If you thought car racing only involved driving in a circle 500 times, think again. Many of the world’s top car and motorcycle races involve difficult terrain, extreme conditions, and incredible endurance. Racers from around the globe test themselves in some of the most inhospitable environments. They push their vehicle, and themselves, to the limit. These are the races that are truly grueling on both mind and machine. You almost have to see them to believe they exist at all. Here is a list of the ten most extreme races in the world today.

The King of the Hammers Race

King of the Hammers is an off-road desert race held each February in Johnson Valley, California. It’s about as tough a race as there is in the United States. More than 400 teams and 30,000 spectators come out for this event every year. It features Ultra 4 desert runner vehicles driving across harsh off-road terrain. There’s also crawling across large rocks and boulders. It’s a difficult mix of speed and agility.

Founded in 2007, this race has been known to leave more than a few cars on the side of the road with blown tires and busted axles. Drivers typically travel at speeds of more than 100 mph and use modified V8 engines that can produce 800 horsepower. Most vehicles rock 40-inch tires with beadlock wheels. Competitors must complete the 165 mile course in less than 14 hours or be disqualified.

The Rainforest Challenge

When it comes to 4×4 racing, few races are as grueling as the Rainforest Challenge. It’s a six day race through Malaysia’s jungles using 4×4 jeeps or other off-road vehicles. Along the way, competitors have to contend with dense jungle vegetation, mud, monsoon rains, raging rivers, snakes and other jungle animals. It’s a far cry from a leisurely country drive!

Founded in 1997, this race’s motto is, appropriately, “Survival of the Fittest.” It’s purposely scheduled during Malaysia’s monsoon season. Drivers need to be both mentally and physically tough. Did we mention that the race course runs over slippery hills, into deep gullies, across overflowing rivers, and on the edges of muddy cliffs? Most years there is at least one landslide that takes out some of the contestants. Some racers takes up to 10 days to complete this course. This is one event that is not for the faint of heart.

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Speaking of challenging, how about a high speed race through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to the highest peak? That’s what you get with the highly competitive, super dangerous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Also known as “The Race to the Clouds,” this is an annual car and motorcycle hill climb to the summit of Pikes Peak. That’s the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains in North America.

Held each year since 1916, this race is notorious for sending fire-engulfed cars tumbling down the side of the Rockies. The track for this race is only 12 miles long, but it includes 156 turns and involves climbing nearly 5,000 feet of elevation to reach the summit.

Until 2011, the track was mostly made of gravel. However, now the entire thing is paved, which was supposed to make the treacherous race safer. However, most observers claim it’s more dangerous now. The paved track encourages drivers go faster than ever before. It’s usually a recipe for disaster.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is a motorcycle race held every June. Hosted on the Isle of Man (obviously), it’s been going since 1907. To say that this race is dangerous would be an understatement. Over the years, this event has claimed the lives of 239 motorcycle riders. That gives it claim to being the most deadly race in the world.

Despite the danger, motorcycle enthusiasts continue to run the race on ever faster bikes. Some of which are even equipped with sidecars. The race itself is in the format of a time trial. It’s held on a street course, with competitors each starting 10 seconds apart. Despite the dangers associated with this race, there is even a “seniors” category for the event. Totally crazy!

24 Hours of Le Mans

Races don’t come much more famous than the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s held annually in France. A grueling endurance competition, Le Mans is often called the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency.” Held every year since 1924, Le Mans is known as one leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsport. (The others being the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.)

The 24 Hours of Le Mans runs on the Circuit de la Sarthe in the town of Le Mans, France. The course is comprised of a mix of closed public roads and specialist racing circuits. Teams that participate have to balance speed with their car’s ability, in order to race for 24 hours without suffering a mechanical breakdown. With fatigue a factor, there have been many accidents and deaths at Le Mans over the years. The worst incident occurred in 1955 when more than 80 spectators and driver Pierre Levegh were killed in a single crash.

The 24 Hours Nürburgring Race

The 24 Hours Nürburgring Race is another endurance race. This one is held every year over 24 hours in central Germany. It involves touring cars and has been held since 1970 on the famous 25 kilometers long track. The length of each lap enables 210 qualifying cars to participate in this race each year.

This race can be particularly grueling. The winding track becomes quite treacherous as drivers become fatigued. Crashes are commonplace. Most cars include more than one driver, adding to even more carnage when a crash inevitably happens. Billed as Germany’s premier motorsport event each year, this race attracts drivers from around the world, despite the danger.

East African Safari Rally

Few things on this Earth are as extreme as racing across the African safari. Yet that is exactly what happens in the annual East African Safari Rally. It’s a race that features more than 1,000 kilometers of timed stages, with each stage being more than 60 kilometers long. Known to most drivers as simply the Safari Rally, this annual race involves long, arduous driving across rough African terrain and searing temperatures This is off-road racing taken to the absolute extreme.

Contestants have to run through dry desert conditions, as well as jungles and flat open plains. The temperatures have been known to climb north of 50 C (122 F), leading to many overheated engines and stranded drivers. The Safari Rally attracts the toughest and roughest off-road racers in the world. This event is truly for people who are a little bit crazy.

The Dakar Rally

It’s arguably the most widely known extreme car race in the world. The Dakar Rally was formally known as the Paris-Dakar Rally, since it stretched from the French capital to the capital city of Senegal. However, that event was deemed to be too dangerous. It was transferred to South America, where it’s still held today.

The ultimate off-road endurance race, drivers in the Dakar Rally have been known to succumb to heart attacks while racing over the extremely rough terrain. Competitors must cross dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, and pass through caverns as they travel more than 500 miles every day.

This event even caused an international incident back in 1982. Mark Thatcher, son of then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, went missing for six days while competing in the Dakar Rally. Mark and his co-driver were eventually found safe and sound — But not before Prime Minister Thatcher weighed in to disparage this race and those who participate in it.

The Erzberg Rodeo

How difficult is the Ezberg Rodeo? Of the 500 people who entered this motorcycle race in 2011, only nine of them finished. Those are not great odds. Held each June since 1995, the Ezberg Rodeo is a motorcycle race in the Austrian Alps. It basically requires participants to race up the side of a working mine.

Each year, about 1,500 riders qualify for the competition. Roughly 500 drivers actually participate in the race. However, only about a dozen or so ever actually finish. The issue is the slope. It’s extremely steep and difficult to get up at high speeds. Motorcycles in this Red Bull-sponsored race routinely flip over and land on top of the drivers. This leads to a lot of mishaps (and ambulance rides). Still, the Ezberg Rodeo is more popular today than ever before. Competitors from over 40 different countries take part every year.

The Baja 1000

Ominous, dangerous, unforgiving, and cruel. These are just a few of the words that are used to describe the Baja 1000. It’s an extreme endurance race that covers more than 1,000 miles through the Mexican desert. An off-road race that takes place in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, this annual event is distinguished by the fact that it allows a variety of vehicles  types compete on the same course. You’ll see motorcycles, stock cars, dune buggies, trucks, and custom race cars. Oh, and spectators booby trap the course each year. Yeah, what a twist.

Acts of blatant sabotage include digging holes and pits, blocking river flow, and burying dangerous obstacles for vehicles to run into. Many spectators will also build jumps and ramps for cars to unexpectedly fly over — all for their personal amusement, of course. Racers are rightly warned to beware of large crowds in remote parts of the course, since it could indicate there are traps waiting. Organizers of the Baja 1000 claim that the traps add to the race’s charms. Yeah, right.

(Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)

This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.