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plural - trag-e-dies 1 a : a narrative poem or tale typically describing the downfall of a great man
b : a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the
protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or
disastrous conclusion that excites pity or terror c : the literary genre of tragic dramas
2 a : a disastrous event :
b : MISFORTUNE 3 : tragic quality or element
Tragedy certainly describes
the end of the life of Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts. Taken from
us too early, before he had a chance to reach full life, legacy and legend before
hanging up his helmet. It makes it that much harder to deal with. Such
was the case of one of NASCAR’s early pioneers, and first superstar of
NASCAR racing. Perhaps the greatest driver never to
win a NASCAR title. That is, until the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Voted into Hall of Fame
the fifth class of the Hall of Fame, NASCAR CEO Brian France
announced Wednesday evening at the Charlotte stock-car shrine.The class
also includes Fireball Roberts,Tim
Flock, Jack Ingram and Maurice Petty. After the January
induction of the latest five-member class, the total of NASCAR
Hall of Fame inductees will be 25.
Roberts, who lost on a tiebreaker during last year's vote, was
arguably NASCAR's first superstar. A two-time winner of the
Southern 500 and the 1962 Daytona 500 winner, Roberts is known
as one of the greatest drivers to never win a title. He died in
a fiery crash in 1964.
54-member panel assembled at the Charlotte
Convention Center to elect the fifth class. The top five
vote-getters were elected from a ballot of 25. There was no
minimum percentage required for induction, and voters each chose
up to five names. The nominees were chosen by a 21-person
committee consisting of NASCAR officials, Hall of Fame reps and
track owners. On the panel are: Hall of Fame executive director
Winston Kelley; historian Buz McKim; NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian
France; Vice Chairman Jim France; President Mike Helton; Vice
President of Competition Robin Pemberton; Senior Vice President
of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell; Competition Administrator
Jerry Cook; former Senior Vice President Paul Brooks; former
Vice President Ken Clapp; International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy;Martinsville Speedway President Clay
Campbell; Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage; Atlanta
Motor Speedway President Ed Clark; former Indianapolis Motor
Speedway President Tony George; Dover Motorsports CEO Denis
McGlynn; Pocono Raceway board of director member Looie McNally;
Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis; Riverhead Raceway
operators Jim and Barbara Cromarty (1 vote); Rockford Speedway
owner Jody Deery; and Kingsport Speedway Operator Robert
Last year, the three highest vote totals of those who weren't
inducted belonged to Roberts, who lost to Buck Baker on a
tiebreaking vote for the final slot in the 2013 class, Cook and Flock.
PAST CLASSES OF HALL OF FAME
2010: Richard Petty, Bill France, Dale Earnhardt, Junior
Johnson, Bill France Jr.
2011: David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore, Lee
2012: Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Glen Wood, Dale Inman,
2013: Rusty Wallace, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Buck Baker,
NASCAR Hall of Fame -
Thanks For Voting for FIREBALL!
Fireball Robertsby Ed Hinton
ESPN.com -- Jan. 2014
NASCAR's Hall is, of course, "of Fame." Emphasize the last
word, and Fireball Roberts should have been inducted in its
first class. He was NASCAR's first FAMOUS driver --
nationally famous, even known in Europe, where he once drove
a Ferrari at Le Mans.
The morning after he died on July 2, 1964, of complications
from severe burns suffered in a cloud of flame during
Charlotte's World 600 that May, NBC's "Today Show" ran the
news of his passing, and concluded the obituary simply:
The name was enough.
resounded through American households when no other NASCAR
name did. It wasn't just the nickname; it was the way the
driving style fulfilled the nickname: all-out, all the time.
Win, wreck or blow. Thirty-three times he won.
He was the archetype, the way race drivers are supposed to
be in movies, but rarely are, especially nowadays.
Of course he never won a NASCAR championship, with that
life- and car-gambling style, and that selectivity of races.
He never ran a full schedule.
By consensus of those who knew him, he exuded charisma and
fearlessness. His favorite song on the juke boxes in the
beer joints and diners was by Faron Young: "Hello, Walls."
Edward Glenn Roberts Jr., it was long believed, got his
nickname as a fastball pitcher in his youth in Central
Florida. NASCAR historians now question the story, with
input from Roberts' family and friends. Maybe, just maybe,
Fireball got the name purely for his racing career.
His shorter, more poignant nickname in the inner circles
was, simply, "Balls."
Driving for legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick, Roberts won
the first two Firecracker 250s at Daytona (now the summer
400-miler there) in 1959-60, with less endurance required of
his cars. But he didn't win the Daytona 500 until 1962,
beating an upstart kid, NASCAR's household name in waiting,
Roberts left Yunick to drive for Banjo Matthews, and won the
Firecracker again that summer, becoming the first driver to
sweep Daytona's major races in one season. How hard is that?
Jimmie Johnson did it in 2013, and before him it hadn't been
done since Bobby Allison in 1988.
Roberts' fearlessness might have found its limits in 1961,
when the future if not the very existence of NASCAR teetered
on his name. He at first was the brightest star in a
movement by the Teamsters union to organize NASCAR drivers
as the "Federation of Professional Athletes." Had it stuck,
that union might have spread to other sports.
The movement started with Curtis Turner, and included Tim
Flock, another 2014 inductee into the Hall of Fame.
But Roberts was the key. The three of them were banned for
life from NASCAR that August of '61. But Roberts took what
old-timers would remember as "The Long Ride," across western
North Carolina from Winston-Salem to Asheville, with Pat
Purcell, the right-hand enforcer of NASCAR's founder and
first czar, Bill France Sr., "Big Bill."
Purcell came out of the carnival business, reputedly carried
bottles of scotch in his briefcase for negotiation purposes,
but played nothing but the hard line. Whatever was said in
that passenger car moving west into the Blue Ridge
mountains, Fireball Roberts got out in Asheville and
announced he was through with the union movement.
Roberts was reinstated, and that was the beginning of the
end of the FPA.
the end of his career, which is to say his life, Roberts
drove a Ford for the fabled Holman-Moody team. One teammate
was an Indy car regular who also raced NASCAR, Dave
MacDonald. On the same Memorial Day weekend in 1964, both
MacDonald and Roberts were engulfed in flame, MacDonald in
the Indianapolis 500, with Eddie Sachs, and Roberts in the
World 600. All three were fatally injured.
Those deaths led to safety innovations taken for granted
today: fire-resistant uniforms, and explosion-resistant fuel
cells in NASCAR and fuel bladders at Indy.
And so the name resounds down through the decades, for
charisma, daring and the end of a deadly era.
Piece of childhood brought back to life
By GODWIN KELLY, September
Layton was a big fan of NASCAR driver Fireball
Roberts, enthralled to the point of tracking the
stock car driver to a Main Street pool hall.Originally from
Ohio, Layton was a Speed Weeks regular after Daytona
International Speedway opened in 1959. He was
especially fascinated with Roberts, who made his
Roberts was NASCAR's first breakout star. Layton
watched Roberts run the big track and was determined
to meet his favorite driver.
"I saw Fireball race, but I didn't know him," Layton
said. "One time when we were here during race week,
I heard he liked to shoot pool at Main Street. We
went up there and he was shooting pool. We got to
say hi to him."
Layton left Ohio to run a business in Daytona Beach
Shores for 27 years. More than 30 years after
Roberts' death, Layton bought a 1939 Ford Coupe and
turned the sedan into a mirror image of Roberts'
infamous "White Lightning."
"White Lightning" was the No. 11 Ford that Roberts
raced to stardom in the early 1950s. "Sammy Packard
found the car for me over in Sarasota," Layton said.
"We went over to take a look at it. I wanted a '39
because that was the year I was born. "When I got
it, Sammy asked me, 'Now what are you going to do
with it?' I told him I had a photo of Fireball's
modified car, and I wanted to put it back together
After Layton made the purchase in 1999, Packard
assisted with the mechanical restore, while renowned
racing artist, Buz McKim, used a series of photos of
Roberts' machine from various reference points to
recreate the look of the car. "Buz told me he had
all the photos I needed to build a near exact
replica car," Layton said. "He told me, 'We can put
it together just like Fireball's car.’" McKim, now
the NASCAR Hall of Fame historian in Charlotte,
meticulously detailed the car, right down to the
distinctive tapered competition numbers on its side.
"It wasn't too difficult," McKim said in a recent
phone interview. "I had the original artwork
(photos), so you basically draw pictures of what's
on there. "In order to get those competition
numbers as accurate as possible, I had to sketch
them on the car just like they appear in the
photographs, then paint it."
You would think that after Layton spent the money to
buy the car, restore it to orginal racing specs and
hire McKim to detail it, the '39 Ford would find a
home in a museum.
No way, says Layton. "I race it at historic and
antique races on short tracks here and there," the
71-year-old said with a laugh. "And we race.
We run into each other."
Layton's car is on display outside the Living
Legends of Auto Racing Museum in South Daytona's
Sunshine Mall. There is no charge to visit the
museum or view the car.
Rare Picture of
Glenn and his private plane
Glenn "Fireball" Roberts exits his private plane in
Nashville to compete in the super stock drag meet at Union Hill, a track near Goodlettsville. Roberts had been
signed to replace Fred Lorenzen, who couldn't make it.
(J.T. Phillips / The
Extremely rare photo of Ray Fox, mechanic of Fireball's M-1 Fish
Carb car in the mid 50's
Pointing at the Smokey Yunick "Best Damn Garage in Town" writing
left front fender his '62 Pontiac. Hiding cigarette in
his right hand. Argyle socks?
OTHER NEWS: Streets surrounding the former Augusta International Raceway will be
named for former champions Glenn "Fireball" Roberts and Dave
MacDonald at the third annual "Celebrating Georgia's Racing Heritage" on
Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. For information, go to
Born in Tavares, Florida on January 20, 1929, Roberts
didn’t get his nickname "Fireball" for being a fast driver as some people
think he did. He got it as a pitcher for the Zellwood Mud Hens, an American
Legion baseball team in Apopka, Florida where he was raised. Thank
goodness for the racing world, baseball was never his primary interest.
Racing was.Never would anyone dream how
prophetic his nickname was considering the circumstances that took his life.
was quoted as saying, “I fear fire the most!” after emerging uninjured from a grinding crash at Charlotte, the same track
that would take his life just months later. He actually disliked the
nickname and his friends knew to call him by his middle name, Glenn.Other drivers, because of his hard driving style, called him
"Balls." Usually out of listening range of course.
controversial story on this subject can be found
family moved to Daytona Beach in 1945. Later, he enlisted in the Army Air
Corps, but was discharged after basic training of only 90 days due to an
asthmatic condition. 1947 found him studying mechanical engineering at the
University of Florida, though he never graduated. Glenn would come home on
the weekends and raced on the local dirt tracks, honing his early skills.
That year in March he won his first Modified event at North Wilkesboro,
North Carolina. The racing bug had bit . . . hard.
Just after turning 18, Fireball started on
the beach race course at Daytona where he
wrecked on the ninth lap of a NASCAR sanctioned Modified race. 1948-
In Feb. Fireball won the 1st sanctioned NASCAR modified
beach race in a 150 miler on a 2.2 mile course.
After marrying Doris McConnell on
7/22/50 in York, SC and being married for only three weeks,
Fireball at the young age of 21 years old, won his first NASCAR race
at Hillsboro, NC on August 13, 1950 and finished second to Bill
Rexford in the points standing in his rookie season.
(L to R) 20 yr. old Fireball, Red Byron and Johnny Mantz
congratulate each other in victory lane following the 1st Southern 500 at
Darlington. Byron (then #22 before Fireball) was originally flagged in 2nd
place, ahead of Roberts. Following a lengthy study of the scoring sheets,
race officials discovered Roberts had completed one more lap than Byron in
the 500 lap race. Mantz collectd $10, 510 (a whopping some back then for a
car race), while roberts took home $3,500. and Byron pocketed $2,000.
March 11, his only child, daughter
Pamela, was born in Charlotte, NC
1951-1955-Because of his love of the faster dirt modifieds, the money they
paid and racing several times per week, plus the new family,
Glenn opted to stay closer to home and race. Fireball ran only periodically
in the Grand National Stock ranks for the next five years and would go
winless in NASCAR. 1956-
A breakout year with NASCAR racing. With money finally coming to
Stock Car ranks, Glenn became part of the Pete DePaolo's Ford "factory team". With 33
starts, he finished in the top 5 sixteen times and won five races.
1957 - “Fireball” Roberts
won the Indian River Gold Cup 100 NASCAR Grand National race at
Titusville-Cocoa Speedway in Florida. The 1.6-mile road course was
at an area airport and included the runway hosted just this one
NASCAR event. Paul Goldsmith won the pole and led the first 27 laps
before Roberts took command and led the rest of the way in the 56
lap race. He won $850 in prize money. He was driving for mega-team
owner Pete DePaolo (replica car shown right) who fielded five cars
and swept the top-four spots. Following Roberts were Curtis Turner,
Marvin Panch and Ralph Moody. Joe Weatherly, who was driving the
other DePaolo-owned car, had a clutch failure and finished 15th
– last place. 1957-
Found Glenn working for himself and he achieved 27 top tens, including 8
wins, and was voted Most Popular Driver that year. But at season's end,
disgusted with the factory pull-out, he
He drove for Frank Strickland and raced only 10 times, but had 6
wins, one 2nd and a 3rd, and finished 11th in the point standings
despite missing almost 80% of the races! One of his greatest feats
came when Strickland switched from Ford to GM & Glenn won the
Northern 500 in Trenton, NJ & the '58 Southern 500 at Darlington, SC, becoming the
first driver to ever win two 500 mile races in the same year. Glenn always
said his most prized award was that of being voted Florida’s 1958 Professional
Athlete of the Year, the first driver ever to do so. This was to
remain one of the proudest awards he ever received.
Flock of 'Birds (and one Eagle)
Jack Smith in the flat-tailed '59 Chevy at the new Daytona International Speedway
in the first Firecracker 250,
Joe Weatherly's Ford T-bird convertible (12). #59 Tiger Tom Pistone
and #37, Peruvian driver Eduardo Dibos; Our front of this picture
was #3 Fireball Roberts who won in a Jim Stephens sponsored and
Smokey Yunick prepared '59 Pontiac with an average speed of 144.997 mph and a 57 second margin, about a third of a lap before
a crowd of 12,900; Weatherly ran second, Johnny Allen (ironically in
a number 22 which fireball would later make famous), Jack Smith (47)
4th, and Eduardo Dibos (37) was fifth. Below is winning #3;
SUPERSPEEDWAY MASTER . . . . . . . . . . .
Above at the Stephens Pontiac Dealership on Volusia Ave. in Daytona
Beach) -- Joined up with Smokey Yunick and the "Best Damn Garage in Town"
Fireball and began to race Pontiac, creating an incredible mastery of the superspeedways.
1962- Roberts started the season off on the right foot with the pedal to the
metal when he won the Daytona 500 pole, the 100 mile qualifier (then125, now
150 in 2005) and
dominated the race in a Smokey Yunick prepared 1962 black and gold Catalina.
He returned to win back to back Daytona races with the Firecracker
400. Also an accomplished road racer, he finished 2nd at the LeMans 24 hour
race in France, won 5 out of 20 convertible races, 5 poles and $66,152, an
incredible amount in those days. 1963-
Started out the '63 season in a Banjo Mathews car and then Jacques
Passino lured Fireball away to the Holman & Moody Ford race team, where
Fireball raced a metallic lavender Galaxies to four wins in, including his
second Southern 500 victory. One race victory that always alluded him was
the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway because of his hard charging
"balls-to-the-wall" style of driving (which is what Smokey loved about him).
"I’m going to run the hell out of ‘em every lap," Roberts said.
"I’ve never won a race
stroking." He had a runner-up 600 finish
in 1961 and was mentally poised and focused to do well in the 1964 600 race.
Little did we know that the Daytona Beach resident with the quiet intensity
and mesmerizing broad smile and was about to climb into his race car for the
very last time.
pioneer Glenn 'Fireball' Roberts hugs Miss Georgia, Sandra Talley
from Homerville, Ga.,
following his win on July 31, 1960 in the first NASCAR race at the
brand new Atlanta
International Raceway, the Dixie 300. The following year, the race
date was moved to March.
RETIREMENT . . . . . . . .
Retirement was rumored for the end of the '64 season and
later confirmed that he would semi-retire and then leave racing at the end
of '65 because he felt at age 35 he was at the top of his game. His
competitive drive only allowed him to be at his best. He would become one of
highest paid sports personalities as a spokesperson for the Falstaff Beer
Company. Fireball was assured of being able to stay around racing and
some baseball events, as well some Indy participation and road racing.
He would only race in selected events the next year, such as the Daytona
500, the World 600, and the Firecracker 400 and Southern 500's where he was
the defending champion. It would certainly have given him time to pursue his
passion of flying his plane and riding his motorcycle.
THE FINAL LAPS . . . . . .
. . . . .
During the 1964 May 24th World 600, Roberts was upbeat as
he did his usual joking and kidding with all the drivers.
With a uncharacteristic mediocre qualifying position in 11th place, Robert's
plan was to lay back and let the cars spread out and then make a charge to
the front, knowing it was a long race. True to his style, he was most
comfortable out front. On lap number 7,
something went terribly
wrong. Ned Jarrett's and Junior Johnson's cars collided between turns one
and two and began spinning. Roberts spun off turn two trying to avoid the
accident and his Lavender colored Holman-Moody # 22 Ford slammed backwards
into an opening on the inside retaining wall, exploded, flipped over and
burst into flames. There were no fuel cells or fire
retardant suits in those racing days and
they only had a fire
resistant solution they could dip their driving uniforms into. It was
thought Fireball was allergic to the chemicals in the solution, but he very
privately suffered from an asthmatic condition and the chemicals affected
his breathing. Jarrett's car spun to a stop near
Fireball's car that was engulfed in flames. Jarrett rushed to and
pulled Roberts from his car as Fireball was screaming,
God, Ned, help me! I'm on fire!" With just a tee shirt for protection
Roberts received second and third degree
burns over 80 percent of his
He was airlifted to Charlotte Memorial Hospital in extremely
critical condition. Good friends Jarrett
Johnson were most shaken by the incident and it's said to have
hastened the end to their driving careers a short time later.
THE ORDEAL . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
Glenn miraculously made it through the first few days.
Then he made it a week, then a couple more. It looked like the crew cut,
athletic, always smiling driver was going to beat all odds and pull through this
horrifying ordeal. It was only his athletic regime of staying in shape that
helped him sustain. But 36 days later, on Tuesday, June 30th, Glenn began to
fade fast. He contracted pneumonia, sepsis (blood poisoning), and a fever
shot his body temperature up to 104 degrees and he slipped into a coma
Wednesday night. Then, just 12 hours after things started turning bad, at
7:13am in room 3305 at Charlotte Memorial Hospital on Thursday, July 2,
1964, Glenn Fireball Roberts’ six week struggle for life came to an end. The
checkered flag dropped over this fun loving, practical joker at the young
age of 35 years old. He was buried July 5th, 1964, at a funeral service that
saw over a thousand attend, in an above ground mausoleum in Bellevue
Memorial Gardens (now Daytona Memorial Park) in his adopted hometown of
World 600 . . . Tragedy (a
true account from a fan....) On May 24, 1964 the World
600 was held, and once again, I was with my Dad and his friends
in the Ford Grandstand on the front straight to watch the race.
An accident occurred half way through lap eight on the back
stretch. We weren’t quite sure what had happened, as we were
without a radio to listen to the race broadcast; but we soon
knew some bad was happening. A large cloud of black smoke began
to rise from the back straight.
This photo was taken from a slightly lower angle than my
viewpoint in the Ford Grandstand on the front straight at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The
black smoke is fuel
The accident included
Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and Glenn ‘Fireball’ Roberts.
Roberts’ car had struck
the inside guardrail rear-end first and the stock gas tank,
still full of fuel, was split open and the contents burst into
fire. Jarrett’s car had also hit the inside
wall with his cars’ smashed gas tank spilling gas which caught
on fire as well. Jarrett pulled Roberts from the burning car.
Roberts driving suit, specially tailored to fit, had not been
chemically treated and Roberts suffered burns over 80% of his
Roberts’s car had landed
upside down and the burning gas pooled in the roof of the car.
Roberts amazed the doctors by surviving the first 48 hours after
the accident, and he somehow survived, even appearing to begin
recovery, until succumbing to his burns on July 2, 1964 at age
The death of Joe
Weatherly had still been on the drivers’ minds before the
start of the race. Roberts had mentioned to Jarrett before the
start of the ‘600’ that he was thinking of retiring at the end
Roberts in fact had
recently been divorced but had wanted to wait to get re-married
until he and his fiancé could have a ‘proper’ wedding. Roberts’
fiancé visited him every day while he was in the hospital. When
Roberts died she was legally entitled to nothing from his
estate, and she never married.
Jarrett went on to win the
season championship in 1964 and retired while still champion in
mid-1965. Johnson basically retired after the 1965 season, but
competed in seven short-track races late in 1966.
A Fireball Fan Forever
Daytona Memorial Park (formerly Bellevue Memorial Gardens) Bellevue Road, Daytona Beach
(within 1 1/2 mi of Daytona
Glenn's Mother (Doris) and Father (Glenn, Sr.) are also interred in
Famous Fireball quote: Nascar driver "Fireball" Roberts once said "Understeer is
hitting the wall with the front of your car. Oversteer is hitting it with the rear.".
s proven by the facts,
Glenn "Fireball" Roberts was the first true superstar of NASCAR. Many had
great records, but the popularity, mystique and dominance of the fastest
tracks made this man truly a legend way before the more recent legacy of the
drivers of today.