Top 5 Real Car Races That Will Leave You Terrified (Part 2)

02/07/2019
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In the early days of car racing, participants could invent their own vehicles, and still call them “automobiles” to take part in a car race, competing against professional racers. The result - well, check the article to find out.

Continuing the first part of the most terrifying car races in history, this article is about the relentless dreams and the persistent pursuit of achievement human had for automobiles. Despite cars at that time being more or less capricious slaughter machines which could blow up at any moment, people still organised the most ambitious races across the Pacific Ocean, on 8,000-ft high mountains, and on 43° curved tracks.

3. The Race Across the Pacific from New York to Paris in 1908

After the (barely) successful race from Peking to Paris in 1907, humankind got an even crazier idea to have a car race across the Atlantic ocean from New York to Paris. If you are screaming in your head how is this possible that a car could possibly cross an ocean, well, just wait to find out how our ancestors did it.

Encompassing a total distance of more than 22,000 miles (35,000 km), the race had 6 daring teams representing 4 nations - the United States, Germany, France, and Italy. First, the 6 cars had to cross the vast land of the United States, and the cars back then did not quite have the technology to sustain severe weather, so they travelled from the East Coast to the West Coast of America using locomotive rails. After that, the cars were taken from San Francisco to Alaska by ship. They intended to race from Alaska to Asia, running through the massive Pacific Ocean on the frozen Bering Straight, but the weather was much worse than they anticipated, so the participating teams jumped on another ship to arrive at Japan. Two teams gave up mid-way, and the remaining four proceeded to Siberia on another ship.

route map of the new york to paris race

The 1908 New York to Paris Race greatly challenged automobile technology and road infrastructure by making cars cross continents and oceans

At this point, you might be thinking: “What kind of car race was this when cars boarded trains and travelled by ship?”. Wait a second, trust us: the cars did run and race! After reaching Vladivostok, Siberia by ship, one more team bailed because of the infamous Siberian winter. Then the last 3 teams started the real car race.

Like the other two races before it, what was planned for the 1908 New York to Paris Race was thrown out the window. Initially, the cars were supposed to be racing through Russia and China in winter, driving on frozen rivers with ease, but spring came sooner than their speculation, so the three cars went through angry rivers from Hell and innumerable mud holes. However, things got much easier when they reached Europe as roads were more developed.

On July 30th, 1908, the USA team finished the race first, arriving at Paris with the warm welcome of thousands of Parisians while people shouting loudly: “Vive le car Americain!”. But when the winning team was proudly going around Paris, a policeman stopped them because their car did not have headlights. Fortunately, a man put his bicycle, which had headlight, on the car, so the policeman let them go.

parisians welcoming the winning car of the new york to Paris race in 1907

Thousands of Parisians welcomed the winning team, shouting “Vive le car Americain!”

4. The AVUS Grand Prix in 1937

If the three previous great car races of humanity were purely a challenge for automobile technology and for those who could afford a car, the Automobil-Verkehrs-und Übungsstrasse (AVUS) Grand Prix in 1937 was a race for real professionals on specialised track. Everything looks fine and pretty much disciplined like today’s professional car racing, but wait - you have got to see the infamous AVUS track first!

the 43 degree curve of AVUS racing track

This was the Automobil-Verkehrs-und Übungsstrasse, the racing track where the notorious AVUS Grand Prix in 1937 was held

Just so you know, the whole AVUS track was absurdly curved, some part curved to 43 degrees (!!!), and there was no safety rail. Thus, many cars did turn into “flying cars” and flew to the glorious light source of planet Earth (in other words: the sun) while competing for the trophy.

If you think the race was deadly enough because of the curved track, oh boy are you wrong! The organisers decided to make the race an “Open Formula” one, which means there was more or less no rule other than you had to reach the finishing line first, so automakers saw this as the chance to create the most ridiculous, the most high-speed, and the most dangerous experimental cars ever.

During the race, a car’s cylinder blew up and sprayed burning oil into the driver’s eyes, but super lucky for him, he did not go blind for good. In the end, the Mercedes team was the winner of the life-threatening race, despite their car almost going airborne, and Hermann Lang, the driver, was forever a legendary car racer for winning the AVUS Grand Prix in 1937.

hermann lang driving along the curve of AVUS

Hermann Lang brought victory to the Mercedes team in the deadly AVUS Grand Prix in 1937

5. The Carrera Panamericana Race in 1950

The Carrera Panamericana Race in 1950 was held to celebrate the completion of the new highway that connected Texas and Guatemala, and it was pure chaos.

Anybody, literally anybody (it did not matter if someone was below the legal driving age or did not hold a valid driving licence), with any kind of automobile could take part in the race. FYI, taxi drivers and some aam aadmi with tiny European cars joined the race among professional Formula 1 racers and the founder of NASCAR.

Moreover, the majority of the road was located in the mountainous area, some parts as high as 8,000 ft (2,400 m), and altitude sickness was very likely for those who were not used to that height. Also because of the terrain, if one participant made one small mistake, bad brakes of that era would send him or her straight to Heaven. As you would have guessed, all kinds of accidents, some funny and some not at all, happened, from rolling down the mountain to crashing into a random tree to colliding with a bird and breaking the windscreen.

mercedez benz 300 sl broke down in Carrera Panamericana Race

A gullwing Mercedes-Benz was hit by an innocent real-winged vulture in the Carrera Panamericana Race in 1950

Amidst that pandemonium, an inhumane rule rang loud and clear: Anybody who stops to help anyone is immediately disqualified from the race. And while some abided by that rule with the hope to be the winner, some others did get eliminated by assisting someone who got into an accident. Interestingly, despite all that commotion, the race was held for 4 more years until 83 spectators died in an accident and the race became too controversial.

Carrera Panamericana Race finish line

The deadly and disorderly Carrera Panamericana Race became an annual event and was only stopped when 83 spectators were involved in an accident

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