Death in Racing

Posted on June 22, 2013


Death in Racing

By: Rob Oakman

Allan Simonsen ready to start at Le Mans (courtesy of AP)

Allan Simonsen ready to start at Le Mans
(courtesy of AP)

It is a subject that no one at the track talks about. To be truthful, most never think about until it happens to someone else. And even when tragedy strikes, it is something that most only ever consider for a moment. It is not because of bravado, bravery, or stupidity, but because you can’t compete with it in your mind. It is merely accepted, and one moves on. Death in racing is a risk, taken with humility, and sometimes paid in full.

Early in the going at the 24 hours of Le Mans 2013 long time sports car racer Allan Simonsen was killed at the age of 34 when his Pole winning Aston Martin GTE crashed hard at Tetre Rouge. He becomes the first driver in 27 years to die during the historic race.

Whenever a tragedy such as this one occurs there are calls from people outside the world of racing to end the race. Some want cars to be slowed down in the future, or classes of cars to be eliminated; some even go so far as to call for races such as Le Mans to be cancelled forever. These are people that just don’t understand.

Simonsen, like his fellow competitors, knew the risks, and accepted them long ago. And weather he believed it could happen to himself or not is irrelevant. Few of us ever think it will even though death comes eventually to us all. And few will ever know how we are going to die, but it doesn’t mean we should stop living.

Racing may seem like a silly way to spend your time, but what really isn’t? It may seem like an irresponsible way to live your life but what is a responsible way? Crab fishing? Mine worker? Office Manager? It may look like to some like a reckless, careless waste when someone dies but when is an unexpected death ever easy to accept? No, Racing is none of these things.

Racing is little understood by those who have never done it. Like most competitive sports people expect it is a matter of chasing celebrity. But truthfully racing is not done for fame, fortune, trophies, or fans. All of these things are appreciated if you are lucky to get any of them, but they are not the motivation. I cannot express in words exactly what it is about racing that hooks us. All I can say is that, for me, there is an instinctual connection that occurs when I slip into the seat. The chassis becomes an extension of my body in a very real way. It is as if my nerves have grown into the machine. I can Feel how wide it is, how long, without looking. When it vibrates, I vibrate. When it flexes it is my body flexing. When the engine fires we come alive together. In the lap we move, symbiotic, like one creature. The tires like my hands and feet, feeling every nuance in the surface, every slip, slide, where there is grip, and when there is none. Every movement, every change, moves through my entire body. And together we look ahead, always thinking into the future, planning and plotting. Every move we make seems to have actually happed in the past. And every move, all of its details, are instantly forgotten, because the future is all that matters. There is no now, no past, just the next turn in, apex, turn out, pass, car ahead, another lap, braking point, and on and on, always searching for perfection. The perfect lap. The perfect pass. It is just the racer, one with their machine, the track, and the competitors. And nothing outside matters because nothing outside exists. And nothing else ever could exist until the checkered falls, and the world comes flooding back.

Allan Simonsen on the Poduim  (courtesy of

Allan Simonsen on the Poduim
(courtesy of

I don’t expect you to understand. I concede it may be different for others. But I don’t think so. We race because we love it. It is a part of us. And it is something we will do without any of the fringe and celebration. We race because we are racers.

This is not to say that safety is not a concern. On the contrary. An investigation must, and will take place. Any innovations that could be brought in to make the cars and or barriers safer must be. Life is precious, and not something to be wasted, but it is not something that should be held back either.

I didn’t know Simonsen, but I do know racers. And not a one would want to stop a race if they should lose their life doing what they love and I don’t believe he is any different. All we would hope is that something is done to make sure our fellow competitors were a bit safer after because the fact is Racing is risky, as is anything in life. It is a choice to compete. No, It is a privilege to compete. It is a privilege to race against such amazing people. They are the competitors that challenge you to be better, to work harder, to stretch the limits of all you can be, and show you, by trying to beat you, that you can be more. And if they beat you this time, they are always happy to let you try again. They are a family like no other. A family to be proud of.

Condolences to the family of Allan Simonsen, his family, friends, teams members, and fellow racers.

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Posted in: Editorial