5 Greatest Racing Events

a black and white photo of some very early race cars

Motor racing has been a part of human nature ever since the second car was built. There are several races that are well over one hundred years old all over the world. These are the 5 greatest racing events in the world. Some are short Grand Prixs others are grueling multi-day events over all sorts of terrain. If you’re a gear head, these five races represent the bucket list races you have to attend. You’ve likely heard of the Triple Crown of racing, and yes that makes up the top three. No list of greatest races would be complete without it. I’ve made it to one of the races and I still have four to go. This list represents the best of the best. The ones both drivers and fans love.

Baja 1000

an orange VW Baja Bug
A Baja Bug – photo by Devkotlan Photography

I went back and forth on whether I should include the Baja 1000 or the Paris to Dakar Rally. I chose to go with the older of the two. Ed Pearlman started the Baja 1000 back in 1967 as part of an inaugural off road racing series. It has become one of the most prestigious off road racing events in the world. The race occurs across the Mexican desert in the Baja California Peninsula. The race hasn’t always occurred along the same route. Some years the event is a loop that starts and ends in Ensenada. Some years it is a point-to-point race from Ensenada to La Paz. There can be all sorts of participants from cars, trucks, motorcycles, buggies, and whatever else you want to bring. 

The Baja 1000 is one of the harshest races in the world and attracts a large international presence.Despite the large international presence, American teams have historically dominated both cars, trucks, and motorcycles. You have no doubt heard of a few of these American winners. Parnelli Jones won in 1971 and 1972. Mickey Thompson won in 1982. Two Mexican teams won in 2010 and 2017 and a Swedish team won the motorcycle class in 1972. The Baja trucks built for these races are incredible machines. You’re not going to be able to take your stock Ford Raptor down to Mexico to win. Although if you did that would be one of the greatest stories of all time. I’m thinking I need to do some research on this Swedish motorcycle team…

Daytona 500

the infield of the Daytona 500
Daytona – photo by ImperialAssassin

The Daytona 500 is the most prestigious race in NASCAR. The race has occurred every year since 1959 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Some previous winners are some of the most famous racing drivers all time. These include Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt. Richard Petty was the most successful driver winning 7 races at Daytona. The Daytona 500 is actually a successor to the Daytona Beach and Road Course, a racing event that occurred from 1902 to 1958. This race was instrumental in the formation of NASCAR and occurred on public roads and the beach. There’s actually a restaurant in Daytona Beach called North Turn where the old course used to be. 

Currently, they run the race over 200 laps at the 2.5 mile Daytona International Raceway. Not nearly as exciting as the running on public roads and the beach. That would be an awesome event to bring back! The most famous race is hands down is the 2001 Daytona 500. In that race, Dale Earnhardt Sr., running third behind his son, crashed into the wall on the last lap killing him instantly. The death of the Intimidator shook up NASCAR and resulted in many safety enhancements. He’s still the last death in NASCAR. Even if you don’t like NASCAR, it is worth going to an event to see 40+ cars going 200 mph inches from each other for 500 miles. If you are going to go to one I would start with Daytona.

24 Hour of Le Mans

cars running at Le Mans
Le Mans – photo by United Autosports

One of the races in the Triple Crown of Motorsports, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest active endurance race in the world. The race occurs over 24 hours at the nearly 8.5 mile Circuit de la Sarthe. 85% of the race occurs at full throttle making this one of the most difficult races in the world on both man and machine. The track has some of the most famous turns and straights in motorsports history. The Mulsanne Straight is an insane 3.7 mile straight where speeds reached in excess of 250 mph in the 1980s. Unfortunately, they added two chicanes to slow cars down and increase safety. The Dunlop Bridge is a famous bridge over the first few corners of the course. The last half of the course includes Indianapolis corner, Porsche curves, Corvette, curves, and the Ford chicane.

Like the other races on this list, there have been some incredibly famous names who have won at Le Mans. These include Phil Hill, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Jacky Ickx, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso, and the most successful driver of all time, Tom Kristensen with 9 wins. The race winning cars are some of the all time greats. You’ve got the Jaguar XK120C in 1951, the Jaguar D-Type from 1955-1957, the Ford GT40 from 1966-1969, the Porsche 917 from 1970-1971, the Porsche 956 from 1982-1985, the McLaren F1 GTR from 1995, the Audi R8 and R10 from the early 2000’s, and the Porsche 919. These are some of the greatest cars ever whose reputations were solidified from winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. No one has been more successful at Le Mans than Porsche with 19 total wins.

Monaco Grand Prix

the streets of Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo, site of the Monaco Grand Prix – photo by Uncidunci

The Monaco Grand Prix is easily the most luxurious event in all of motorsports. The race occurs in the glitzy streets of Monte Carlo in the principality of Monaco. The GDP per capita in Monaco is 162,000 USD  and probably has the highest amount of champagne per person in the world. The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most beautiful track layouts anywhere. There are narrow streets and elevation changes and tunnels. The passing difficulty is incredible and there is no room for error due to the lack of runoff area. As part of the Triple Crown of Motorsports, a win here is highly sought after. No one has won here more than Ayrton Senna who won a total of six times with five in a row from 1989 to 1993.

If Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous were a track, this would be it. Famous casinos, mega-yachts, champagne, and models, the Monaco Grand Prix has it all. The turns are world famous with names that trigger great racing memories. You have the little uphill kink of Beau Rivage, Casino square, the tight downhill turns of Mirabeau, the Nouvelle chicane coming out of the tunnel, and Rascasse after the marina. In stark contrast to Spa, which is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar, Monaco is the shortest. It’s so short in fact that it comes in under the FIA regulation of 190-mile race minimum. It just shows the importance of this race that the FIA wouldn’t dare touch it.

Indianapolis 500

the front straight at the Indy 500
The front straight at Indy – photo by redlegsfan21

I have to admit, I’m entirely bias here. I was born in Indianapolis and I grew up in Speedway, Indiana. I’ve been to the Indianapolis 500 and it certainly lived up to its reputation as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The Indy 500 is also the last race in the Triple Crown of Motorsports. It’s the oldest major race in the world having ran continually since 1911. It’s also one of the deadliest tracks in the world with over 70 fatalities including 42 drivers. The track is nicknamed the Brickyard because in the early days the entire racing surface was composed of brick. Today, all that remains of the brick is the start/finish line, which drivers traditionally kiss after winning. Drivers also chug milk after a win, a tradition going back to 1933.

Other traditions started in the 1940’s, including the signing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” most famously by Jim Nabors from 1972 to 2014.In 1950’s the phrase “Gentleman, start your engines” was added to the pre-race festivities. There’s also no podium at Indy, only a winner’s circle. The Indy 500 is notoriously difficult to win with the winningest drivers of all time racking up a mere 4 wins. For a race that’s ran for over 100 years that’s pretty incredible. Hell, Senna won at Monaco five times in a row! Some famous names have racked up wins here including A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Jim Clark, and Mario Andretti. There are also some famous drivers who have tried and failed to win at Indy including Juan Manuel Fangio, Jackie Stewart, and Nigel Mansell. 

Conclusion

Graham Hill
Graham Hill – The Only Triple Crown Winner

Only one driver has actually completed the Triple Crown of Motorsports and that’s Graham Hill. He won Monaco for the 1st time in 1963, won Indy in 1966, and Le Mans in 1972. Many have tried and many have failed to replicate his accomplishment. These five races represent the absolute best of motor racing. They are some of the most enduring and most challenging races in the world. If you’re a fan of motor racing, you have to put these on your list. I know I have.

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