On this day in 1983, Rolf Stommelen, a four-time 24 Hours of Daytona champ as well as a Formula One driver, is killed at the age of 39 in a crash at California’s Riverside International Raceway.
Stommelen was born on July 11, 1943, in Germany. In 1968, he won his first 24 Hours of Daytona. Now known as the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the race, along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring, is considered part of the Triple Crown of endurance racing, a sport that tests the stamina of both car and driver. The Le Mans, France, race was first run in 1923, while the inaugural Sebring race was held in 1952, at the Sebring International Raceway in Florida. The 24 Hours of Daytona began in 1962 as a three-hour competition at Florida’s Daytona International Speedway. Four years later, the event changed to the marathon 24-hour format. At Daytona, drivers compete on a 3.56-mile course and the winning car typically drives some 4,000 kilometers, or about 2,485 miles. Because it would be too dangerous for a single person to race for the entire 24 hours, teams of at least three drivers are required under today’s rules.
After his first win, Stommelen went on to triumph in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1978, 1980 and 1982. American driver Hurley Haywood, who was born in 1948, won the event a record five times, in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1991. Along with Stommelen, three other drivers have won the event four times: Mexico’s Pedro Rodriguez in 1963, 1964, 1970 and 1971; France’s Bob Wollek in 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1991 and America’s Peter Gregg in 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1978.
In addition to endurance racing, Stommelen competed in Formula One throughout the 1970s, driving in 63 F1 Grand Prix races. In 1975 at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, he was involved in a tragic accident after the rear wing of his Hill GH1 came off and he crashed into barriers on the street course, killing five onlookers. Stommelen’s next crash, at the 6 Hours of Riverside event in April 1983, would claim his life. After the rear wing of Stommelen’s Porsche 935L came off, his car hit a wall, flipped and caught fire.