An unrelenting desert heat that will cause your V8 engine to cease in the middle of nowhere, booby traps that blow out your tires and crush your 4X4 axle, inclines so steep you’re liable to flip your motorcycle, monsoon rains that make dirt roads so slick many vehicles end up in a ditch or worse, at the bottom of a gully, and tests of endurance that often result in race cars slamming into one another as exhausted drivers fall asleep at the wheel. If all this sounds like fun to you, you’re definitely MudTribe material. But these are just a few of the obstacles that adventurous racers withstand when competing in the world’s 10 most dangerous motor vehicle races.
10. The King of the Hammers
Held every February in the hot, arid, unforgiving Johnson Valley High Desert California territory, the King of the Hammers is said to be one of the roughest motor races there is, yet it is also one of the most popular. More than 400 teams compete while 30,000 spectators roast in the sun to watch some state-of-the-art, 800 HP 4X4s negotiate boulders the size of VW Bugs. Vehicles will speed at more than 100 mph and many will flip, bust axles, blow out tires, or just plain overheat, causing more than one driver to scream more than his or her fair share of expletives. This race ain’t about namby pamby personal bests either. It’s either finish in 14 hours, or hit the road (Don’t let the desert sun slap you on the ass on your way out).
9. The Rainforest Challenge
Never trust a race whose motto is “Survival of the Fittest.” What it means at worst is you might not survive. At best, you might survive, but you’ll likely end up nearly killing yourself doing it. Founded in 1997 by someone with a sick sense of humor, the 6-day Rainforest Challenge takes place annually in Malaysia’s thick tropical rainforests. Competitors drive Jeeps and a variety of off-road vehicles ranging from Land Rovers to souped-up pickup trucks through dense jungle, mud, overflowing rivers, impossible to climb hills, and poisonous snake-filled swamps. Oh, and did I mention the race purposely takes place during the monsoon season, just to spice things up? When the sun goes down, racers camp out for a few hours of shuteye while having to deal with tarantulas, anacondas, and hungry jaguars. Not many years ago, a landslide destroyed a handful of vehicles and buried the drivers. Now that’s our idea of fun.
8. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
Rocky Mountain High isn’t just some sappy song title for folks who love the great outdoors. It means you gotta be high to enter into the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb which occurs annually in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain range. This one has a nickname: “The Race to the Clouds.” Or maybe they should call it, “The Race to Heaven (or Hell)” since it’s not uncommon for a racer to suffer a fiery death after rolling down a rock strewn cliff side. Begun in 1916 when racers put out a fraction of the HP they pull today, the track is only 12 miles long, but it contains 156 turns, and a climb of more than 5,000 feet. Up until 2011, the road was covered with gravel. But now it’s paved with blacktop making it more treacherous since racers use the macadam as an excuse to go faster and die quicker.
7. The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy
Like to race motorcycles? Got a death wish? If you say “check” to both, you’re gonna love The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. Since its inception in 1907, this race has claimed more than 239 lives and wrecked a ton of motorcycles. That makes this race the most dangerous, if not deadly, race in the world. But that doesn’t stop motorcycle/motocross racers from flocking to compete in it every year. Think you’re too old to enter and die? There’s a “seniors” class for that.
6. 24 Hours of Le Mans
This is the most famous of them all. You know, the one that takes place in beautiful France’s Circuit de la Sarthe, just south of La Mans, where famous people like Johnny Depp can be seen working the crowd. Movies have been made about the 24 Hours of Le Mans with handsome actors playing the daring race car drivers and sexy blonde bombshells portraying their frightened to death lovers. But the reality of this grueling competition is best summed up as endurance hell on earth. Not only do you and your car need to race for 24 hours straight, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up crashing into stone wall once severe fatigue sets in. In 1955, 80 spectators died when driver Pierre Levegh crashed into them.
5. The 24 Hours Nürburgring Race
This one could be called the “24 Hours of Le Man, German Style.” Same deal, a bunch of adventurous race car drivers from around the world compete in a race of both speed and endurance on a track that is 25km long. 210 cars and teams from around the world are happy to compete. But here’s what’s not so happy. Because of the many hairpin turns and winding roadway, drivers can’t help but crash into one another, especially after nightfall and the exhaustion sets in. That’s why cars utilize more than one driver. One guy to steer and the other to mix the Red Bull cocktails.
4. East African Safari Rally
Now we’ve entered true MudTribe territory. After all, The East African Safari Rally has got all the essentials of a true extreme adventure, including red African mud, killer beasts like lions and leopards, searing hot equatorial sun, and more than a 1,000 kilometers of possible 4X4 breakdown and/or driver collapse. The terrain runs from desert sands, to jungle swamp country, to vast open arid plains of so much nothing, you might find yourself slapping your own face just to stay awake. Bring extra engine coolant because exterior temps have been known to hit 50 degrees Celsius. You don’t want to find yourself stranded out in the middle of nowhere while the buzzards begin to circle overhead.
3. The Dakar Rally
If 24 Hours of La Mans is the most famous race, The Dakar Rally is the most romantic since it has attracted competitive drivers and adventurers ever since its beginnings early last century when it was recognized as the Paris-Dakar Rally. Since racing from the City of Light to Senegal was deemed too dangerous in the 1980s, the race now takes place in South Africa. But that doesn’t make it any less of an extreme test of driver know-how and 4X4 endurance. This ultimate off-road race requires drivers to endure tall dunes, mud, thick camel grass, boulders, river crossings and even caverns. It’s not uncommon for Jeeps and Land Rover Discoveries to flip, so make certain your winch is in working order. Drivers will need to cover 500 miles per day necessitating excellent conditioning. Heart attacks and strokes are a real risk. So is getting lost. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son got lost for 6 days during the 1982 competition.
2. The Erzberg Rodeo
Imagine a motorcycle race in which only 9 out of the 500 racers who enter it, finish? Now that’s one bad ass race. It also gives you just a small idea of how challenging The Erzberg Rodeo can be. Begun in 1995, this one takes place in the Austrian Alps in June and attracts crazy people from more than 40 countries. All that’s required of racers is to scale up the side of a mine shaft. Easy peasy, right? Well, considering the severe slope and the high speed required to handle the steep grade, riders are more likely to tumble head over boot heels than make it to the top. Got ambulance anyone? Don’t worry about that broken neck, it can be repaired surgically.
1. The Baja 1000
And the number one most dangerous motor vehicle race in the world is (drum roll please…) the Baja 1000. Goliath.com describes this one as “Ominous, dangerous, unforgiving and cruel.” I’m not sure I can top that descriptor but then, why does it bring a smile to my face? A test of extreme endurance, the Baja 1000 requires contestants to race across more than 1,000 miles of unforgiving Mexican desert located inside Mexico’s rugged Baja California Peninsula. It’s sort of like Mad Max in that all variety of motor vehicles are allowed to compete including Jeeps, motorcycles, 4X4s, dune buggies, pickups, and even stock cars. Now here’s the fun part: these are the badlands of Mexico after all, and the course is often booby trapped. So not only do you have to bring plenty of food and water in case of breakdown, but you’d better be packing a semi-automatic in the event said breakdown happens to correspond to a staged robbery. Fun times. Just don’t tell your mother you’ve entered into the competition.