On this day in 1916, at the Boulevard Race in Corona, California, an early racing car careens into a crowd of spectators, killing the driver and two others. At the time, racing events were still a relative rarity and the fatal accident helped encourage organizers to begin holding races on specially built tracks instead of regular streets. The first organized race of “horseless carriages,” as they were then called, was held in France in 1894. The winning speed was less than 10 miles per hour and the winner was disqualified because his steam-driven tractor was deemed not to be a practical vehicle. The first Grand Prix was held 12 years later.
As time went on and speeds increased, the races became more dangerous. The 1916 Corona Boulevard Race was run on Grand Boulevard in Corona, east of Los Angeles. “Wild Bob” Burman, who had previously set a world speed record for hitting 129 miles per hour, was driving a blue Peugeot. Leading the race, Burman lost control when a wheel broke and his car crashed through a barrier. Burman perished in the accident, along with his ride-along mechanic and a spectator. Five others in the crowd were seriously injured.
Subsequent racing events have been even more deadly. When a car crashed into a spectator area at the 1955 Le Mans, 80 people were killed. Two years later in Italy, 10 spectators were killed at Mille Miglia, the last time that race was run. In July 1996, three separate races on the same day claimed victims among the spectators.
Perhaps the most dangerous of all races has been the off-road Dakar Rally. The best guess is that 47 competitors have been killed in the race s 27-year history and many more spectators have also lost their lives. The original Dakar Rally ran from Paris to Dakar, Senegal, but fatal accidents in France forced a change in course. The routes have varied since 1999. Modifications have been made over the years to reduce the risk to the public, but drivers remain vulnerable to things such as the many land mines in North Africa.