10 Racers Who Had Deadly Crashes… And Lived

    Everyone knows racing is a dangerous pastime- but once in a while we get a vivid reminder just how dangerous it can be. There are stories at every race track of errors, mishaps, and accidents that have claimed- or nearly-claimed- the lives of those who risk it all for the glory and the personal reward.

   We will always remember those who have perished in the pursuit of speed, but what about those who came very close? Here are ten stories of racers who have had tremendously close calls on the job, experiencing horrific and spectacular accidents and living to tell the tale. This is a list of ten racers who had deadly crashes… and lived.

10 Niki Lauda

    The Mugello Gran Prix, 1976: In one of the most infamous crashes in Formula One history, Niki Lauda’s car veered off track and struck a wall, landing in the path of the race and igniting into flame. It was hit seconds later by two other cars, whose drivers got out okay and- joined by a third driver- all rushed to Lauda’s aid, pulling him from the burning wreckage. Niki Lauda was trapped in the car for over a minute before the safety crew was able to get him out. He suffered severe burns to his face, lost part of an ear, and was in critical condition for days following.

    Incredibly, Lauda survived- and not only that, went on to keep racing and even win two F1 championships following the accident before retiring nine years later. Niki Lauda’s resilience as seen in this story coupled with his famous rivalry with fellow driver James Hunt have earned him his place in Formula One history.

9 Tetsuya Ota

    Number nine is another fiery affair. In a 1998 Japanese Touring Car (JGTC) race at Fuji- in extremely wet conditions- two cars hydroplaned off-track into the outfield on the formation lap before the race start. Seconds later, Tetsuya Ota in his Ferrari also lost control and went careening directly into a stopped Porche, both slamming into the outfield wall. Both cars immediately burst into a spectacular fireball as safety crews scrambled. The Porche’s driver was able to crawl out moments later. Ota was trapped in the car for a minute-and-a-half before the fire was put out.

    Ota had to get plastic surgery to fix the burns he suffered on his face and that would be his last race- he quit before doing another… and we can’t really blame him.

8 Augusto Scalbi

   Augusto Scalbi had a real scare in March 2016 in Argentina’s TC2000 touring car championship. He was approaching a fast right-hand turn when his brakes failed. His Renault race car hurtled off-track at 218 Km/H (136 MPH), caught a wheel on the turf, and flipped a full six times before colliding with the fence. No fire here, but the video of the crash is still pretty spectacular.

    Scalbi was knocked unconscious by the wild ride, but thanks to modern safety equipment Scalbi sustained only bruising to his hands and feet in the accident- though the mechanics surely still had some explaining to do about those faulty brakes.

7 Maria De Villota

   In July 2012, Maria De Villota was test driving for her Marussia Formula One team at an airfield in the U.K. She was ending a test run and heading back to the garage at low speed when due to some failure of the brake and control systems, she went sliding into a team semi trailer, running her helmet right into the loading lift protruding off the back. (LINK 6) Response crews got her to the hospital in about an hour and a half with life-threatening injuries.

    Ultimately, De Vilotta would lose her right eye but live to tell the tale. However, Maria De Vilotta barely made this list. She unfortunately died about a year later from related complications. Still, she is included in order to recognize her tenacity and her spectacular brush with death, short-lived though it was.

6 Gary Densham

    From the world of NHRA Funny Car comes a remarkable drag racing incident. 69-year-old Gary Densham was running a race in his drag car when his parachute failed to open at 494 Km/h (306 MPH). At this speed, the brakes are useless. Densham and his machine went flying into the runoff area at the end of the track and into the steel safety net, nearly ripping a hole in it.

    Thanks to modern safety technology, though, Densham was out of the wreck in moments and on camera giving an interview about it for the television coverage. The mangled funny car was his only racer, so he was nearly forced to end his career. But thanks to the generosity of his race community, Densham was able to return to drag racing racing a few months later in another car. Winners never quit!

5 Marc Marquez

    Number five on the list from Moto GP superbike racing in Mugello, 2013. Marc Marquez crashed at about 320Km/h (200 MPH). He was at the end of the front straight (one of the longest and fastest on the Moto GP calendar) when he lost front end traction. Unable to save it, he slid off track and hurtled toward the low concrete wall. He kicked the bike away just in time and slid to a stop while his motorcycle kept grinding ahead through the gravel.

    Marquez escaped with a bump on his chin and some bruising to his right side, thanks to the latest in rider safety technology: an airbag suit. These suits contain air bladders around the head and shoulders which inflate when electronics detect crash conditions, in as fast as 30 milliseconds. These suits have been in use since 2003 when rider John Hopkins first donned one for a race.

4 Sidnei Frigo

    Another drag racing incident, this time NHRA Pro Mod class. Sidnei Frigo was racing in the left lane at Royal Purple Raceway in Texas when he lost control of his heavily modified Corvette. The car lurched to the right, almost crossing into the other drag lane, then snapped back across the track and ran into the outside wall. The car flipped several times, pieces flying every direction, before coming to a stop just on the other side. To everyone’s relief, Frigo was responsive when crews arrived at the car.

    Frigo suffered only a broken arm in the incident and received surgery at the hospital. He was expected to recover fully.

3 Jeremy Foley

    Number three on our list of survivors is Jeremy Foley, from the dirty and dangerous Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. He and his co-driver Yuri Kouznetsov were approaching a fast left-hand curve that drops away on the outside to a huge rocky slope. There are no guard rails. This turn is known as the Devil’s Playground. The Mitsubishi appeared to be carrying too much speed into the turn and slid off, cartwheeling down the mountain casting off body panels violently. It was a truly spectacular crash, but both drivers climbed out of the mangled wreckage and survived with relatively minor injuries.

    There is a follow-up video where you can hear from the drivers what it was like to be in the “washing machine of pain” here:

2 George Poteet

    The fastest vehicles and drivers on wheels race out at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah every Summer, vying to set land speed records and become the fastest people alive. Our next lucky driver is one of these people.

    In September 2014 George Poteet was making a land speed record run in his “streamliner”-class car when something went horribly wrong. At 575 Km/h (307 MPH), the car veered off course. Poteet tried his best to wrestle the front end back in line, but was unsuccessful. The car jackknifed sideways and started rolling down the salt flats at over three hundred miles per hour. In the incredible in-car camera footage, the canopy can be seen ripping off the car a moment into the accident. The safety cage at the heart of the machine held up in the tumble, digging into the salty earth to come to a stop with the driver still inside. He was able to climb out under his own power but was transported to hospital for a checkup.

    Not only did George Poteet survive the crash, but he and his team had rebuilt his Speed Demon machine before the end of 2015, missing only a season of racing.

1 Filippos Papafilippou

    And the final entry on our list of racers who should not be alive to tell the tale: An NHRA Top Fuel Drag Bike racer named Filippos Papafilippou. At Santa Pod Raceway in England, he had a crash on the drag strip you just have to see to believe.

    At almost 200 miles an hour, his bike veered over into the other lane and collided with the other rider. The force of the impact wasn’t enough to crash the other bike, but was just enough to toss Papafilippou perfectly onto the wheelie bars at the back. As his machine fell over, set fire, and skidded to a halt, our lucky racer rode along with his competition until the two could come to a stop.

    In the video, Papafilippou can be seen trying to get his boot unstuck from the wheelie bar assembly of the bike once stopped as rescue crews gather in response. It certainly could have been much worse for this two-wheeled speed freak.

Don’t Let Your Fear Control You

Fear is such an overused emotion. It seems to me that most people let fear control their choices more than they realize.

From something as benign as trying new foods to something as genuinely risky as motorcycling, I see people refuse new experiences simply because of this overbearing fear of the unknown. Risk is a real thing to manage, and genuine danger is a thing to avoid, but letting the fear drive you only keeps you from doing so effectively and thereby gaining useful experience. I see so many people going through life saying “Nope. Nope. Nope.” instead of “Yes. Yes. Yes.”.

It is said that we fear what we don’t understand. This is why I make it my life’s mission to understand everything to the best of my ability- and the more I understand, the better my ability! Next time you find yourself rejecting an experience, ask yourself “Am I acting out of fear or love?” and “Is this fear really justified?”. Only open minds get filled, and if you never leave your comfort zone you will never expand it. A life lived in fear is limiting. A life lived with zeal is rewarding.

In this spirit, I propose a challenge: Do one thing each week that is new, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. Leave your comfort zone. You might be pleasantly surprised!

The Pool of the Past

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. I am, however, someone who thinks. As someone who thinks, time travel is one of the many subjects that fascinates me. Other (smarter) people have thought of the premise which I outline here, and it appears I could either be right or wrong. If you are scientist, a time-traveler, or just someone who also thinks, please comment with your thoughts. Actually, if you’re a time-traveler, you should probably be doing something more useful, like killing dictators or inventing rock and roll.

Time travel is a very complicated concept. Leaving aside the incredible feat of engineering and physics that time travel would necessarily entail, it could also open up a veritable door to hell when it comes to paradoxes. From killing your own grandfather to accidentally creating a dystopian future, time travel makes it quite easy to screw everything up with the slightest change to the timeline (otherwise called the butterfly effect). These paradoxes have been studied (and laughed at) for a very long time, but they mainly focus on logical and metaphysical inconsistencies. Right now, I want to talk about physics.

You may have heard of a little thing called the Law of Conservation. Since matter and energy are, in certain senses, interchangeable, this principle applies to both matter and energy. As you may know, the Law states that neither of these two things can be created or destroyed. All the matter and energy in the universe right now was present at the moment of the Big Bang. The same matter and energy, in some form, will still be present long after we are dead. Someday your pet iguana might become part of a flying car, and chances are you yourself are partly made of William Shakespeare’s atoms. Nothing is ever lost (except when it comes to black holes); everything just changes. If the Law of Conservation is global—that is, it applies everywhere all the time—it may be true (and this will be important later), that the universe has a finite volume. So what does this mean for time travel?

First, we have to talk about teleportation. It’s a pretty cool concept all by itself. Actually, when you think about it, it’s closely related to time travel. Let’s say I want to teleport an apple from one place to another. In theory, this experiment should work in the same fashion whether I’m moving the apple from Egypt to China or if I’m moving it from my living room to my kitchen. To make this scenario easier for my hypothetical self, I’ll only move it across my house. So I put the apple in one teleportation box at point A (my kitchen), and in a flash, it ends up in the box at point B (my living room). But wait, aren’t I destroyed and/or creating matter? Not really. Even though I am making the apple disappear and reappear, I am not violating the Law of Conservation. Although the apple seems to pop out of existence for a moment, it comes back almost instantaneously. I’m not really destroying or creating any matter or any energy. In order to teleportation to actually be possible, I’d have to take the apple apart atom by atom, change some of it into energy, move it across some space, then re-arrange it back into the same apple. This would be incredibly difficult, yes, but taking into account the laws of physics, it really is possible. When we get into the mechanics of time travel, however, things get much, much weirder.

Traditionally, there are three states of time: past, present, and future. If we delve into these states, we start to notice the similarities and differences between time travel and teleportation. With time travel, you are transporting an object from one place to another almost instantaneously, but the idea is that it all happens in the present. Sending something—an apple, your iguana, or yourself—into the future is basically teleportation, except that instead of moving that object across space, you are moving it across time. Space and time are pretty much the same thing, so it appears that time travel with a time machine should be possible. The only difference so far has been that we cannot travel faster than the speed of light. But with worm holes or an Alcubierre Drive, traveling across space and time faster than light may actually be possible. But again, this is all about either traveling in the present or the future. The question is: how could we travel into the past?

In order to really grasp time travel, first we must to understand the expansion of the universe. When people say that the universe is expanding, it’s easy to assume that the universe is like a giant box growing ever larger, and we’re all inside it, watching the walls grow ever-distant from us. This analogy is closer to the truth than some, but here’s a better one: Imagine that you have a partially filled balloon in one hand and a marker in the other. You make little dots all over the outside of the balloon with the marker (which represent matter) and begin blowing up the balloon. As the balloon expands, the distance between the dots increases. The balloon itself, the material it’s made of, represents the fabric of space and time. That is what is expanding.

I can guess what you’re thinking: But didn’t you just say the universe has a finite volume? Sort of. The universe really is expanding, but at any given moment, at any given present,” the universe has a finite amount of matter and energy, and therefore a finite volume. But as time goes on, the balloon gets bigger and bigger; the surface area between the dots increases. This means we can potentially add “dots” (matter and/or energy) from nowhere by sending things into the future, with a little room to spare. So, by avoiding violating the Law of Conservation and by avoiding tampering with the timeline, traveling into the future is by far easier and safer than traveling into the past, but let’s push it a little further.

Have you ever put too much ice in your water and spilled it everywhere? As you probably know, it’s because the ice displaced the water, and the water had nowhere to go but out of the cup. If you’re paying attention, this usually isn’t a problem, because in order for your water to spill, the volume of the ice has to be greater than the volume of water in your glass, and common sense usually kicks in before this happens. As I said earlier, the universe has a finite volume at any given point in time. So really, the universe is a big cup, or maybe a really huge swimming pool, filled with stuff. As I said earlier, it may not be impossible to send something into the future, because the pool may be getting bigger (and would therefore allow more space for matter and energy to fit), but sending something into the Pool of the Past would be…problematic.

The past is, more or less, a point in time. For this case I’ll choose July 21, 1969 (the day of the moon landing). On July 21, 1969, the universe had a finite volume. In fact, it had a smaller volume than we have today. So, even if the universe expands in proportion to the amount of matter and energy in it, it was still smaller on that day than it is today. Just like the balloon, we cannot fit as many dots on a deflated balloon as we can on an inflated balloon. So, to really make this an accurate comparison, we have to place a seal over our Pool of the Past. This can’t be any old pool cover: it has to be indestructible, rigid, and airtight, because if any water escaped, it would violate the Law of Conservation. You are luckily outside of this pool, and you have a magical time machine or a teleportation device (remember, they’re almost the same thing), and you have the power to send something into the pool. Ah, but what to send? Well, a pool is very big and you want to notice the displacement of the water, so how about a grand piano? Big enough, right? Let’s make some history.

You start up the time machine or teleportation device or whatever, and it whizzes and buzzes and beeps, and finally…ding! like a microwave, it’s done. The piano has popped out of existence here, and popped back into existence there, inside the Pool of the Past. But wait a minute; because of the Law of Conservation, the pool has a finite volume and no water can ever, ever escape. So, how would you insert a piano into the water without displacing anything? That’s the question, isn’t it? How could we ever put that piano into that pool without something going horribly, horribly wrong? There are many scenarios that could come of this, most of them apocalyptic. The pool may explode (which means we’ve compromised the space-time continuum). The piano may just reject the time travel and stay in the present, or perhaps the atoms in the piano would attempt to convert to matter and energy back and forth so as to satisfy the Law of Conservation, possibly producing a big nuclear explosion. Who knows?

I can yet again guess what you’re thinking: The Pool of the Past isn’t exactly like our universe. Our universe has lots and lots of empty space. Instead of risking sending yourself back in time only to end up wedged inside a coffee table, why not put yourself into empty space? There’s plenty of room out there. The pool has no empty space for the piano to go, even on July 21, 1969.

Good thinking, but still wrong. For all the vast amounts of vacuous space that our universe has—more space than we could ever comprehend—the Law of Conservation still applies here. Even if we drained the pool a little bit, if that piano displaces too much water, we’d still have a complete disaster on our hands. While traveling into the future may be safer than traveling into the past, there’s no way to guarantee it’s completely safe and in-line with Conservation. So, before your future self has any ingenious ideas about going back in time, remember: you may just violate a law of physics along the way and completely annihilate the universe, which wouldn’t be very nice.