Carrera Panamericana - one of the deadliest races ever
The Carrera Panamericana was a legendary road race that was originally held between 1950-1954 and was later canceled because it was extremely dangerous. With almost thirty fatal victims in five years, it was one of the deadliest races in the motorsport history.
After the Mexican section of the Pan-American Highway was completed in 1950, a nine-stage, five-day race across the country was organized by the Mexican government to celebrate its achievement and to attract international business. The 1950 race ran almost entirely along the new highway which crossed the country from north to south for a total distance of 3,507 kilometers.
More than 130 participants in the inaugural race
The first race, held in 1950 was well promoted throughout the motorsport world, and 130 drivers decided to participate. The rules were simple; run what you brung with no specific classes or restrictions. The only goal was to cover the distance as soon as possible and to stay alive in the process.
The drivers didn’t know exactly what to expect from the race since the conditions ranged from hot deserts and swamps to high mountains and rainforests. Roads were sometimes wide four-lane highways and at other times nothing more than gravel paths. Some sections were built with volcanic sands and they proved to be very harsh on tires. The race was basically a mix between a road race, a rally and an endurance race all in one combined with drastic temperature and altitude changes.
Carrera Panamericana became popular, despite victims
The first winner of the Carrera Panamericana was American driver Hershel McGriff, who drove an Oldsmobile 88. The inaugural race took four fatal victims – three drivers and one spectator. After the first year, despite fatal casualties, Carrera Panamericana became very popular and started turning into a proper race event. The 1951 edition started from the south and it remained the route until 1954. Different classes, Sports and Stock Cars, were established in 1952 and organizers paid attention to the needs of the racers, the audience and the journalists.
1-2 victory for Ferrari factory drivers in 1951
In 1951, Ferrari sent its factory drivers to the race and two of them clinched the top positions – Piero Taruffi has won, Alberto Ascari was second. Unfortunately, the race itself remained very dangerous and two well-known Mexican drivers were killed along with a few other drivers and spectators. It was practically impossible to race safely on the route. Needless to say, the Carrera Panamericana faced a lot of criticism but the Mexican government and racing fans continued to support the event.
Victory for Mercedes after vulture’s attack
In 1952, Mercedes made history when the famous 300SLR entered the race with its star drivers Karl Kling and Hermann Lang. An interesting and almost surreal moment came when Kling’s car was hit by a vulture at 200 km/h. The co-driver Hans Klenk was knocked out and was badly injured. However, Kling continued to race and after that stage, vertical bars were placed on the windscreen.
Fangio and Maglioli were also the winners
The story over the next two years was the same; fantastic racing with fantastic cars and equally skilled drivers. Unfortunately, the dangerous race claimed more and more victims. The race in 1953 was the deadliest event, with nine fatal victims, including Lancia driver Felice Bonetto. That race was the last round of the 1953 World Sportscar Championship. The winner was Juan Manuel Fangio, co-driven by Gino Bronzoni, in the Lancia D24. During the 1954 event, won by Ferrari’s Umberto Maglioli, seven people lost their lives.
Le Mans tragedy was a trigger for cancellation of the Mexican race
When the 1955 Le Mans crash happened, the Mexican government decided to cancel the 1955 Carrera Panamericana and to cancel the event in general. Over a period of four years and five races, twenty-seven people were killed (drivers and spectators).
Even after the cancellation, Carrera Panamericana was not forgotten and in 1988 a few racing enthusiasts from America and Mexico revived the event, but with a higher level of safety. Thus, the Carrera Panamericana still lives on in the hills and deserts of Central America.