A Brief History
On May 26, 1923, the first 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile race was held. It remains today as one of the greatest auto races and is the oldest endurance race for cars. Here we list 10 of the all time Greatest Races, with no limit as to the category.
10. F1 Powerboat World Championship, 1981.
A 155 mph boat that weighs only 860 pounds powered by a 400 horsepower engine, loud and exciting! The races last about 45 minutes and are run through a course incorporating several turns marked by buoys. This contest is the highest level of powerboat racing.
9. Schneider Trophy, 1913.
Originally a race for float planes (sea planes), the race was discontinued after 1931 because of the dominance of manufacturer Super marine (the folks that made the World War II Spitfire fighter plane). Shortly after the 1931 race the winner set a world record (for that time) 407 mph, the first airplane to exceed 400 mph, a phenomenal achievement for the day, especially by a sea plane. The race was reestablished in 1981, this time allowing land based aircraft.
8. Ironman World Championship, 1978.
The premier triathlon event, it is held in Hawaii every year, consisting of a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bicycle race, and a 26.2 mile (Marathon) run. The men’s record is 8 hours 3:56, and the women’s record is 8 hours 52:14. After years of American domination, the event has taken on a multi-national flavor, with winners coming from countries other than the US for the last 11 years in a row. There is even a category for physically challenged people. The winner of this race certainly deserves the title, “Ironman.”
7. Dubai World Cup, 1996.
Obviously held in Dubai, there are 9 races held in separate categories, 8 for thoroughbreds and 1 for purebred Arabian horses. This competition is the richest horse race event in the world, with total prize money of over $21 million. The premier race, known as the G1, has a purse of $10 million, the richest single race purse in the world.
6. Indianapolis 500, 1911.
The oval race track of 2 ½ miles used to be made of bricks, giving the speedway its nickname, The Brickyard. Each Memorial day 300,000 race fans watch the event at the track, with millions more watching on television. Driving open wheel race cars capable of almost 240 mph, the record winning speed over the course is 187 mph, not bad with making pit stops and having other cars constantly in the way. The inaugural race was won at an average speed at 120 mph. An interesting note is that the cars are limited to a 2.2 liter 6 cylinder engine, the size engine you would expect in a tiny economy car. Of course, the turbocharged race engines produce 500 to 700 horsepower, which may be more than your average Honda Civic.
5. America’s Cup, 1851.
The first race was appropriately won by the schooner, America, which lent its name to the trophy. The most prestigious prize in yachting, the race is not held every year, sometimes going several years between challenges. Stretching the limit of boat design and technology as well as seamanship, a wide variety of boats have been used in the race, with multi-hull boats coming to prominence in recent years. American boats have won 30 of the 35 races, with New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia winning the other 5.
4. 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1923.
Driving for 24 hours, rain or shine, often in hot weather tests the endurance of man and machine. The record distance achieved is 3360 miles, an incredible 140 mph average speed. This race has been a showcase for manufacturers to demonstrate not just the speed of their cars, but the reliability of a car driven hard for such an extended time. Rules now state that at least 3 drivers must share the driving of each car, but in the past there were actually drivers that insisted on going solo to save time, avoiding driver switches. A quirky rule is that the car’s motor must be turned off during refueling, a restriction not found in other races. This adds another aspect of reliability of each car to the race, as you cannot win in a car that will not restart.
3. Olympic Marathon, 1896.
A 26.2 mile footrace meant to commemorate the messenger that brought news of victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE back to Athens. Of all the marathons run each year, the Olympic race, closing the Summer Olympics as the last event every 4 years, is the most prestigious. Unlike those other marathons with hundreds or even thousands of contestants, only the best in the world compete for the Olympic Gold Medal and a place in history.
2. Kentucky Derby, 1875.
The oldest race listed here, the Derby consists of 1 ¼ mile horserace by 3 year old thoroughbreds carrying 126 pounds of jockey and weights (male horses) or 121 pounds for fillies. Called “The most exciting 2 minutes in sports,” or “The run for the Roses,” the Kentucky Derby attracts a bigger audience (165,000) than any other horse race in the world. The record run was by the magnificent Secretariat in 1:59.4 in the 1973 race.
1. Wiener Nationals, 1996.
Sponsored by Wienerschnitzel, a fast food hot dog restaurant chain, these races feature dachshunds racing every December in San Diego. Although there are many other dachshund races, the Wiener Nationals are considered the unofficial National Championship. Dachshunds may have short legs and not look fast, but rest assured a healthy doxie can run faster than you, actually faster than any human that ever lived over a 25 or 50 yard course (4.22 seconds for a 50 yard dash). Note: Baron, 1992-2010 is considered the greatest wiener dog racer over his career, having never been defeated. Baron was a full sized dachshund, and weighed 34 muscular pounds.
Question for students (and subscribers): What races would you include in this list? (Apologies to Daytona 500, Soap Box Derby, and others, but the list is only 10 races. Is a sequel needed?) Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Borden, Louise and Niki Daly. The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2004.
NASCAR. The Greatest Races. Reader’s Digest, 2004.
Pease, Pamela. Pop-up Tour de France: The World’s Greatest Bike Race. Paintbox Press, LLC, 2009.