British Pathé Film of the 1955 LeMans Disaster

Perhaps no other event shaped the future of motorsport more than the 1955 LeMans crash that caused more than 80 spectator fatalities. Among other things, motor racing was banned in Switzerland as a result of this crash until 2007. Mercedes pulled out of the race and didn’t enter a factory-sponsored team in any race until the 80’s. Certainly track design was forever changed.

It’s not just snow-fencing, hay bales, and sitting on the curb while sportscars fly by anymore. I once paused momentarily while descending the stairs at the Michigan International Speedway during a race just to experience the sensation as a car wooshed past at 200mph only feet away. It was thrilling then, even with that handful of feet, a concrete wall, and high fencing between us. I can only imagine what it must have been like without those physical barriers there—I occasionally wish for it. But looking back at LeMans ’55 is a good reminder of why it simply cannot be. Even in today’s tracks with their 20 foot crash fences, endless runoff, and limited view for spectators, there is still an element of risk just sitting in the stands at the track.