Fireball Roberts

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Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Jr.
Born (1929-01-20)January 20, 1929
Tavares, Florida
Died July 2, 1964(1964-07-02) (aged 35)
Cause of death Complications due to racing crash on May 24, 1964, during the 1964 World 600
Achievements

1962 Daytona 500 winner

1958, 1963 Southern 500 winner
Awards

1957 Grand National Series NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award
Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers (1998)
International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1990)
Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1995)

Florida Sports Hall of Fame inductee
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career
206 race(s) run over 15 year(s)
Best finish 2nd (1950)
First race 1950 (Daytona Beach)
Last race 1964 World 600 (Charlotte)
First win 1950 (Hillsboro)
Last win 1964 (Augusta)
Wins Top tens Poles
33 122 32
Statistics current as of February 23, 2013.

Edward Glenn Roberts, Jr. (January 20, 1929 – July 2, 1964), nicknamed "Fireball", was one of the pioneering race car drivers of NASCAR.

Background[edit]

Roberts was born in Tavares, Florida, and raised in Apopka, Florida, where he was interested in both auto racing and baseball. He was a pitcher for the Zellwood Mud Hens, an American Legion baseball team, where he earned the nickname, "Fireball", because of his fastball, not his driving style, which is sometimes thought. He enlisted with the United States Army Air Corps in 1945, but was discharged after basic training because of his asthma.

Racing career[edit]

Roberts' 1957 NASCAR Ford
Roberts' 1962 Daytona 500 winning car

He attended the University of Florida and raced on dirt tracks on weekends. In 1947, at the age of eighteen, he raced on the Daytona Beach Road Course at Daytona, for the first time. He won a 150-mile race at Daytona Beach the following year. Roberts also competed in local stock and modified races at Florida tracks such as Seminole Speedway.

Roberts continued to amass victories on the circuit, despite the changes in NASCAR, as it moved away from shorter dirt tracks to superspeedways in the 1950s and 1960s. In his 206 career NASCAR Grand National races, he won 33 times and had 32 poles. He finished in the top-five 45 percent of the time. He won both the Daytona 500 and Firecracker 250 events in 1962,[1] driving a black and gold 1962 Pontiac built by car builder legend, Smokey Yunick.

Labor union[edit]

In 1961, Roberts, temporary president of the Federation of Professional Athletes, was in dispute with NASCAR president, Bill France, over the Teamsters' Union affiliate - the FPA - which he and Curtis Turner had helped organize and which France was trying to disband.[2] Unlike the banned Curtis Turner and Tim Flock, Roberts soon returned to the NASCAR fold.

Death[edit]

Grave marker

On May 24, 1964, at the World 600 in Charlotte, Roberts had qualified in the eleventh position and started in the middle of the pack. On lap seven, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson collided and spun out and Roberts crashed trying to avoid them. Roberts' Ford slammed backward into the inside retaining wall, flipped over and burst into flames. Witnesses at the track claimed they heard Roberts screaming, "Ned, help me", from inside his burning car after the wreck. Jarrett rushed to save Roberts as his car was engulfed by the flames. Roberts suffered second- and third-degree burns over eighty percent of his body and was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition. Although it was widely believed that Roberts had an allergic reaction to flame-retardant chemicals, he was secretly an asthmatic, and the chemicals made his breathing worse.[3][4]

Roberts was able to survive for several weeks, and it appeared he might pull through. But Roberts' health took a turn for the worse on June 30, 1964. He contracted pneumonia and sepsis and had slipped into a coma by the next day. "Fireball" Roberts died from his burns on July 2, 1964.

Roberts' death, as well as the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald at the Indianapolis 500, six days after Roberts' crash, led to an increase in research for fire-retardant uniforms. It also led to the development of the Firestone RaceSafe fuel cell, and all race cars today use a foam-backed fuel cell to prevent fuel spillage of the massive degree that Roberts had. Also, fully fire-retardant coveralls would be phased in leading to the now mandatory Nomex racing suits. Roberts had just lost close friend Joe Weatherly in the January, Motor Trend 500, at Riverside, California, making 1964 a tragic year for American auto racing.

Prior to his death, there were many sources reporting that Roberts was retiring, since he had taken a prominent public relations position at the Falstaff Brewing Company, and that the race in which he was killed was to be one of the final races of his career.[5]

Legacy[edit]

Despite having his career cut short and having never won a Grand National title, Fireball Roberts was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers. Other career accolades he won include induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1995. In 2000, the city of Concord, North Carolina, named a street near Charlotte Motor Speedway in his honor. Former driver Ned Jarrett has stated that his decision to retire was prompted by Roberts' death.[citation needed]

After Roberts' death, NASCAR mandated that all drivers wear flame retardant coveralls while on track. They also instituted the five point safety harness, and the special, contoured drivers seat, all three of which are still requirements on all NASCAR entrants.

In 2007, a unique adventurally series was named "Fireball Run" in honor of Fireball Roberts. The production is headquartered at Universal Studios Florida, and has aided in the recovery of 38 missing children. He was voted into the 2014 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 22, 2013.[6]

Daytona 500 results[edit]

Year Manufacturer Start Finish Team
1959 Pontiac 46 45 Jim Stephens
1960 Pontiac 3 57 John Hines
1961 Pontiac 1 20 Yunick
1962 Pontiac 1 1 Jim Stephens
1963 Pontiac 1 21 Matthews
1964 Ford 15 22 Holman Moody

References[edit]

  1. ^ Caraviello, David (2013-07-08). "Link to Allisons, history sweetens Johnson's Daytona sweep". NASCAR. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  2. ^ Augusta Chronicle, August 11, 1961, Page 13.
  3. ^ Fireball Roberts
  4. ^ Houston, Rick (2012-10-09). "Dressing the part". NASCAR. Retrieved 2012-10-25. 
  5. ^ http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/fireball-roberts.htm/printable
  6. ^ Pearce, Al (2013-05-22). "Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty, Tim Flock, Jack Ingram, Fireball Roberts elected to NASCAR Hall of Fame". Autoweek. Retrieved 2013-06-14. 

The second picture is of Banjo Mathews leading Bobby Johns. Fireball drove the #22 car and had a three speed transmission while the other Pontiacs like Mathews had four speeds. Reference Motor Trend in 1962 and http://www.racing-reference.info/race?id=1962-29&series=W

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Marvin Panch
Daytona 500 Winner
1962
Succeeded by
Tiny Lund