The oldest race car driver in the world

The Swedish race car driver Erik Berger was an outstanding athlete with a career spanning from 1947-2016 – something that earned him the title as the ‘world’s oldest race car driver’. Old News Club pays tribute to the racing legend.

His son Anders Berger to the left and Erik Berger to the right. Image: Bengt-Åce Gustavsson
His son Anders Berger to the left and Erik Berger to the right. Image: Bengt-Åce Gustavsson

Energetic businessman and athlete

Erik Berger was born July 18, 1925 in Sweden. Erik was an only child so after his father’s sudden death in the middle of WWII, 16-year-old Erik had to take over the family’s business as a blacksmith. He successfully ran the company until his own children were big enough to take over – and he continued to work there until he was 93. Erik was an excellent athlete competing in orientation run and skiing before entering his first car race in 1947 – which he won! In the following years, he began competing in rally, ice racing and racing.

The start of an amazing career

In 1956, Erik bought a Fiat 1100 TV. It was the first car he bought with the sole purpose of competition. He didn’t have to wait long for the first results as he took his first Swedish Championship medal (silver) on ice in 1958. Erik also started driving Volvo and 1960 turned out to be the big breakthrough year: class winner in the Midnight Sun Rally and total victory at The Skarpnäck 12-hour race.

Erik in his 1963 Ford Cortina competing in the "Midnight Rally / Midnattssolsrallyt"
Erik in his 1963 Ford Cortina competing in the “Midnight Rally / Midnattssolsrallyt”. Image: Björn Finstad

Erik then turned to Swedish car manufacturer SAAB who offered him a factory contract and in three years, he won five Swedish Championship medals on ice and track! In 1963, Ford attracted Erik to drive the new Cortina and since then, the racing legend has been associated with Ford. When Erik ended his racing career in 1972, he had won a total of 26 Swedish Championship medals, of which 10 gold, in Cortina and Escort.

Erik Berger celebrates ten times Swedish Champion
Erik Berger celebrates ten times Swedish Champion. Image: Stig F Nilsson

After two less successful seasons in Rallycross, Erik finally put the helmet on the shelf in 1974.

Stepping back into the race

In 1996, Erik was invited for an interview in the Swedish magazine “Teknikens Värld” about experienced drivers and new upcoming talents. A reader of the article offered to buy a car for Erik – if he wanted to make a comeback in historical racing? Erik accepted the offer and in 1997, the legend was back in the race continuing to drive successfully for years – many of them together with his son Anders. Erik won the historic racing cup four times and also got six silver and six bronze medals.

Check out: Group B rally car collection

Erik Berger on two wheel.
Erik Berger on two wheel. Image: Bengt-Åce Gustavsson

Erik Berger – The oldest race car driver in the world

In 2015, Erik turned 90 years and he said that he would run his last racing season. The highlight of the season was when Erik drove the fastest lap of his entire life in his last appearance on the track! His birthday was celebrated in the entire community with the local Motorsport club arranging a rally sprint. More than 3,000 people participated in the celebration of the Swedish racing legend!

Erik Berger celebrating his 90 years birthday.
Erik Berger celebrating his 90 years birthday. Image: Bengt-Åce Gustavsson

Unfortunately, the last competition year ended with a crash in Falkenberg (Check out the video below: 2:40). As this was no worthy end to such a long and successful career, Erik chose to re-run his last competition and participate in the 2016 finals.

The world’s oldest race car driver
Image: Bengt-Åce Gustavsson

Erik received a diploma from the Guinness book of World Records stating that he was the oldest race car driver in the world! Despite the racing career being officially over, Erik participated in some small local competitions and his last appearance in motorsports was at the Drivers Open final in Bengtsfors on December 2nd, 2017.

Erik Berger and his wife May-Lis
Erik Berger and his wife May-Lis. Image: Bengt-Åce Gustavsson

The end of an era

In the spring of 2018, Erik sat outside his apartment together with his wife May-Lis. Suddenly, Erik felt paralyzed and fell off the chair. In the hospital they found a bleeding in the spinal cord that had paralyzed him from the waist down. During his examinations, the doctors were amazed about his health with values of a normal 50-year-old! Treatments were made to try and cure the paralysis and Erik worked hard with physical therapy to regain his ability to walk.

The world’s oldest race car driver
World’s oldest race car driver – Erik Berger. Image: Bengt-Åce Gustavsson

At his 93 year birthday he said to a good friend:

”I’ve had a lot of time to think about what has happened. Immediately after my accident, I was very desperate, but now that I have thought about it I have had a long and successful life both as an athlete and a businessman. I’ve been healthy. I have a fantastic family and don’t have much to complain about. I have accepted that life has now changed. I don’t sit around being depressed anymore, but I have accepted my destiny and now I have to be happy every day I have left”.

In the fall of 2018, Erik’s condition unfortunately got worse. Erik Berger finally fell asleep on the 3rd of November at 00:15.