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  A Look Back at the Historic Ban of American Auto Racing

  May 2, 2008
  By:  All Ford Mustangs News

Benz Flies into Air, LIFE Magazine, June 27, 1955

On June 6, 1957, the Automobile Manufacturers Association banned race involvement. The ban was more than mere non-involvement in the actual racing. The racing ban also meant that auto manufacturers would not supply pace cars, publicize results, advertise speed-related features of their passenger cars, or help anyone involved in auto racing.

There was a very good reason for the ban. Two years prior, on June 11, 1955, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race 77 people were killed and that many more were injured when the† Mercedes-Benz driven by Pierre Levegh brushed the Austin-Healey driven by Lance Macklin. The Benz had been clocked at 150 mph. It crashed into the spectators' stand and burst into flames. Levegh was killed. Macklinís car spun around but Macklin was not injured.

The race had already been underway for 2 hours and it continued after the accident.

The Benz in the Spectators' Stand, LIFE Magazine, June 27, 1955

Ferrari, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz were in the competition and Mercedes manager pulled the other two Mercedes from the race out of respect to the dead.

The British Jaguar team with Ivor Bueb and Mike Hawthorn driving won the race. Their average speed was a record 106 mph.

As a result of this disaster, the French government improved race security by having the spectators stand moved further back from the track. Mercedes-Benz stopped racing that year and only returned to the track in 1987. Switzerland banned racing and only lifted the ban in June of 2007.

At the board meeting of the Automobile Manufacturers Association in February, 1957, the president of General Motors, Harlow Curtice, suggested that the association ban factory-supported racing. Part of the reason was that the association thought that a self-imposed ban would keep the government from imposing racing regulations on the automobile industry.

The Aftermath, LIFE Magazine, June 27, 1955


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