Driver safety advances more with each new season, but it’s not always enough. It seems sometimes you need a little help from the Almighty. Here’s ten extremely close calls that will leave you wondering how in heaven and on earth the drivers survived.
NHRA, Memphis, 2000: Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel dragster had reached 320 mph by the time his wing flew off and the rear tires left the ground, directing the car through the wall and into oblivion. Tony survived with a broken leg and raced again a few weeks later. Had the wing malfunctioned any later, his cockpit pod likely would have wrapped itself around the pictured tree.
Rallye Lyon Charbonnieres, France, 2009: Speaking of wrapping and trees, Damien Daumas and his co-driver Christophe Joussaud buckled themselves around this unassuming pine when their Peugeot 207 swung too wide around a blind corner. You don’t have to speak French to hear the doubt in the fans voices that either pilot survived. Thankfully, Daumas only broke his pelvis, elbow, and legs; and Jaussaud cracked his pelvis, as well. Roll cages aren’t just for rolling.
NASCAR, Bristol Motor Speedway, 2002: Mike Harmon’s initial crash during practice was bad enough, his stock racer smashing into the wall at such an angle to make it twist in half. As it ground back into the curve, Johnny Sauter slammed into the car’s rear end, barely missing Harmon, now exposed like a sardine in an open can. Harmon climbed out of his mangled Chevy and walked away.
NHRA Summer Nationals, Englishtown, NJ, 1990: Here again, the first crash into the wall wasn’t the dangerous part. Johnny West ran into real trouble when the initial impact knocked him unconscious- with his foot on the throttle. West’s car ground its way down the strip against the guard rail until it smashed, head-on, into the barrier at the end. Likely since he was unconscious at the time, he had only suffered minor injuries. No one can blame him for retiring immediately afterward.
24 Hours of LeMans, France, 1999: Unsurprisingly, Mercedes used to build airplane engines. Peter Dumbreck’s CLR seemed to be a little jealous of its forbears when it treated the Cirque du Sarthe as a runway, peeling Dumbreck from the tarmac and sending him flipping backward through the forest just past the Mulsanne. Remarkably, the car dodged the pines at 186 mph and Dumbreck was uninjured.
American Sprint Car Series, Williams Grove, PA, 2006: Try to count the rolls Ned Powers’ Mopar 410 Sprint Car goes through as it crashes spectacularly. And just because this is a dirt track doesn’t mean it’s soft. The wreck sent debris into the stands, an alxe almost hitting a pair of spectators, but no one was injured, even Powers.
24 Hours of LeMans, France, 2011: Safety at LeMans is always a concern, since the prototypes can reach around 240 mph along the Mulsanne, the circuit’s back strait. Some of that responsibility is up to the track, and the rest is up to the cars. Thankfully, Audi designed Allan McNish’s R18 TDI to crash as safely as it drives fast. And thankfully, that tire wall was secured. No one was seriously injured, so yes, it’s okay to laugh at the severed wheel chasing that hapless cameraman.
NASCAR, Daytona, 2000: Geoffrey Bodine was already airborne when his truck churned into the catch fence, sparking and igniting his fuel. Then it was out of the fire and into the frying pan as he crunched back to the track and was promptly hit by two other trucks, bouncing like a ski-ball. Five spectators saw minor injuries, and Bodine suffered at least five broken bones, but was stable and awake when they took him away.
F1, German Grand Prix, Nurbergring, 1976: It seems cruel irony that Austrian driver Niki Lauda had spent the week preceding the race campaigning for better safety measures at the ‘Ring, because it was his Ferrari that slammed into a wall, burst into flames, and spun back into Brett Lunger’s path. Lunger and other drivers Guy Edwards and Arturo Merzario leapt from their cars and dragged Lauda from the wreckage. Lauda was severely burned and fell into a coma from smoke inhalation. Six weeks later, he was back in a Ferrari and finished the season.
Top Gear, Elvington, England, 2006: Of the three hosts of the BBC’s Top Gear, the most popular car show in the world, Richard Hammond is known for trying things the other two won’t. He’s always been a thrill seeker, so it was he who strapped himself into a 10,000 hp jet dragster to film a Top Gear segment. But all Hammond’s courage did nothing to stop the car’s tire from shredding, sending the machine from the strip and Hammond’s head into the dirt at about 230 mph. He suffered some brain damage, resulting in memory loss and even depression, but was able to return to Top Gear for the next series.
Bonus! This wasn’t terribly life threatening, so perhaps it won’t help you believe in angels, but it might have been trolls kicking these poor guys down this hill in Bohemia.