IIn June 1946, scarcely a year after hostilities had ended in Europe, the tiny Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud hosted a grand prix. The cars ran on cobblestone roads through town, mostly out of necessity; gas was still rationed, so spectators would have been hard-pressed to drive to a track. One of the fastest cars, an Alfa Romeo Tipo 158, had survived the war hidden in a cheese factory while its driver, Jean-Pierre Wimille, was fighting in the French Resistance.
Motorsports is full of incredible stories like this. This is why this article is dedicated to looking back at 5 historic motorsports moments.
JAGUAR WINS LE MANS | 1953
Racing was once the crucible where automotive innovations were validated. The sport’s ability to improve the automobile was rarely clearer than the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1953. The fastest car, at least in a straight line, was the Chrysler Hemi–powered Cunningham C-5R, nicknamed “the Smiling Shark” because of its aerodynamic body and predatory snout. The quickest lap was turned by a brutish V-12 Ferrari. But the Jaguar C-types boasted a decisive new technology: disc brakes, which let them carry speed further into the corners.
C-types finished 1-2-4 (and ninth) and raised the average speed of the race by 9.14 mph. The victory demonstrated that the surest route to success in motorsport was to build a better beast.
DEATH AT INDIANAPOLIS | 1964
The most welcome change in racing during the past 70 years is that it kills people less often. This radical makeover was the product of decades of incremental safety changes, but can, to a large degree, be traced to the second lap of the 1964 Indianapolis 500. Dave MacDonald, a promising Indy 500 rookie driving an evil-handling car carrying 45 gallons of gasoline, spun in Turn 4, hit the inside wall, and slid across the front straight. Veteran racing driver Eddie Sachs tried and failed to shoot the gap between MacDonald’s flaming car and the outside wall. Both cars exploded in a fireball that caused the race to be stopped for nearly two hours.
ECCLESTONE TAKES CENTER STAGE | 1981
For better and for worse, modern Formila 1 racing was born in a business meeting. In 1981, factions warring for control f the sport hammered out the Concorde Agreement, which gave the Fédéation Internationale du Sport Automobile authority over the technical regulations and left he business end to the Formula One Constructors Association.
NASCAR WINS AT INDY | 1994
In 1994, George green-lit the Brickyard 400—the first race at IMS for anything other than Indy cars since 1916. The event attracted more than 250,000 spectators, a record attendance for NASCAR. Better still, it was won by hometown hero Jeff Gordon, the antithesis of the good ol’ boys who had dominated the sport since its inception, and NASCAR’s first crossover superstar. Meanwhile, George established the breakaway Indy Racing League, creating a rift that killed interest in American open-wheel racing. By the turn of the century, NASCAR had supplanted Indy racing as the premier form of motorsport in the States.
GREATEST SPECTACLE GOES SPEC | 2008
On the afternoon before Bump Day for the 2008 Indianapolis 500, reigning rookie of the year Phil Giebler hammered the Turn 1 wall, desperately attempting to get his antiquated Panoz up to speed. With the car’s fiery exit, the Greatest Spectacle in Racing was reduced to a spec series. Every car in the race would be a Dallara chassis powered by a Honda engine.