These days, as safety obsessed as NASCAR is, it's pretty easy to miss the fact that since 1950, NASCAR has actually averaged more than one death per year of racing. That's an attrition rate of about 2 to 3 percent - every year - among NASCAR drivers, making this sport one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. That was especially true in the 1950s and '60s, back when stock cars were relatively stock, and safety took a serious back seat to speed. The Daytona track has claimed more lives than almost every other American super-speedway combined.
So, yes, NASCAR is obsessed with safety now...but not without reason. So, maybe it's worth taking a few minutes to appreciate some of the other high-speed heroes who gave their lives to the pursuit of a checkered flag. Check out this list of the worst NASCAR deaths ever to learn which drivers were killed on the tracks.
Known as "The Clown Prince of Racing," Weatherly was a guy who really loved what he did. He enjoyed practical jokes, and once showed up to take his practice laps in a Peter Pan outfit. He was one of the greatest showmen and sportsmen of his time. On one occasion, Weatherly's engine blew, at the final stretch on the last lap of a race, and friend Ralph Ligouri pushed him across the finish line while the front of his car went up in flame.
Weatherly played it cool, calling it his ride in "a chariot of fire." But, secretly, it spooked him. After that, Weatherly refused to use a window net or shoulder harness for fear of being trapped in a burning car. That decision proved fatal in 1964, when he struck a wall and went through the window, striking the wall with his head after which he passed instantly.
(It's also worth mentioning that Weatherly's passing was the start of the $50 bill superstition in NASCAR. When he passed, two $50s were found in his pocket; NASCAR racers have avoided them on race day ever since.)
Of the two NASCAR fatalities the average person could name, the other (apart from Earnhardt) will probably be Fireball Roberts. Fireball actually got his nickname from his blistering fastball, honed during his previous career in baseball.
A graduate of the University of Florida, Fireball raced in the inaugural season of NASCAR in 1948, and was certainly its first great superstar. Calling him the Earnhardt or Richard Petty of his day would be an understatement. In an uncomfortable bit of irony, Fireball passed in a crash in 1964.
There is a video of the 1979 crash that left Don Williams badly burned and lingering for the next ten years. Williams' Chevrolet Chevelle spun into a wall as he attempted to avoid a pile-up directly ahead, at the Daytona speedway just down the street from his home in Madison, Florida.
After suffering for more than a decade, cared for by his wife and family members, Williams passed quietly at the age of 42.
Known primarily today as Tony Stewart's fiercest rival, Kenny Irwin was barely out of his rookie year when he was taken out during practice at New Hampshire speedway. What made his passing both particularly tragic, and eerie, was that it was almost a direct repeat of Adam Petty's from two months earlier.
The cause was a stuck throttle during a practice lap, at almost exactly the same spot on NHIS.