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NASCAR driver Neil Bonnett

Race Car Drivers Who Have Died

by Legacy Staff

Fast, competitive, and determined, these race car drivers loved the thrill of the track. Whether you’re a Formula One fan or can’t get enough NASCAR, join us in paying tribute to some of auto racing’s greatest drivers.

Davey Allison (1961–1993)

AP Photo / Lynne Sladky

Son of NASCAR legend Bobby Allison, Davey Allison followed successfully in his father’s footsteps, winning 19 races over nine years. He died in 1993 after he crashed his helicopter at the Talledega Superspeedway.


Buddy Baker (1941–2015)

Getty Images / ISC Archives

Baker was named one of the 50 Greatest NASCAR Drivers. He won 19 races including the 1980 Daytona 500 and was the first driver to break 200 miles per hour, doing it on a closed course at Talladega in 1970.

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View Buddy Baker’s obituary


Neil Bonnett

AP Photo / Frank Russell

Alabama native NEIL BONNETT (1946–1994) was one of the premier NASCAR drivers of the 1980s, winning 18 races during a remarkable career. After a near-fatal crash in 1990, he moved into the broadcast booth for a couple of seasons. He returned to racing in 1993 and helped teammate Dale Earnhardt win that year’s championship. Bonnett died in a crash while practicing for the 1994 Daytona 500.


Jack Brabham (1926–2014)

AP Photo / Hans Punz

Brabham began racing midget cars in his native Australia before moving to the U.K. to race Formula One. He won two Drivers’ championships and then started the Brabham team. In 1966 he became the first and only driver to win the championship in a car designed and built by a team bearing his own name.

View Jack Brabham’s obituary


Maria Teresa de Filippis (1926–2016)

The Telegraph

De Filippis was the first woman driver to enter a Formula One world championship, and she remains one of only two to have qualified for the starting grid.

Read more about Maria Teresa de Filippis


Maria de Villota (1980–2013)

AP Photo / Rob Griffith

Born into a family of race car drivers, de Villota had racing in her blood. While testing a new car for the Marussia Formula One team, de Villota crashed into a stationary truck, losing her right eye and sustaining head trauma. Her death from cardiac arrest a year later was suspected to be connected to injuries sustained in the accident.

View Maria de Villota’s obituary


Dale Earnhardt (1951–2001)

AP Photo / Terry Renna

Earnhardt , aka “The Intimidator,” tied Richard Petty for the all-time lead when he won his seventh NASCAR championship in 1994. He died in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001. In the aftermath NASCAR made head- and neck-support safety devices mandatory for drivers.

Read more about Dale Earnhardt


Betty Skelton Erde (1926–2011)

Getty Images / ISC Images & Archives

Betty Skelton Erde was the “First Lady of Firsts,” beginning her career as an acrobatic stunt pilot in air shows. In the 1950s she set several land speed records and soon became involved with promoting Chevrolet’s new Corvettes. Throughout her life she fought for expanded opportunities for female pilots and drivers.

View Betty Skelton Erde’s obituary


Juan Manuel Fangio (1911–1995)

AP Photo / Walter Lindlar

When Formula One racing began in 1950, the Argentinian Fangio dominated the sport, winning the Drivers’ championship five times with four different teams. He retired from racing in 1958, having won 24 of the 52 Grand Prix events he entered. Many F1 drivers consider him to be the best of all time.


Enzo Ferrari (1898–1988)

AP Photo

Ferrari began his racing career at Alfa Romeo in the 1920s, later creating his own famed Grand Prix team, Scuderia Ferrari. Over the years the Ferrari team has had more success than any other in Formula One history, winning 15 Drivers’ championships and 16 Constructors’ championships since 1950. Ferrari luxury sports cars remain among the most prized in the world.


Graham Hill (1929–1975)

AP Photo / Laurence Harris

British driver Hill is the only “Triple Crown” winner in motor sports, having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Indianapolis 500 and the Formula One Drivers’ championship. He retired from racing in 1973 and died two years later when the plane he was piloting crashed in nighttime fog.


Alan Kulwicki (1954–1993)

AP Photo / Ed Bailey

Kulwicki didn’t fit the NASCAR profile. Born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, he became the first NASCAR champ with a college degree when he won the Winston Cup in 1992. He also created the “Polish Victory Lap,” driving clockwise so fans could see him easily from the driver’s side window. Kulwicki died in an airplane crash in 1993.


Bruce McLaren (1937–1970)

AP Photo / Lev

New Zealander McLaren was a successful Formula One driver, but his greatest legacy is the founding of McLaren Racing. The team has won 12 F1 Drivers’ championships, eight Constructors’ championships and the Indianapolis 500, and dominated Can-Am sports car racing. McLaren died in a crash while testing a new Can-Am race car in 1970.

Read more about Bruce McLaren


Pat Moss (1934–2008)

Wikimedia Commons / Netherlands National Archive

Moss found success in rally racing, which involves driving point to point, often across different types of terrain. She had several top five finishes, including a win in the 1962 Tulip Rally in the Netherlands.


Helle Nice (1900–1984)

Wikimedia Commons / National Library of France

Nice was one of the most colorful characters of pre-World War II racing. A former dancer and model, she became a regular on the Grand Prix circuit in her blue Bugatti. After the war she was accused of being a Nazi collaborator, and though no evidence was ever presented, the accusation effectively ended her career. She lived the rest of her life under a false name and died in poverty.


Benny Parsons (1941–2007)

Getty Images / Archive Photos / Robert Alexander

Parsons was one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR, a taxi driver who became the 1973 NASCAR champion. He had 21 wins and later became a popular racing commentator.

View Benny Parsons’ obituary


David Pearson (1934–2018)

Getty Images / ISC Archives

Legendary NASCAR driver Pearson was called “the Silver Fox” for his smart driving on the track. Racing from 1960 until 1986, he is second on the career wins list with 105.

View David Pearson’s obituary


Lee Petty (1914–2000)

AP Photo

Lee Petty was one of the biggest stars of NASCAR, winning the championship three times in the 1950s. He won 54 races, including the first Daytona 500 to be held at Daytona International Speedway in 1959. He was the first of four generations of racing Pettys: son Richard, grandson Kyle, and great-grandson Adam, who died in a crash during practice in 2000.


Fireball Roberts (1929–1964)

AP Photo

One of the best NASCAR drivers of the 1950s and early ’60s, Roberts died of complications from burns sustained during a crash in the 1964 World 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Six days later, drivers Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald died in a fiery crash at the Indianapolis 500. As a result of these tragedies, more research was devoted to the development of safer fuel cells and fire-retardant coveralls.


Ayrton Senna (1960–1994)

AP Photo / Stephan Holland

Regarded as one of the greatest drivers in motor sports, Brazilian Senna won three Formula One drivers’ championships. He died in a crash while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Senna was a national hero; an estimated 3 million people attended his public funeral in Sao Paulo.


Carroll Shelby (1923–2012)

AP Photo

One of the most successful American race drivers of the 1950s, Shelby won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. He teamed up with Ford during Henry Ford II’s racing feud with Enzo Ferrari and helped turn the GT40 into a four-time Le Mans winner. After retiring from racing, he continued to develop high-performance vehicles for all three major U.S. auto manufacturers.

View Carroll Shelby’s obituary


Louise Smith (1916–2006)

Collection of South Carolina State Museum

In 1947, Smith took her husband’s Ford to Daytona Beach, Florida, to “watch” the race. She competed instead, crashed the car and ended up on the front page of her hometown newspaper. “The First Lady of Racing” continued to race every chance she got in the early years of NASCAR and held her own against the top male drivers of her day.

Read more about Louise Smith


Bill Vukovich (1918–1955)

Going for his third straight win at the Indianapolis 500, Vukovich was leading the race when he swerved to miss an accident ahead of him. His car flew off the track, and he died in the crash. He’s remembered as one of the greatest drivers in Indy 500 history.


Dan Wheldon (1978–2011)

British driver Wheldon driver won the Indianapolis 500 twice and was the IndyCar Series champion in 2005. He was killed in a massive crash involving 15 cars during the final race of the 2011 season in Las Vegas. The race was immediately halted, and the other drivers drove a five-lap salute to their colleague.

View Dan Wheldon’s obituary

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