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May 29, 1922    -    January 19, 1964


The Fatal Accident

 

Joseph Herbert Weatherly was born on May 29, 1922 in Norfolk, Virginia and was one of NASCAR's first big stars.  He competed in 230 races from 1952 through 1964, scoring 19 poles, 25 wins and back-to-back championships in 1962 and 1963.                
 

The Video of Joe Weatherly Fatally Hitting the Wall at Riverside in January 1964

 

Joe Weatherly Fatal Crash Extended

 

Or you can watch this video with overview of the entire race,
with two views of Weatherly’s crash.

 

January 19,1964, Joe was on track to become the first driver to win three titles in a row until his tragic accident in a race at Riverside Speedway in California in the fifth race of the season.  While competing in the #8 Bud Moore owned Mercury, Weatherly slid off track with what is thought to have been braking failure due to a blown engine and oil. Driver side window nets had not been introduced at that time. Weatherly’s head whipped out of the driver’s window striking the retaining wall and killed him instantly. Weatherly's fatal injuries were blamed on his lap belt. In 1964, NASCAR drivers had the option of a shoulder harness, similar to those of today, or a simple lap belt.

Just a day before he died, Weatherly told The Associated Press he preferred only a lap belt. He said he would "rather flap around in there." "I move around so much," he said. "I'd rather have the freedom of a seat belt."

NASCAR took away that freedom the
following year, insisting drivers wear some sort of harness restraint. Because Weatherly's car offered no protection at the driver's side window, NASCAR started looking at ways to keep a driver in the car during an accident. The sanctioning body developed window webbing, which was introduced in 1971 and is still used today.

He died at 41 years of age. Weatherly was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery on Granby Street in Norfolk, Virginia. His headstone depicts a replica of Riverside Speedway with an "X" marking the location where Weatherly's wreck took place.

A hard competitor and loveable clown who seemed to speak in a rapid, staccato shorthand, Joe enjoyed life and excelled in every form of racing he tried.  He left the sport a true champion. 

Joe Weatherly was killed at the wheel of a 1964 Mercury, possibly as the result of a stuck throttle. Joe used seat belts, but chose not to use a shoulder harness. He felt it might cause his neck to snap in an impact. Joe's death was caused by his head hitting the retaining wall in the crash. Officials speculated that a shoulder harness might have saved his life. He was pronounced dead at Riverside Community Hospital.

Weatherly's seventeen year career in racing began on two wheels. His motorcycle racing in the late '40s and early '50s included three wins in AMA (American Motorcycle Association) nationals. He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.

Weatherly moved on to stock car racing in the early 1950s. The Statistics pages provide a
detailed record of his Grand National [also known as the Winston Cup, now (in 2006) known as the Nextel Cup] race results show his progress from one race in 1952, another in 1954, and six in 1955. from 1956 to 1961 he raced in 14 to 25 events. His first NASCAR win came in 1958; then three wins in 1960. Nine wins in 1961 allowed him to reach fourth place in the championship. He was also chosen NASCAR's Most Popular Driver in 1961. His off-track practical jokes and superstitions were an important part of his popularity, also earning him the title of "Clown Prince of Racing". He won the Grand National championship in 1962 and 1963, and was leading the championship at the time of his death.

Joe Weatherly called Norfolk, Virginia, home. Known survivors included his widow, Joan, an eleven-year-old daughter, and a sister, Mrs. Betty Carawan.

Joe's career in racing was again recognized by his induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994. A stock car racing museum next to Darlington Raceway in South Carolina is named in his honor.

The marker is in the shape of Riverside International Raceway, as it was used for the NASCAR races. The cars followed the track going through the “esses,” then taking the right-hand Turn Seven then going straight to the right-hand Turn Twelve, for a 2.62-mile, nine-turn lap. The point where Weatherly’s car impacted the wall (Turn Five) being marked on the headstone by crossed checkered flags. Perhaps such an unusual headstone is appropriate for a man who was called “The Clown Prince of Racing.”

Sources:
California Death Index, 1940-1997. [K]
Book "The International Motor Racing Guide", by Peter Higham, David Bull Publishing, Phoenix, USA, ISBN 1-893618-20-X.
Book "The Tribute Project", edited by Ed Watson, 1997, page 40.
Book "Albo della Gloria: Al Piloti Caduti in Tutto il Mondo al Loro Posto di Combattimento", by Emanuele Carli, Modena, Italy, 1972, page 54.
Book "The History of America's Speedways - Past & Present", by Allan E. Brown, third edition, first printing, November 2003, America's Speedways, PO Box 448, Comstock Park, MI, 49321-0448, United States, ISBN 0-931105-61-7, page 158.
Newspaper The Daily Times-News (Burlington, NC, United States), issue of 20 January 1964, page 3B, article "'Crown(sic) Prince Of Racing', Weatherly, Is dead At 41".
Newspaper Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, NV, United States), issue of 20 January 1964, page 13, Associated Press wire service, article "Joe Weatherly Killed, 'Clown Prince of Racing'".
Newspaper Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA, United States), issue of 20 January 1964, page C-1, article "Death Of A Champion".
Newspaper Independent (Long Beach, CA, United States), issue of 20 January 1964, page C-1, article "Dead Driver Disdained Shoulder Strap".
Newspaper Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA, United States), issue of 20 January 1964, page 30D, three articles under headline "Fatality Mars Gurney's Riverside Win": Weatherly Killed in Crack-Up"; Sets Record Clip Of 91.154 M.P.H.", by Hugh Randolph; and Associated Press wire service, article ""Death Comes to The Clown Prince".
Website The Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, article, Joe Weatherly, page http://home.ama=cycle.org/forms/museum/hofbiopage.asp?id=58 .
Website Racing-Reference.info, Joe Weatherly Career Statistics, page http://racing-reference.info/driver?id=weathjo01

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