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Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Jr.
Born January 20, 1929(1929-01-20)
Hometown Tavares, Florida
Died July 2, 1964 (aged 35)
Cause of death Complications due to racing crash on May 24, 1964 during World 600
Awards Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers (1998)

inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990

inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1995

1962 Daytona 500 winner
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series statistics
206 races run over 15 years
Best cup position 2nd - 1950 (Grand National)
First race 1950 February 5, 1950 (untitled race) (Daytona Beach)
Last race 1964 World 600 (Charlotte)
First win 1950 August 13, 1950 (untitled race) (Hillsborough)
Last win 1964 November 17, 1963 (Augusta 510) (Augusta International Raceway)
Wins Top tens Poles
33 122 32

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

Contents

Background

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 fast ball, not his driving style, which is sometimes disputed. He enlisted with the Army Air Corps in 1945, but was discharged after basic training because of asthma.

Racing career

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 18, 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 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 driving a black and gold 1962 Pontiac built by car builder legend Smokey Yunick.

Death

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 7, 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 80 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.[1]

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 slipped into a coma by the next day. He died on July 2, 1964.

Roberts' death, as well as the deaths of two drivers at the Indianapolis 500 the same year, 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 severe 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 black year for major league auto racing.

Prior to his death, there were many sources that Roberts was retiring, since he taken a prominent public relations position at the Falstaff Brewing Company and the race in which he was killed was to be one of his final races of his career.[2]

Legacy

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 awards 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 Lowe's Motor Speedway in his honor.

After Roberts' death, NASCAR mandated that all drivers must 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 cars to this day. Later that same year, the NHRA also adopted the five point safety harness, and the flame resistant coverall. Driver's-side window safety nets were also made mandatory after the Joe Weatherly incident that year.

In music, the Dave Dudley penned Country song "Fireball Rolled A Seven," has been cited as being based on Roberts and his racing career, although this is in doubt, as the song states that the title driver drove a car with a number seven on the door. Roberts' car number was normally 22 although he used various other numbers including #7 once. According to Racing Reference.com [1], Roberts' only use of the number 7 was at Martinsville in 1957.

Another song "Fireball", dedicated to Fireball Roberts, is on the album by Johnny Bond titled "Sick Sober & Sorry" Nashville Label NLP 2039. 1971

References

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

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