Fireball had big plans


SPORTS COLUMNIST
Last update: 01 July 2004   Back To Fireball 7/3/04 N-J Article     Back Home
 
The tragedy surrounding Fireball Roberts' 1964 death is made worse when considering he was just two races away from retirement.

Following the ill-fated World 600 at Charlotte in May, Fireball had just two more races on his schedule: The Firecracker 400 in Daytona on July 4, and Darlington's Southern 500 on Labor Day in early September. As defending champion of those two races, he felt obligated to compete in both.

Fireball, whose divorce from Doris Roberts had recently been finalized, was planning to marry Daytona Beach native Judy Judge in June. Judge remembers how everything seemed to be falling in place for a successful post-racing career for Daytona Beach's hometown hero.

Fireball wasn't planning on leaving the racing scene. He had two, maybe three, potential deals lined up -- all of them would keep him a familiar face in NASCAR's big-league Grand National circuit.

For starters, Fireball had signed an endorsement deal with Falstaff Beer.

"I think he was the first professional athlete to sign a deal like that with Falstaff," says Judge. "He would be doing PR work for them."

There was also talk of Fireball becoming part of ABC's racing broadcast team. At the time, ABC was taping some NASCAR races and showing them as part of its Wide World of Sports programming. He might've joined an ABC broadcasting team that included Jim McKay and Chris Economaki.

Fireball had also discussed with Bill France Sr. the possibility of working for NASCAR within the competition department -- perhaps in the job currently known as competition director.

"Everything was opening up at that time," says Judge. "We were both excited, because he could still be at all the races, and he wouldn't have to race."

ken.willis@news-jrnl.com

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