Thursday, April 17, 2014

Checkered Past: 1964 – Dark Days for NASCAR

The 1964 NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup Series) season was one of the longest in NASCAR's history, beginning in Dec. 1963 and running through Nov. 1964. Though there were some high points, including Richard Petty’s first of seven championships and Wendell Scott’s historic first win, it was also a season of tragedy, as three drivers in the series lost their lives in separate incidents.

Joe Weatherly
credit: NASCAR Media
Joe Weatherly, the two-time defending Grand National champion, never got a chance to go for title No. 3. He died of head injuries sustained in a racing accident at Riverside International Raceway on Jan. 19. Weatherly was killed instantly when his head went outside the car and struck the retaining wall; at the time, window nets were not mandated in competition, and Weatherly was not wearing his shoulder harness.

Glenn "Fireball" Roberts
credit: ISC Archives
Glenn “Fireball” Roberts became the second NASCAR fatality in 1964, and though his death was not a direct result of a racing accident, his involvement in an accident early in the May 24 running of the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway played a part in his passing. Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson wrecked on Lap 7 of the race. Roberts, attempting to avoid them, crashed and burst into flames. Jarrett rushed to Roberts’ car and pulled him out, but much of the damage was already done: Roberts suffered second- and third-degree burns to more than 80 percent of his body. Roberts spent the next weeks in the hospital recovering but contracted pneumonia and sepsis (a whole-body inflammation caused by infection) and slipped into a coma on July 1; Roberts died on July 2, more than five weeks after the wreck.

In Sept. 1964, Jimmy Pardue was running fourth in points when he headed to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a Goodyear tire test. In Turns 3 and 4, a tire blew on his car, sending him through the guardrail to the outside of the track. Just one month shy of his 34th birthday, Pardue perished in the wreck; he still went on to finish fifth in points posthumously.


2 comments :

  1. Thanks for a nice tribute to three fallen boyhood heroes. My father was a big fan of Joe Weatherly and took that loss hard, as would be expected. I was a Fireball Roberts fan, who would soon be hit with the same feelings a short time later. I was 12 years then and we were ardent fans of NASCAR. Ironically, my dad was killed in September of that year as well. Thus, 1964 has always stood out as a sad year for me. We attended Grand National races at the old Asheville-Weaverville Speedway, Bristol, and Charlotte... and local races at the western North Carolina short tracks. Thanks for remembering these three great drivers and keeping their names in the spotlight for those to young to have been able to enjoy their contributions to the sport.

    Bob Simpson - Asheville, NC

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