Roberts wins inaugural Atlanta stop

Sunday, July 31, 1960 – Glen “Fireball” Roberts of Daytona Beach, Fla. passed Cotton Owens with 12 laps remaining to capture the inaugural Dixie 300 NASCAR premier series race at Atlanta International Raceway. The victory was the second of the year for Roberts and came in his sixth start of the ’60 season.

Roberts was flagged the winner when the race ended under caution. Owens and Jack Smith were second and third, respectively. All three were fielding Pontiac entries.

The win was the 23rd of Robert’s NASCAR career.

Bud Moore, head mechanic for Smith, lodged a protest after the race claiming his driver and Owens were both ahead of Roberts when the checkered flag appeared. NASCAR officials, however, ruled in Roberts’ favor.

Official starter Ernie Moore was knocked unconscious after he was struck in the neck by a piece of debris that flew off one of the race cars. He was transported to a local hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

According to reports, attendance for the inaugural race was 25,000, fewer than what had been anticipated.

Driver Speedy Thompson suffered three broken ribs when his car slammed into the fourth turn guard rail, bringing out the caution and sealing the win for Roberts.

Owens complete the entire 200-lap race on a single set of tires.

Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War 1 flying ace and recipient of the Medal of Honor, provided the American flag that was raised in the AMS pits. Rickenbacker was also a racer, competing in the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Move over Papa Bear, here comes NASCAR

Saturday, July 21, 1956 – Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears of the NFL for several decades, played host to NASCAR’s top series for a 200-lap affair contested on the 0.5-mile track surrounding the football field. Glen “Fireball” Roberts won the race, the 33rd of the season, piloting the No. 22 Pete DePaolo-owned Ford. Jim Paschal, Ralph Moody, Speedy Thompson and Frank Mundy rounded out the top five.

The facility hosted weekly stock car racing for a short period of time in the 1950s as well as NASCAR convertible series events in 1956 (two races) and ’57.

Andy Granatelli, who would go on to become a major player in automobile racing in the U.S., promoted the weekly Chicago races in the beginning. As the CEO of STP, Granatelli eventually put his company’s sponsorship behind Richard Petty to start one of the longest-running sponsorship relationships in NASCAR.

Billy Myers started on the pole. It was the only No. 1 qualifying spot in 84 starts for Myers.

Roberts dies after battle with burns

Thursday, July 2, 1964 – Glen “Fireball” Roberts, NASCAR’s top drawing card at tracks across the country, died at Memorial Hospital in Charlotte where he had spent six weeks following a fiery crash in the World 600 race on May 24. Roberts, 35, was the winner of 33 races in NASCAR’s top series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500. A wreck in the 600 resulted in burns over 75 percent of his body.

Officially doctors listed Roberts’ cause of death as pneumonia and septicemia (blood poisoning). The popular star had slipped into a coma a day earlier.

Roberts was injured in a lap 7 crash that also involved drivers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. Jarrett pulled Roberts from his burning car, which had landed on its roof. “Fireball was the idol of all the drivers,” Jarrett said after hearing of his passing. “We looked up to him. He was a gentleman and a sportsman, all that a man in our profession should be.”

Roberts once said his first racing win, which came on a small dirt track in southern Georgia, earned him “a ham, a sack of pecans and a $20 bill.” At the time of his passing, he had earned more than $300,000, nearly $2.5 million by today’s standards.

A.J. Foyt, in Daytona to prepare for the Firecracker 400, called Roberts “the best stock car driver I have ever raced against.”

Tragedy overshadows Paschal win at CMS

Sunday, May 24, 1964 – Jim Paschal drove his No. 14 Petty Enterprises Plymouth to his 19th career victory, but the World 600 was marred by a multicar crash that left NASCAR idol Glen “Fireball” Roberts hospitalized with burns over much of his body. Roberts was caught up in an incident that also involved Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett. When his No. 22 Ford hit the wall, back end first, it ruptured the fuel tank and flipped over. Jarrett helped free Roberts from the burning car.

Roberts was NASCAR’s first true superstar, talented, successful and popular. Reports at the time said the Florida native was preparing to step away from competition and work with a popular beer company even though he himself did not drink.

At the time of his injuries, Roberts had 33 wins in NASCAR’s premier series, including victories in the Southern 500 and Daytona 500.

Roberts, burned over 75 percent of his body, passed away 39 days after the accident from pneumonia and blood poisoning.

Paschal finished four laps ahead of teammate Richard Petty. It was one of only two career wins on a track larger than one mile for the North Carolina native.

Lorenzen takes big track lead with 600 win

Sunday, May 23, 1965 – Fearless Freddy Lorenzen became the first two-time winner of the World 600 and set a record for superspeedway victories in the process when he captured the longest race on the NASCAR premier series schedule. Lorenzen, driving the No. 28 Ford for Holman-Moody, beat runner-up Earl Balmer to the finish line by just three seconds to earn his 22nd career victory.

The victory was Lorenzen’s 10th on NASCAR superspeedways, one more than the late Glen “Fireball” Roberts won between ’50 and ’64. Lorenzen had two wins at Darlington, four at Atlanta, two at Charlotte and one at Daytona prior to his second victory in the 600.

International road racing standout Pedro Rodriguez of Mexico City finished fifth, his lone top five in six career starts in the NASCAR series. Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the road course used by NASCAR’s Busch (now Xfinity) Series in 2005-08, is named in honor of Rodriguez and his younger brother Ricardo. Both died in separate racing incidents.

Rain and the threat of a lawsuit

Monday, May 9, 1960 – Two days after the Rebel 300 NASCAR convertible race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was halted due to rain, one of the race’s chief contenders threatened to file a lawsuit against the sanctioning body and its founder, William H.G. France. Joe Weatherly said he would seek legal action if the race, scheduled to be completed on May 14, was resumed under the caution flag as proposed by France. Darlington Raceway president Bob Colvin sided with Weatherly and said according to NASCAR’s own rulebook, a race could only be restarted in one of two ways – under the green flag at the point it was halted or reverting to the start and beginning under green at lap 1.

Weatherly’s concern was that he and at least two other drivers had pitted for fuel during the 16 laps run under yellow for rain after lap 58. Resuming the race under five laps of yellow, he said, provided those who had not pitted with an unfair advantage – they would be able to pit and not lose a lap as he had done before the race was halted. Fireball Roberts was the race leader at the time the race was halted but was low on fuel.

France told the Florence Morning News that the situation was “an unprecedented event” and that “we have no rule to coverage. I simply had to let my conscious be my guide.”

So what happened? The race, held the following Saturday, was resumed under the yellow flag and Weatherly wound up in victory lane. And no lawsuit was filed. “I don’t think we even ought to talk about that,” he said after his first Darlington victory.