On May 24, 1964, at the World 600 in Charlotte, Roberts had qualified in the eleventh position and started in the middle of the pack. On lap seven, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson collided and spun out and Roberts crashed trying to avoid them. Roberts’ Ford slammed backward into the inside retaining wall, flipped over and burst into flames. Witnesses at the track claimed they heard Roberts screaming, “Ned, help me”, from inside his burning car after the wreck. Jarrett rushed to save Roberts as his car was engulfed by the flames. Roberts suffered second- and third-degree burns over eighty percent of his body and was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition. Although it was widely believed that Roberts had an allergic reaction to flame-retardant chemicals, he was secretly an asthmatic, and the chemicals made his breathing worse.
Roberts was able to survive for several weeks, and it appeared he might pull through. But Roberts’ health took a turn for the worse on June 30, 1964. He contracted pneumonia and sepsis and had slipped into a coma by the next day. “Fireball” Roberts died from his burns on July 2, 1964.
Roberts’ death, as well as the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald at the Indianapolis 500, six days after Roberts’ crash, led to an increase in research for fire-retardant uniforms. It also led to the development of the Firestone RaceSafe fuel cell, and all race cars today use a foam-backed fuel cell to prevent fuel spillage of the massive degree that Roberts had. Also, fully fire-retardant coveralls would be phased in leading to the now mandatory Nomex racing suits. Roberts had just lost close friend Joe Weatherly in the January, Motor Trend 500, at Riverside, California, making 1964 a tragic year for American auto racing.
Prior to his death, there were many sources reporting that Roberts was retiring, since he had taken a prominent public relations position at the Falstaff Brewing Company, and that the race in which he was killed was to be one of the final races of his career.[
- January, 20, 1929
- Tavares, Florida
- July, 02, 1964
- Charlotte, North Carolina
Cause of Death
- suffered second- and third-degree burns over eighty percent of his body after Roberts' Ford slammed backward into the inside retaining wall, flipped over and burst into flames.
- Daytona Memorial Park
- Daytona Beach, Florida