June 11th 1955
The worst Motorsports accident ever happened 66 years ago today, the 1955 Le Mans Disaster. 1955 was the most tragic year in the history of auto racing. Le Mans is the greatest racing event every year and the excitement was growing. In the 50s Mercedes Benz dominated on the track, it really didn’t matter who was going to win as long as it wasn’t Mercedes. Jaguar won Lemans in 1953, the following year it was Ferrari, but Mercedes had been working on a secret weapon. The Mercedes 300SLR! The Germans already won the Mille Miglia in Italy, Jaguar refused to let them win Le Mans as well. This year Mercedes had drivers Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio, John Fitch, and the incredible 49 year old Pierre Levegh who single-handedly raced in the 1952 Le Mans for 23 straight hours without swapping drivers. Jaguar had drivers Ivor Bueb, Tony Rolt, Mike Hawthorn, and Duncan Hamilton. Jaguar‘s car this year was the famous Jaguar D-Type. Mike Hawthorn got a kidney infection in 1955 which caused him to have frequent blackouts. The race officially started and all teams were off to a running start, but only 2 hours into the race tragedy struck. Right near pit lane towards the end of lap 35 driver Mike Hawthorn, who was leading the race, slammed on his brakes for no reason and that lead to a series of events which lead to the horrific crash. Lance Macklin, driving an Austin Healey, hit his brakes causing him to lose control which resulted into the little Austin Healey colliding into Levegh’s Mercedes 300SLR with such force that the SLR immediately went Airborne and directly into the unprotected grandstands. The hood and front axle flew into the crowd killing and even decapitating the frightened people in the stands. The 300SLR‘s body was made of magnesium therefore it quickly caught fire killing over 80 people including driver Pierre Levegh who was catapulted from the car. Sadly the race continued. Mercedes asked Jaguar to quit the race, but their manager refused. Despite causing the worst racing accident in the history of motorsports, Hawthorn continued driving. Mercedes quit the race out of respect for Levegh and all the casualties, even though Mercedes Benz could’ve won. The worst part was, Mike Hawthorn won the race. The only thing Jaguar did to respect the victims was just to throw less of a celebration. Over 80 people were killed in the crash and over 180 were injured. It was a very, very dark day.
Mike Hawthorn went on to win in Formula 1 in the race when driver Luigi Musso was killed. In 1958 Mike Hawthorn was killed when his Jaguar sedan hit a Mercedes 300SL, some might call that karma. Somehow Hawthorn is hugely celebrated in the UK.
You can watch real footage from the accident, but it is pretty horrifying so I am not going to put it in here. And I am going to show very few pictures.
It you want to watch the real footage you can probably find it on YouTube or something.
Thanks for reading. Be safe.
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