Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
The green flag got underway, and the cars took off 2x2. Two drivers figuring promintently in the race's storylines started side by side - Fireball Roberts in 11th and race winner Paschal in 12th.
Credit: Crabber1967 Photobucket
All should have been right with the world. The driver who fans would call King Richard within a couple of years opened the 1964 season with a dominating win in the Daytona 500. Paschal gave Plymouth fans another reason to celebrate with his win in the 600. Super Tex - A.J. Foyt - won his first of four Indianapolis 500 races. And the 1964 World's Fair opened in New York City with the Schaefer Center being a signature hall. If I had been of age back then, I'm guessing I would have reached TMC Nirvana.
Credit: WorldsFairPhotos.comInstead, things turned for the coincidentally tragic. Most race fans - even ones pretty knowledgeable about the races of that era - don't remember Paschal winning the 600. They remember the 600 for the wreck by Fireball Roberts and the resulting horrific fire.
NSSN Headline courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Photo courtesy of 'Bumpertag' at RacersReunion.com
The Indianapolis 500 was run six days later on May 30. Tragically, that race also had a horrific wreck. Eddie Sachs drilled Dave McDonald, and the fuel from McDonald's car ignited into an inferno. Sachs died immediately from the hit, and McDonald passed away later in the day.
As racers do, however, they continue. The practice may be considered cold and uncaring to some, but only on rare occasions have races been postponed or ended because of an incredible wreck resulting in injuries of driver deaths. Foyt solidered on at Indy to capture the 500, and the Level Cross crews kept their drivers' heads in the game to post a 1-2 finish for Petty Enterprises at the end of 600 miles.
Tim Leeming from RacersReunion.com - and allegedly the first person to get an autograph from Richard Petty - attended the 1964 600 and shared these memories:
My Uncle Bobby, my brother Richard, cousin Eddie and I spent all day Saturday before the race installing a heavy duty luggage rack and a 3/4 inch thick 4x8 sheet of plywood to the roof of a 1956 Ford Station wagon my uncle bought just to rig up like that for races. We were on the road before sun up Sunday to Charlotte. When we got there, Bobby parked on a little ridge behind the fence running along the back end of the pits going into turn one.The Chrysler Corporation produced a short video recapping the race. Logically, Plymouths feature prominently in the film and the brand drops. Even with the embedded advertising, the 8-minute clip is a great piece of history about the race and includes some fantastic coverage of many cars. As narrator Dave Despain alludes near the end of the segment, nary a mention is made of the terrible accident that ultimately claimed Roberts' life.
I immediately got out and climbed on top to see the view. Surprise of the day was finding a pair of pliers and a screwdriver that had been left on the plywood and made the entire trip to Charlotte. The view was awesome. I could see from coming off turn four all the way around to halfway through turn three. So we had an excellent view.
On the 7th lap, I was watching Richard who was running just in front of the Jarrett-Roberts-Johnson trio. I saw the spin/slide start, and then the cars went behind the crowd along the backstretch. Yellow came out about the same time black smoke started rising. Uncle Bobby had his ear pressed to a little transistor radio trying to hear what was going on, and he yelled that Fireball's car was on fire. The smoke was thick and black. To this day I can't go to Charlotte without remembering the sight of that smoke.
They pulled the car through the infield to the pits on the access road coming through the infield from the backstretch. I was standing along the road and saw the car go by. It was completely burned, and the back-end was almost non-existent. I had no idea at the time that Fireball was seriously injured. It wasn't long before the chopper lifted off from the infield care center, and Uncle Bobby said they were flying Fireball to the hospital.
I do remember, not sure what lap, somewhere around lap 50 or 60, watching Richard come off turn four leading at the time with Marvin Panch in hot pursuit. As he crossed the start/finish, I saw something flash out of the stands. Someone had thrown a beer can on the track. Richard hit it, blew a tire, and kicked the can in the air. Panch hit it next, and his tire blew. That put Richard down two or three laps, but I remember that throughout the entire race he was about the fastest car on the track.
We were watching Jim Paschal and Richard both running. Jim was so smooth and steady he looked like he was never going to get to the end with the victory. With about 15 laps to go, I slipped through the gate and into the pits. I was very good with getting away with things like that back then. It was always my belief that if I acted like I knew what I was doing (which I really seldom ever did know) I could get away with it. I was standing behind the Petty pits when Maurice and another crew member put up the two black board communicators with dollar signs ($) on each one announcing to Jim and Richard that they were in for a good pay day.
With Disney's Magic Kingdom not opening for another seven years, I found it funny and refreshingly honest for Paschal to declare his plans to start a chicken ranch with his prize winnings instead of proclaiming "I'm going to Disney World" as is done today.
To the victor belongs the spoils...
Photo courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
...and the personal service endorsements (though the spoils are much nicer).
Roberts was interred at a cemetery not far from the Daytona International Speedway.