Great carmakers all race. Ferrari and Porsche might not exist without competition, Ford and Chevrolet have spent millions using it as a marketing tool and engineering proving ground, and Honda’s founder was racing long before he built his first machine.
Most car technologies — in our prized sports car or run-of-the-mill sedan — slowly developed on tracks around the world at over thousands of events. Racing is where new concepts and technology can be proven and stressed to the breaking point long before production lines are established. And it’s where crowds grow hungry for the future speeding by in front of them.
At the top of the pyramid is Formula One, where cost is no object and no idea is too outlandish to try. Just beneath that is endurance GT racing, in which even a slight improvement in durability results in victory. For most of its history, the Indianapolis 500 was the race for daring innovations. And NASCAR — well, there’s something to be said for making taxicabs run 200 mph under restrictive rules.
“Life itself is a race, marked by a start and a finish,” Ferdinand Porsche once said. “It is what we learn during the race, and how we apply it, that determines whether our participation has had particular value. If we learn from each success, and each failure, and improve ourselves through this process, then, at the end, we will have fulfilled our potential and performed well.” Enzo Ferrari was less philosophical: “I have, in fact, no interest in life outside racing cars.”
Take a look at these 12 racing legends that pioneered or popularized the technology in the production cars we all drive today.