Tragedy Strikes Off-Road Race Fans
Eight spectators were crushed to death and 12 others suffered major injuries when the driver of an off-road racing truck lost control of his vehicle after flying over a high-speed jump on Saturday, Aug. 14. The truck landed in a crowd of spectators who had lined up less than 10 feet from the track, police said. Some died instantly.
The crash occurred less than two-miles and 12 minutes into the start of the California 200, a major off-road race that attracts tens of thousands of off-road racing enthusiasts toe the Soggy Dry Lake area of San Bernardino County. There were no guard rails or protection for the spectators who lined the course.
The event is part of the Southern California Off-Road Racing Series sponsored by Mojave Desert Racing. A field of 88 trucks had entered the event.
Recent U.S. Auto Racing Spectator Deaths
The Indy Racing League and the Championship Auto Racing Teams organizations, which sponsor races at tracks across the country, suffered terrible tragedies involving racing fan deaths at their events in the 1990s. During the running of the Championship Auto Racing Teams U.S. 500 on July 26, 1998 at Michigan International Raceway, three spectators were killed when a tire and car parts were hurled into the grandstands following an accident. Less than a year later, three fans were killed during the IRL VisionAire 500 on May 1, 1999, at Concord, N.C. They were killed by debris that flew into the stands following a crash involving John Paul Jr., Stan Wattles and Scott Harrington.
Tragedy at Lemans
Both those events or overshadowed by the horrific tragedy that occurred during the running of the 24 Hours of Lemans sports car race on June 11, 1955. In that race, more than 80 people were killed and driver Pierre Levegh fatally injured when he lost control of his Mercedes Benz 300 SLR and drove into an embankment. The car exploded and scattered flaming parts down the pit wall where spectators were sitting. Mercedes left the sport for nearly 50 years following the accident.
Indy 500 Deaths
Death has come to spectators during the Memorial Day running of the Indianapolis 500 in Speedway, Indiana. Lyle Kurtenbach, a 42-year-old from Rothschild, Wis., was the 10th and last spectator to be killed during the race when he was hit by a tired that came off of a car driven by Tony Bettenhausen on May 24, 1987. The tire was struck by a car driven by Roberto Guerrero and launched into the air. Ironically, Kurtenbach was standing in the top row of the grandstands and the tire would have missed him if it flew a few feet further.
Mile Miglia: Race of Horror
The Mile Miglia, Italy’s famed 1,000-mile automotive adventure, was dangerous from its beginnings. On May 12, 1957 driver Alfonso de Portago and his co-driver along with 10 race fans were killed, including five children. The accident occurred when a tire on de Portago’s car exploded while he was traveling in excess of 150 mph. As a result, the car veered off the road and into the crowd that was lining the highway. The event was never held again.
Formula 1 Racing Deaths
Driver Wolfgang von Trips and 14 spectators were killed on Sept. 10, 1961 during the running of the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. They died following an accident in which von Trips’ car collided with another and went into the crowd. Four fans were killed in April 27, 1975 during the Spanish Grand Prix held on a street course in Barcelona.
Rally Racing Spectator Deaths
Fans who line the side of the roads used in Rally Racing have created the scenarios ripe for tragedy over the years. Rally Racing involves street-legal cars racing on narrow forest public roads. In the 1996 Rally of Portugal, driver Joaquim Santos lost control of his RS200 and crashed into a wall of spectators. Three died and more than 30 were injured. Horrific videos of the event filled the nighttime news networks around world. , has been the scene of numerous tragedies over the years. More than 35 spectators were injured during the 1996 running of the Rally of the Thousand Lakes in Finland.
Sources: Press Enterprise, St. Petersburg Times