Stephen E. Petrasek, 38, tire plant division manager, helped to rescue Marvin E. Panch from burning, Daytona Beach, Florida, February 14, 1963. At Daytona International Speedway a racing car Panch, 36, race driver, was testing went out of control while traveling at a very high speed and struck the guardrail. It then rolled down the banked track and overturned before stopping in the grassy infield. The vehicle’s three fuel tanks behind and under the cockpit contained approximately 30 gallons of fuel. Panch, who had escaped serious injury, released his seat belt and dropped to the curved roof of the cockpit. At the side of the car where flames had broken out, he tried without success to force open the door which was slightly ajar. Gusts of flames one to two feet long appeared inside the cockpit. Gahan, 36, race driver, William R. Wimble, and then Jerry A. Raborn reached the car and together attempted unsuccessfully to lift it at the side where Panch was endeavoring to open the door. Flames issuing from beneath the car increased in size, igniting Panch’s coveralls. Other persons arrived. While Stephen E. Petrasek and the speedway steward assisted the other men in raising the side of the vehicle, DeWayne L. Lund began discharging the contents of a fire extinguisher into the cockpit through the slight opening of the door. An outburst of flames then shot upward and drove the men back, some of them sustaining burns. Flames rose five to six feet in gusts from the under- side of the car, and others burned over the entire uppermost side. Heat was intense. Noting Panch still trying to open the door, the men ran back to their former positions at the car amid the gusts of flames. The others regained their holds on the car, which was hot, while Lund sprayed foam from the extinguisher before helping to lift the car. When the men raised the side of the car 18 inches, Panch pushed the door farther open and thrust his feet outside. Lund and Petrasek then drew Panch from the car. The flames on his attire soon were extinguished, although he suffered extensive burns. The men released their holds on the car and had moved back 10 feet when an explosion completely enveloped the vehicle in flames rising as much as 15 feet above it. Firemen put out the flames with the help of others. Panch was confined to a hospital for three months and recovered. Petrasek suffered burns to his hands and face, temporary impairment of vision, and torn arm muscles. He recovered.46394-4692
Steve Petrasek, 82, died on Sept. 15, 2007, in Akron, Ohio.
Born in Akron on Nov. 10, 1924, Petrasek was employed by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. for 40 years. As a tire engineer, he managed the racing division during the 1950s and ’60s, traveling around the world on the auto racing circuit. During his racing career, he was the recipient of numerous awards, including NASCAR Sportsman of the Year in 1963, the Buddy Shuman Award, the John Naughton Award, and the Carnegie Medal for helping to save the life of NASCAR driver Marvin Panch.
He then managed agricultural tire design development and engineering for Firestone worldwide, and was selected as a delegate to set world standards on tires and rims. While at Firestone, he held many patents for the development of tires, valves, and military equipment. In 1979, Petrasek moved to California as Firestone’s manager of field engineering for the western U.S. In 1982, he retired from Firestone and joined Talin Tire of Long Beach, Calif., as corporate engineer.
Petrasek was a member of many professional organizations, including the Society of Automotive Engineers, the U.S. Auto Club, the National Association of Stock Car Racing, Kiwanis Club, Knights of Columbus, First Slovak Union, and the Tire and Rim Associaton. Petrasek was also a licensed pilot and past president of the Firestone Flying Club. He was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed fishing, boating, and big game hunting in the western U.S.
He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Akron.
(Edited from an obituary by the Dunn Quigley Ciriello Carr Funeral Homes.)