Weatherly was driving his famed Mercury when he crashed at Riverside. Note the absence of
There was an opening in the inside concrete wall, designed to accommodate over-the-track infield traffic. Jarrett's car spun into the inside wall, the rear backing into this opening. The opening of the wall caught Jarrett's rear bumper. It split the gas tank and the car caught fire. Roberts' Ford, also loaded with gasoline, exploded and flipped as it hit the edge of the concrete wall. There was a holocaust of flames. Residents 10 miles away saw the smoke.
Jarrett's car stopped on its wheels, but was burning. Roberts' car was upside down, and gas from his punctured tank was dripping inside and setting the whole inside on fire.
Jarrett ran to Roberts' car as Roberts was trying to climb free. He told Jarrett he was on fire. Jarrett pulled him free of the flames and tore off the clothing he could. Roberts suffered burns, especially on his lower legs, his hands, and neck.
A helicopter air-lifted him to Charlotte Memorial Hospital where doctors listed him in extremely critical condition with burns over 80 percent of his body.
The doctor's report read that all of his legs except where his shoes were-both front and back-had serious burns. All of his face except that covered by his helmet suffered burns. Likewise, he suffered burns on his hands. Burns covered his back, as well as his arms up to his shoulders. His legs and hands had the deepest burns. The report added that about 30 percent of his body suffered third degree burns, the kind that burns through the skin into the tissue.
They towed the car to the garage area and placed it under a black tarpaulin.
Roberts battled for his life. The hospital issued daily statements on the condition of the 35-year-old Florida native. He rallied and then finally succumbed to the injuries on July 2. After surgery to remove tissue, he lapsed into a coma and never regained consciousness. He died of the burns, pneumonia, and blood poisoning.
NASCAR made major changes after Fireball's wreck. Right away, the sanctioning body began requiring rubber bladders inside fuel tanks, and fuel check valves were added to the tops of gas tanks to stop the flow of fuel if a car is upside down. The rubber bladders were to lessen the chance of fire if a car backed into the wall, as was the case at Charlotte.
NASCAR also began inspecting racetracks closer, and required all tracks to close openings such as the one left open at Charlotte. Efforts followed to improve the safety of all tracks.
Another major change included fire-proof driving suits. No longer would drivers climb into their race cars wearing work pants and a sport shirt. Fire-proof gloves became a part of the uniform.
Gas cans in the pits would undergo changes with catch valves and someone guarding the overflow. It was the onset of the rules today that require all crewmen to wear uniforms, and for people who handle gas on pit stops to wear helmets with face guards.
Roberts was the first superstar of NASCAR. He won 33 races and 36 poles. His career winnings totaled $290,309. He raced in NASCAR from 1950 to 1964.
His nickname, Fireball, did not come from racing. He was born in Tavares, Florida, in 1929, and acquired the name while pitching baseball for the Zellwood Mud Hens, an American Legion baseball team in Apopka, Florida.