Racing is a dangerous, dangerous game.
The competitors who pilot these high-horsepower machines are well aware of the risk, and are often fueled by the adrenaline rush that comes with it.
Racers and fans alike were reminded of that risk this past weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, California, when riders Bernat Martinez and Daniel Rivas Fernandez were killed in a first-lap crash during the MotoAmerica Superbike/Superstock 1000 race. Four others suffered minor injuries in the accident.
The series competed just a few weeks before at Miller Motorsports Park without major incident.
This risk exists in all levels of motorsports, whether it’s a Saturday night at the local dirt track or on racing’s biggest stages. Fifty-six drivers have been killed in racing accidents at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, more than any other track in the world. Twenty-four more, including NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, were killed in crashes at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR suffered a number of fatal incidents throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Grant Adcox, Clifford Allison, Neil Bonnett, Rick Baldwin, J.D. McDuffie, Earnhardt, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin were among some of the notable drivers who lost their lives in racing accidents.
IndyCar drivers Scott Brayton, Jeff Krosnoff, Greg Moore and most recently Dan Wheldon also were killed in crashes, as was Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna.
It is often said that these competitors were killed doing what they loved. I’m not going to go there. I will say that they all knew the risk of what they were doing as they got in their race car or on their motorcycle. In fact, they probably thrived on the adrenaline rush of knowing the risk they were taking.
But it is still something that makes you take pause as you sit down to watch one of these events. While numerous safety innovations have taken place in recent years — NASCAR hasn’t had a competitor die in a Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup event since Earnhardt’s last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500 — the risk is still ever-present.
Perhaps it’s part of why we watch. Perhaps the entertainment value comes from watching man (or woman) maneuver their machine on the brink of disaster turn after turn, lap after lap.
Perhaps it’s the element of danger that keeps competitors and spectators alike coming back, lap after lap, race after race, year after year.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He once got stuck in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for three hours following a NASCAR race, setting no speed records along the way. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.