7. The First Ever Car Race
The first ever competitive car race was a reliability race from Paris to Rouen on August 6, 1894. Though it wasn’t a true race as how we imagine one today, it was an important first step toward the idea of motorsports. It wasn’t a first past the line race, the winner was “the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal” and the 5000 Franc prize was split equally between Panhard & Levassor and the Peugot brothers.
102 people entered the race and paid the fee (10 Francs) but 78 of those entrants never showed up. Some of the entrants had sensible ideas, however others had more ambitious plans for the race. These entrants had vehicles powered by such forces as “gravity” and compressed air.
6. The First "True" Car Race
The first race that comes close to how we imagine a race was an 1178KM race from Paris to Bordeux. The conditions to win the race were simple: Be the first past the finish line, in a four seater car. The first car to cross the finish line was driven by Emile Levassor, after 48 hours of driving he crossed the finish line six hours ahead of second place. But the conditions of the race were too strict for Levassor to actually follow, as he was driving a 2 seat car. As it turns out, second place also driving a 2 seater.
The true first place was Paul Koechlin, who’s 4 seater Puegot crossed the finish line third, 11 hours after Levassor. Koechlin walked away with the 31,500 Franc Grand Prize, that’s $171,360 in current USD.
5. The First Closed Circuit Race
The first closed circuit race was held in 1898. The distance was 145KM and run on one lap called the Course de Périgueux. This race and all others like it at the time were governed by the Automobile Club de France. (Somewhat interesting side-note: The founder of the Automobile Club de France was the victim of the first ever car theft) These races came to be the most popular races throughout Europe except for England, Wales and Scotland.
4. The First American Race
The first American race was held on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1895. The race was sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald and was held on a 54-mile course from Downtown Chicago to Evanston, Illinois. The winner was a man named Frank Duryea.
There were five entrants in addition to Duryea: 2 electric cars and 3 gasoline Benz machines imported from Germany. The race started in the early morning in snowy conditions. A little over 10 hours later, Frank Duryea was the first to pass the finish line having hobbled through a journey plagued by numerous breakdowns and repairs. His average speed was 7.3 miles per hour and he took home a prize of $2,000 ($49,500 adjusted for inflation).
3. The First Racing Accident Caught on Video
This video shows the first ever recorded motor racing accident. This footage was captured in a race at Coney Island in New York in 1919. Louis Chevrolet (Yes, that Chevrolet) was the unfortunate victim.
2. The "Most Tragic" Accident in Motor-Sport history
On June 11, 1955 the “Most Tragic” accident in racing history occurred. During the famed “24 Hours of Le Mans” race in Le Mans, France Pierre Levegh was involved in a major accident that threw his car into the air, launching him from his seat. The wreckage from the vehicle went into the stands killing him and 83 spectators. 180 more people sustained injuries from the accident, and Mercedes retired from racing until 1989.
Warning: The following video is graphic.
1. The First Trans-Pacific Car Race
The Great Auto Race of 1908 was a race that traveled from New York to Paris. The route was a grueling trek from NYC to Albany, then to Chicago, San Fransisco, Seattle then to Valdez, Alaska. This leg of the journey was actually the first crossing of the continental US by car during winter. The proposed route would have taken them across the Bering Strait and through Siberia, but that didn’t work. They had to take a ship from Valdez to Japan, then from Japan they drove to Vladivostok then to Omsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin and finally stopping in Paris. The American team led by Thomas Flyer came in first place. The total journey covered over 22,000 miles and took 169 days. This feat still holds world records and the race was held at a time when horses were still considered the superior form of transportation