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About Us . . . .   The Web Site Story

Roland Via sitting in his dream car, the 1962 Pontiac Catalina
built by Smokey  Yunick and the winner of the 1962 Daytona 500

(displayed at the Intl. Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum - Talladega)

Hello, I'm Roland Via and what you would call a dedicated Fireball fan. Even I think that is an understatement.

It all began in 1962 when, as a 12 year old kid, about to turn 13, I selling Daytona Beach News Journal newspapers in the Daytona infield for 15 cents each (I got to keep a nickel!). After Fireball’s famous 1962 Daytona 500 win in Smokey Yunick's 1962 black and gold number 22, I waited outside a chain link fence area trying to get a glimpse of him as he left the infield press room which was about 15 yards way. A few other people were standing there, but they left slowly, one by one. Finally the door opened and the superspeedway king stepped out. A couple of adults called out his name as he walked away and he turned to wave and then kept going towards the garage. He took a couple of steps and the adults kept calling him. He stopped in his tracks and turned back coming towards the fence. He walked over with a big smile on his face and signed a few things through the fence.

The World's Dumbest Question . . .
Here I am, face to face with the first star athlete I ever had been close to, and all I could ask him was, “Mr. Fireball, sir, do you ever think you’ll race again?”  He just got the biggest grin on his face, chuckled and said, “God, I sure hope so kid, I sure hope so”, then he turned and walked through the infield garage area waving to all as he left, a smile never leaving his face. I was to learn later what a love he had for kids.

The Story Doesn't End There . . .

I think I was the first kid in the world to sign up for the '62 July 4th race to sell newspapers. It was a way to get in free and make a couple of dollars, which was a lot in those days.

It was sweltering, way hot and I got an incredible sun burn. I had blisters on my feet for walking miles in that infield, but it was worth it to watch my hero Fireball win once again in the Firecracker 250. When I first got there, I was really disappointed because I didn't see Fireball racing. There was a red and white number 22 racing, but it wasn't the familiar Smokey black and gold. Come to find out it was the black and gold Pontiac that was given to Banjo Matthews and he repainted it red and white.
There were only 33 cars in the field and the heat took it's toll on the other cars, but Fireball was the class of the field and blistered the competition and it had nothing to do with the sun. He led only 11 laps, but they were the important ones. His boss, Banjo Matthews, also drove a #02 '62 Pontiac and led the most laps with 61, but left the track after 73 laps with engine trouble. Fireball and Banjo always talked about what would have happened if both were running at the end. Glenn always said that Banjo took the fastest motor for himself, but Glenn got the winning motor.

Once again I waited by the fence but missed seeing him that summer. The man from the newspaper made us all leave the speedway in a truck and I never saw him that summer.

The winter of 1963 went by quick and it was time for the 500. Fireball in his true fashion qualified first in the same Banjo Matthews machine. He led early for 11 laps until the unthinkable happened -- he had engine trouble and finished a disappointing 21st. I ran back to the garage area to catch a glimpse of him but never did see him. I heard people talk that he was way disappointed. He hated not to win, but he hated not to finish even more. Now it had been a year since I had seen him.

I remember leaving my paper route early on some days and riding up to Volusia Avenue (now International Speedway Boulevard) and going to the Stephens-Ferguson Pontiac dealership. I would just ride around in circles (kind of like a race track) and wait for Fireball to come. You see, that was the sponsor on the car so I thought that's where he was. After about two months of that, I finally found out that he was not there after all. It didn't bother me though, because it made me feel closer to him.

Later, one of the paperboys (well actually a man...) told me one day where he lived on the beachside and I used to go by his house to see if I could see him. Back then, the Daytona Beach News-Journal had a morning AND an evening edition. Mr. Roberts didn't take the evening edition so I would deliver an extra copy to him, so that if ever asked why was I stalking his house I would have an excuse that I wanted him to try the evening news.

Smokey Yunick's "Best Damn Garage In Town" was at the northern edge of Daytona by the Halifax River and the race car garages were well fenced in. There was a large smoke stack which was really a huge exhaust system for the motor dynamometer that tested engines. The famous Chevrolet 327 was developed there where it eventually turned into one of the most versatile GM motor, the 350 cubic inch. Anyway, when a motor was running it would put out a very loud noise which could be heard for miles around. The rumor among the kids were these were all race motors and of course to me they were all Fireball Roberts motors. I would rush down there on my bicycle, night and day, just to listen to the motors. Turns out very few were actually Fireball's, but I am glad I didn't know that. I always revered Smokey just because he was so closely associated with Fireball.

Spring of 1963 came and I looked forward to the July 1963 race which was going to be expanded to 400 miles. I found out that Fireball was now going to be driving a Ford for Holman-Moody and be a teammate to a top driver, Fred Lorenzen. Not only was it a Ford, a purple Ford. Say it wasn't so!

When Fireball came to Daytona for the Firecracker 400, he was really beaming about his fast ride and his chances. But Ray Fox (who built cars for Glenn in the modified says) had his two Chevrolets smoking and upset the Fords by taking the front row in qualifying with Junior Johnson and Jim Paschal. The team cars of Holman-Moody had Fireball taking the third qualifying position and Fred Lorenzen the fourth spot. Glenn really liked besting Fred Lorenzen that day. The Chevy-Ford duel was set.

For better than half the race Junior Johnson led the most laps with 66, but Fireball led 63 laps and most importantly, the last one as he finished with a solid victory. Now 2 out of 3 I had seen. My world was returning to normal!

This time I wasn't going to let him get away. I was determined to see him. I actually missed getting paid for the newspapers I sold so that I could line up at the infield fence near the victory lane. Fireball's stardom was going and there were a lot more people clamoring for him that a year and a half before. After the photographs he came over to a chest high chain link fan fence to talk with some some local folks he noticed. He signed a couple of autographs and shook some hands and stood still for some pictures.

I remember distinctly just staring at him. He pulled out a cigarette and asked for a light and a man opened up his big silver zippo lighter and I remember feeling proud that that was the same type of lighter that my Dad used. Fireball just beaming about his win and seemed truly relieved that he won in his hometown again. After all, that what we all expected from him.

More about the lighter  . . .

I have had the picture of him getting the light of his cigarette burned into my consciousness ever since that time because it was the last time I ever saw him. My Mom was real sick and I was taking care of her during the 500 the next year, so I didn't get to go. You know the story of the tragic, fatal accident at Charlotte in May 1964. I have collected lots and lots of memorabilia and searched the NASCAR archives trying to find pictures of the '63 Firecracker victory lane. It was only a short time ago that I FINALLY found a picture. And to my surprise, I AM IN IT!

            

I cannot tell you how much this picture means to me. It's priceless. It brings back many memories. I have told this story to so many people about seeing Fireball, and I am thrilled I can verify it through a picture.

I have relived this scene hundreds of times in my mind trying to figure out why I didn’t have him autograph one of my newspapers. It only took me over 35 years and countless hours to finally find an autograph of Fireball. Phone calls, visits to collectible and memorabilia shops, race shows and trips, and letters all proved fruitless. Through the power of the internet, I am now the proud owner of nearly two dozen autographs on everything from winning paychecks, postcards, programs, pictures and other items. I have every known diecast ever produced in every scale of Fireball, plus many custom made models.

In my vast collection I have Fish carburetor collectables, Smokey Yunick collectibles, pictures, postcards, magazines, newspapers, racing periodicals, just ANYTHING with Fireball. A portion of my priceless collection that I have been collecting over the last 50 years can be seen in the Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum in Daytona Beach. I hope that I can share them with you one day.

It was a very tragic day with Fireball's wreck in Charlotte at the World 600 in May of 1964. He battled and battled the severe burns he received and sadly died of pneumonia in Jult, 1964. He was buried in Bellevue Memorial Grardens and I remember watching his funeral at the cemetery through the chain link fence. Nine months later my mother died and she was buried a short distance from Fireball. It somehow gave me comfort she was near him. I would always visit both graves. I was only 14 and I didn't know I should have kept a rose from my Mom's grave. Later I made a major purchase of an 8x10 black and white photo of Glenn signed in ball point. Tucked in the picture page was a rose from Glenn's funeral kept by the former NASCAR head scorer's wife. It is my most prized possession as it connects me with my Mom too.

I hope that you enjoy this website. I will constantly be adding stories and I hope you will too. More pictures of items I have collected will be added in time.

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Webmaster (sort of....): Roland Via   534 Eagle Drive     Holly Hill, Florida 32117
Cell: 386-871-5001                 Email: rvia@cfl.rr.com

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Copyright © 1999 FireballRoberts.com by Roland Via. All rights reserved.  Revised: 01/20/16 19:43:41 -0500. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works. FAIR USE NOTICE: This web page may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This page is operated under the assumption that this use on the Web constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Any text or images that you feel need to be removed please contact me. FireballRoberts.com is not associated or affiliated with any racing club or organizations including that of NASCAR. Opinions and other content are not necessarily those of editors, sponsors.