The basilar skull fracture is an injury in which the base of the skull suffers a fracture, damaging the surrounding membranes. It usually occurs in front-end impacts, and is very rarely seen outside motorsports. The basilar skull fracture is often fatal, though not always.
Michael Roberts is the most recent NASCAR driver to have been killed by a basilar skull fracture. Roberts shares some odd similarities with Dale Earnhardt, but one major difference was their experience: Earnhardt had over thirty years of racing under his belt, but Roberts was brand new to the sport.
Roberts was born on May 16th, 1950 in Milwaukee. Nothing is known about him beyond the following. Michael considered Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin to be his home, and was married to a woman named Dolores, whom he had one daughter with. By 2001, the two had separated for whatever reason. Their daughter, Taylor, chose to live with Michael.
Michael operated an unknown business in the Fort Atkinson area, and was rather successful as a businessman. He always harbored the dream to race, and eventually purchased a race car that he intended to run in the NASCAR ReMax Challenge Series, also known as the NASCAR Midwest Series.
Michael spent over $100,000 dollars on safety, and had even ordered a HANS device which was to arrive sometime in the late spring of 2001. He’d also hired Michael Loescher, one of the best driving coaches in the country, to coach him during his training. However, according to his sister, Michael Roberts still didn’t understand the dangers of racing.
On March 24th, 2001, Michael was testing his car at Lebanon I-44 Speedway, a 0.375 mile oval in Missouri, when the car suffered an unknown failure and went straight on into the wall. Michael Roberts, 50, died within ten seconds. It was the first fatality at Lebanon I-44 Speedway since it opened in 1989, and is the only death at the track to date.
Loescher witnessed the crash, and ran over to assist Roberts, but it was nothing doing. “These damned NASCAR cars,” Loescher recalled thinking, “They’re too rigid, and they don’t have enough crush zone in them.” (Orlando Sentinel)
Oddly, Michael Roberts shares several similarities with Dale Earnhardt. They were both of about the same age, they both had daughters named Taylor, and both died the same way: a basilar skull fracture. Roberts was the fifth NASCAR driver to die of a basilar skull fracture in 11 months, and is the most recent NASCAR driver to die of one. Hopefully, he’s the last.
“NASCAR Legend or Rookie, Skull Injury Still Kills”, April 8, 2001 edition of Orlando Sentinel