The Tragedy That Forced NASCAR To Look At Fire Retardant Suits

These days, NASCAR is a safe, family-friendly sport, but it wasn’t always that way. On May 24, 1964, driver Glenn “Fireball” Roberts qualified in the 11th position at the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That put him in the middle of the pack, surrounded by drivers on all sides. A collision between two other drivers occurred during the seventh lap, and with little room Roberts managed to maneuver out of their way. Unfortunately, his vehicle crashed into a retainer wall, rupturing fuel cells and causing an instant explosion. He survived for six weeks before his second- and third-degree burns proved too much to recover from. He died from a combination of pneumonia and sepsis. The irony of a man called “Fireball” dying as a result of a curtain of flames wasn’t lost on NASCAR fans. The nickname actually came from his baseball days, when he was labeled “Fireball” because of his fastball. As a result of Roberts’ death, NASCAR collaborated with several companies to fast-track fire safety technological upgrades, which included fire-retardant driver suits and a revolutionary new fuel cell design. By 1965, NASCAR rules required fire-retardant suits, and all NASCAR vehicles are equipped with a tear-resistant rubber bladder filled with void foam to absorb sloshing gas and keep it in liquid form in the event of a rupture.