circuit was the 200 miles between Brescia and Ravenna, where more than half of the fatalities occurred.
35 of these fatalities occurred between 1948 and 1957, an average of nearly four per race.
The 1957 race was the last and most deadly. The first crash involved the Ferrari 335 S of Alfonso de Portago and co-driver, Edmund Nelson. 11 people were killed in the village of Guidzzolo including both drivers and five children. A second crash that race took the life of Joseph Gottgens at Florence in the heavy rain.
They did try the race from 1958 to 1961 by limiting the drivers to legal speeds, but this didn’t last.
6. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, USA – 74 Fatalities
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909 and is the third oldest permanent automobile track and the highest capacity sports venue in the world. As we’ve seen though, with history comes tragedy, though thankfully there hasn’t been a fatality at the circuit in 14 years.
42 drivers, one motorcyclist, 13 riding mechanics, and 18 others including pit crew and spectators have died at the track.
The most recent incident occurred in 2010 when 13-year-old, Peter Lenz, fell from his motorcycle and was accidentally run over by 12-year-old, Xavier Zayat, during the warmup lap of a motorcycling event. He succumbed to his injuries in Methodist Hospital. It was the first death at the circuit since 2004.
The strangest incident occurred in 1991 when Stephen White broke into the track and started doing laps in his GMC pickup truck. The foreman of the track parked a Dodge Caravan minivan on the track near the start-finish line in an attempt to stop White. White struck the van at 140km/h (90mph), launching the truck into the air and travelling about 46m (150 feet) before landing.
5. The Dakar Rally – 79 Fatalities
Okay, this one isn’t really a track per se, but it is still one of the most extreme, and deadly, racing events in the world. Since its inception in 1979, 79 people are known to have died. 24 motorcyclists, six car drivers, one truck driver, died in accidents, while two drivers died as a result of a local rebel conflict.
46 deaths were non-competitors, including the race’s founder, Thierry Sabine, 14 news journalists, 23 spectators, and four children.
Things got so bad that the Vatican Paper described the rally as “the bloody race of irresponsibility.” The worst part? Dakar organisers have never officially reported or recorded African and Laten American spectator deaths so this number could be even higher.
The most recent incident occurred very recently on the 15th January, 2024 when Carles Falcon crashed on his motorcycle in Saudi Arabia. He suffered severe injuries and died eight days later.
The most recent spectator fatality occurred in January 2023, when 69-year-old Italian photographer, Livio Sassinotti, was struck by a truck driver while he was taking photos behind a sand dune. He was evacuated via helicopter but died before reaching the hospital.
4. Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy – 88 Fatalities
Since Monza, the “Temple of Speed,” was opened in 1922, 52 drivers, 35 spectators, and one marshal have been killed. Thankfully, no one has died at the track in 24 years, but over the course of its 100+ year history there have been numerous accidents.
There are two major incidents. The first occurred in 1928 when Emilio Materassi lost control of his Talbot 700 trying to make an overtake on the main straight at over 200km/h. Materassi swerved and jumped a three-meter deep and four-meter-wide ditch and fence to crash into the grandstand. Materassi was instantly killed along with 20 spectators, two spectators later died in hospital three days later. As a result, the Italian Grand Prix was cancelled in both 1929 and 1930.
The second occurred in 1961 when Wolfgang von Trips collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus approaching what is now Curva Alboreto. His car went airborne and crashed into a side barrier, throwing von Trips from the car and killing 15 spectators.
3. Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France – 105 Fatalities
Since 1923, 22 drivers have lost their lives at the iconic circuit of the 24-Hours of Le Mans. Compared to some other entries on this list, the number of driver fatalities is fairly low, though Le Mans is the scene of one of the darkest scenes in motorsport history.
In 1955, French driver, Pierre Levegh, struck an earth bank, flipping his car into spectators. The incident claimed the lives of 83 spectators, including Levegh, with over 120 injured. This led to an immediate temporary ban on motorsports in France, Spain, Switzerland, West Germany, and several other nations until racetracks were brought to a higher safety standard. This ban is still in effect in Switzerland.
The most recent incident was in 2023, when Allan Simonsen spun off the kerbs and into the Armco barrier at the exit of Tertre Rouge 10 minutes into the race. The force of the impact caused part of the roof to be crushed. He was transferred to the circuit’s medical centre but succumbed to his injuries.
2. Nürburgring, Germany – 180 Fatalities (estimated)
There’s a reason that Jackie Stewart called the Nürburgring the “Green Hell.” 76 competitors have been killed as well as three race officials and one spectator for a total of 80 fatalities though that doesn’t include the fatalities from public sessions.
There is no official number for the motorists that have died during touriststenfahrten sessions, or public sessions. It has been estimated that the number is at least 100 fatalities, though that is expected to be higher. One of the most recent incidents occurred in 2021 when a Mazda MX-5 crashed into a recovery truck.
The most recent fatality occurred in August 2023 during a private tyre test for Goodyear killed 39-year-old driver Christian Franck and an unnamed German tyre engineer.
1. Isle of Mann TT, United Kingdom – 286 Fatalities
The most dangerous track in the world is the Isle of Mann TT Mountain Course and it isn’t even close. Since its inaugural race in 1907, the track has claimed the lives of 286 people including 16 non-competitors. It’s so deadly that there have only been two years in its 117 history without any fatalities, 1937 and 1982.
The deadliest year was in 2005 where 11 people died. During the June race, three riders and one marshal died, while six riders and one spectator died during the Manx Grand Prix in August/September.