The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a much, much faster and much, much safer race today than it was back when it created the reputations of legends. In fact, the 1955 running was the single deadliest event in motorsports history. In a debacle near the pit straight that involved a backmarker, a swerving Jaguar braking for the pits, and two speeding Mercedes-Benz racers, it was Pierre Levegh's car that was launched into the crowd. It disintegrated as it flew on to catch fire, killing the driver and 77 onlookers, as well as injuring another 120.
Since then, the issue of safer racing was put on the boil, with Levegh's own co-driver for the 1955 race, John Fitch, inventing the Fitch Barrier. Fast forward 55 years and there hasn't been a fatality at Le Mans since 1997, when Sebastian Enjolras died during practice. There have been no racing deaths at Le Mans since 1986, even though three Mercedes sports cars flipped at high speed in one weekend in 1999.
A BBC documentary called "Deadliest Crash" takes a look at the accident that helped bring about new rules and new safety. Thankfully, it's an event we can still leave in the long ago past – every driver in this past weekend's race made it to the finish unscathed. Can't say the same about a bunch of the cars, though. Follow the jump for a teaser vid of "Deadliest Crash," complete with truly unnerving period footage.
[Sources: AOL Autos, BBC]