Due to safety advances since 1964's tragic season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to walk awa
Racers made the cars go faster and complained all the time. In the summer of 1964, Pat Purcell, NASCAR's executive director, promised that the sanctioning body would take steps to make Grand National stock car racing safer. "I don't know what we will do, but we will do something," he said. Purcell's statements came after drivers threatened to quit following the death of Fireball.
"It has reached the point where you are happy when a superspeedway race is over and you're OK, no matter where you finished," Buck Baker said.
"The cars are going too fast for the tracks where we are racing," Junior Johnson asserted. Johnson also charged that the tire companies were having trouble developing compounds that would give adequate wear.
Fred Lorenzen threatened to quit and go home unless NASCAR slowed the cars. "We are too fast," Lorenzen said. "I will never run another race unless they slow the speeds down." But Lorenzen thought about it for a few days and decided to race again.
In order to cope with the problem, the tire companies began an extensive series of tire tests. Jimmy Pardue, one of the friendliest competitors ever, signed with Goodyear to run a series of short test runs at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, September 22.
Most considered Pardue a newcomer to Grand National racing. He was a cigar-smoking gentleman who never met a stranger at the tracks.
Pardue ran his first Grand National race in 1955. By 1960 he was a regular, and in 1962, he won his first race on the circuit, driving a Pontiac to victory at Southside Speedway in Richmond. It was May 4, and he beat Jack Smith, Richard Petty, Joe Weatherly, and Jim Paschal to the finish line. The race was 200 laps, or 66.7 miles over a 0.333-mile paved track.
The next year, Pardue finished Sixth in the point standings and won the second race of his Grand National career. He won at Moyock, North Carolina, on July 11, beating Ned Jarrett and Buck Baker. It was a 250-lap event or 62.5 miles over a quarter-mile dirt track.
"I love what I am doing, and my family loves what I'm doing, so I plan to be doing this a long time," Pardue said in an interview prior to the World 600 at Charlotte. "Racing is all I ever wanted to do, and I want to be a good representative of the sport. I want fans and NASCAR officials alike to look at me and say, 'He's a nice guy.'
Pardue showed up at Charlotte that morning for tire tests with the same red Plymouth with which he won the pole there in May.
The plan called for him to make a 10-lap run. On the seventh lap around, there was the sickening sound of a Goodyear tire exploding. Pardue turned the lap before the wreck at 149 mph, about 4 mph faster than the track record.
When the right-front tire blew, the car dropped to where the oil pan hit and skidded on the asphalt. The car shot up the banking in Turn 3 and broke through the guardrail. Wooden posts holding the railing splintered, and 48 feet of railing folded.
Pardue's Plymouth went down a 100-foot embankment nose-first into a steel fence. The car turned over and the engine sailed from the vehicle.
Drivers and track officials removed Pardue from the car and carried him in a semiconscious state to Cabarrus Memorial Hospital in Concord. He died a little more than two hours after he arrived.