Jason Leffler. Allan Simonsen. Andrea Mamé. Outside of the racing world, these three names are unknown, mixed into this spinning melting pot filled with seven billion people. However, in the racing world, these are the names of three brave men who tragically lost their lives whilst living the dream they had chased after for so many years. All these men loved to race. All these men did so with a deep passion. And all these men lost their lives in the month of June, in the year 2013.
It goes without saying that this month has been one of the most tragic ones in the most recent years of motorsport; an emotionally disturbing reminder of just how dangerous this sport we so dearly love actually is.
It began at Montreal with the death of a track marshall on June 9th. While helping to clear Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber after a shunt, the marshall dropped his radio. As he attempted to retrieve it, he was run over by the recovery vehicle and sustained life threatening injuries which he later succumbed to.
It was a shock to the entire Formula 1 paddock, as it was the first death of a track marshall in more than a decade.
Three days later, Jason Leffler, a beloved racer by many — if not all — in the NASCAR garage and fresh from competing in a Sprint Cup race at Pocono, was participating in a dirt track race at Bridgeport Raceway in Swedesboro, New Jersey.
A sudden suspension failure caused his car to spin, impact the wall, and roll over where it eventually landed upright. He was extracted from the car, but unfortunately his injuries were to serious and was pronounced dead shortly after the incident.
Ten days after the heartbreaking death of Leffler, hundreds of thousands of spectators from all walks of life transformed the quiet French countryside into a festival of speed and excitement, almost all of them with the expectations of throwing a twenty-four hour long party. The drivers competing and all who were watching were anxiously awaiting the start of the world’s greatest motor race, the 81st Running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
As the race began, Toyota surprised many, demonstrating a speed which had not been shown during testing and qualifying. The race was shaping up to be one of the greatest races in Le Mans history. Then, however, on the third lap of the race at the Tetre Rouge corner, Allan Simonsen, driver of the #95 Aston Martin GTE-Am car, suffered a horrifying shunt. The Aston Martin Racing garage fell silent as they worried for the condition of their driver. It was not long afterwards that the grim announcement was made that Simonsen had tragically lost his life in the crash.
The race continued, albeit with heavy hearts.
And now, just over a week after the tragic death of Allan Simonsen and only seven days after the conclusion of the great French race, and more tragic news has struck the racing world. On the first lap of a Lamborghini Super Trofeo race at the Paul Ricard circuit, a massive five car accident occurred.
All five drivers were taken to the circuit’s medical center, but there was one driver in particular that received the most worry and attention from the members and doctors of the Super Trofeo racing series. Andrea Mamé suffered serious injuries in the accident. Unfortunately, the extent of these injuries proved to be too perilous for the doctors to treat, and Mamé later succumbed, tragically, to his injuries.
In one month, a mere thirty days out of a year made up of 365, three major deaths have marred the racing community and cast a large, looming black cloud over the sport which so many car enthusiasts love so desperately. However, these tragic deaths only make up part of what has been an extremely somber month in motorsport, as ‘Ring racer Wolf Silvester died of a heart attack during a VLN race on the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit, and 70-year-old Jeffrey Bower was also killed at Lime Rock Park when his car missed a turn and impacted a wall in a Formula V racer.
As mentioned before, this month is a reminder of just how dangerous this sport actually is. Due to the latest safety technologies now in use at racing circuits and courses across the globe, we as fans of motorsport have grown incredibly used to witnessing horrendous accidents after which the drivers clamber out of their wrecked race car, brush themselves off, examine the extent of damage to the car, and walk off to the medical vehicle that will take them to the medical center at the track, only to be checked out as fine — although a bit shaken.
This makes it all the more shocking and painful when a crash occurs and a driver is reported as having passed away from the injuries. The response usually includes a hanging of heads, and attempting to comfort ourselves by saying, ‘he passed away doing what he loved.’
While this is very true, it goes without saying that something needs to be done to not only ease the nerves of drivers who will continue to climb into their racing cars week in and week out, but to also lessen the amount of tragedies such as these that occur at races.
You may notice that I say ‘to lessen‘ the amount of such tragedies, as while we may desperately want for drivers to no longer receive serious injuries or lose their lives, the fact of the matter is that this is a dangerous business and, as unfortunate as it may sound, it is inevitable.
What the racing world must do, then, is address as many possibilities for harm as possible. There is absolutely no reason for a track marshall, someone who’s job it is to keep the drivers safe, to experience such harm at a race, especially in the way that it occurred at the Canadian Grand Prix this year on June 9th.
Dirt track races must receive as much attention in regards to safety as do modern NASCAR tracks, as there were both drivers and spectators killed in dirt track accidents in the weeks leading up to Jason Leffler’s tragic accident.
Le Mans has changed its configuration numerous times over the ninety years the circuit has been in existence in the pursuit of safety, therefore the ACO and all who are involved in putting the Le Mans race together and running it as smoothly as it always does are likely already beginning to address what caused Allan’s accident and how they can best prevent similar accidents from occurring.
This is a dangerous business, and also one that can provide a roller coaster of emotions to all who ever turn their attentions toward motorsport. Happiness, excitement, nervousness, and sorrow can all be provided throughout the course of a race — a reality which the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours race very well proved.
However, at the end of the day, there is a reason why drivers, who are completely knowledgeable of how risky this sport can be, get behind the wheel of there vehicles. There is a reason why fans continue to flock to the racing circuit, even after having been warned of the dangers they may face. It’s because we absolutely love motorsport. And there is nothing we can do about that.
R.I.P. Jason, Allan, Andrea, the Montreal track marshall, Wolf, Jeffrey, and all others who have ever been harmed in motorsport.