Indy 500 Accidents
The Indianapolis 500 is one of the biggest racing events each year. More than 257,000 people can fill the seats outside of the 2.5-mile oval, while another 130,000 can be along the infield, making for a capacity of roughly 400,000 possible each year. There’s a reason why this even is labeled The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
One of the biggest reasons is all of the crashes that can occur each year. When you have 33 IndyCars averaging speeds of 150 miles per hour, there is a lot that can go wrong. I’m going to cover some of the accidents that have happened in this race throughout the years. Safety wasn’t as big of an issue 50-100 years ago as it is today, which you’ll be able to tell by some of the facts that I post.
There have been 15 drivers that have died while racing in the Indy 500 dating back to 1919. Eleven races involved accidents that that claimed at least one life of a driver. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened since 1973 when Swede Savage ran over a patch of oil that caused him to hit the inside wall in turn four, which shot him back to the outside wall where he crashed once again.
Swede left the track conscious, but he would die 33 days laster in the hospital. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Swede’s crew member, Armando Teran, was killed when a fire truck racing to save Savage hit him. Also, Salt Walther crashed in the front straightaway early in the race and was severely burned.
The 1919 Indy 500 claimed two lives in Louis LeCocq and Arthur Thurman, who’s car turned over on lap forty-four, which killed him instantly. LeCocq was turned over on lap ninety-six, which caused the fuel tank to rupture and burst into flames.
The next death occurred in 1929 when Bill Spence turned over in turn two on lap ten, throwing him from the car. He died en route to the hospital from a fractured skill. Four years later, both Mark Billman and Lester Sprangler died in 1933.
In 1935, Clay Weatherly was driving the same car that Johnny Hannon had fatally crashed in ten days earlier during testing. Weatherly went flying into and over the wall in turn four and was already pronounced dead when rescue crews arrived.
Floyd Roberts was the next driver at the Indy 500 to die in 1939, followed by Shorty Cantlon in 1947. In 1953, Carl Scarborough became the first drive to be killed from heat exhaustion. Some believe that Scarborough may have inhaled CO2 while crews were putting out a flames from the car with a fire extinguisher, which could have been the actual cause of death.
One of the most sad accidents happened in 1955 when Bill Vukovich entered that year’s edition of the Indy 500 as the two-time reigning champion. Vukovich was leading the race when Rodger Ward spun his car coming out of turn two. His car wound up hitting and going over the outer wall, sending it into a high-speed cartwheel outside the track. He would die of a basilar skull fracture before help could reach him.
The final three deaths proceeding Savage’s were in 1958 with Pat O’Connor, and 1964 with both Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonlad. Coming out of turn four, MacDonald spun and crashed into the inside wall. The car was knocked back onto the track and into the path of oncoming traffic. Sachs hit MacDonald’s car head-on, and he was killed instantly. MacDonald was pronounced dead shortly after in the infield hospital.
While the drivers have been the focus of this article, there have been many other deaths during testing, practice and qualifying. In fact, 24 people have died in these three events with the last coming in 2003 in Tony Renna. Also, there have been riding mechanics, track personnel, and spectators killed at the track.
While this is certainly a sad article, there has been some good to come out of all of this. The Indy 500 has taken all of the necessary precautions to make sure that these fatal accidents are no longer a regular occurrence. That’s evident by the fact that a driver has not died in the actual race since 1973. It makes it a much more enjoyable race to watch when the chances of these fatalities are slim-to-none.