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Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Jr.January 20, 1929 - July 2, 1964
Perhaps the greatest driver never to win a NASCAR title, Roberts accumulated 33 wins, including the 1962 Daytona 500, in a career that spanned 16 seasons before his untimely death. In 1964, Roberts died from injuries incurred in a fiery accident at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Roberts finished second to Bill Rexford in his rookie season. He split his time between the NASCAR Grand Nationals and the NASCAR Modifieds for five years before returning full-time to NASCAR Grand National racing. In his first year back, 1956, Roberts won 5 races and 4 pole positions to finish 6th in the point standings. He raced only 10 times in 1958 but had six wins, one second and a third, and finished 11th in the point standings despite missing almost 80% of the races!
Born in Daytona Beach and raised in Apopka, Florida, Edward Glenn Roberts Jr. attended the University of Florida but never graduated. He preferred racing and struck out to find his way into the sport. He found his way into NASCAR late in 1949 and his career began in earnest. From an inauspicious start on the hard-packed sands of Daytona Beach, Florida, he fashioned one of the most successful and glamorous careers in NASCAR.
"Fireball" was a name everyone recognized. He was the epitome of the exciting, young racing star. Oddly enough, he didn't get the nickname through his on-track achievements. Rather, he earned it for his ability to throw a baseball from his years as a pitcher in youth baseball in Apopka. Thank goodness for the racing world, baseball was never his primary interest. Instead, it was racing.
From the time he started on the beach course at Daytona when he was 19where he wrecked on the ninth lap of a Modified race, until his untimely death in 1964, Roberts shaped a career that saw him with 35 poles and win 33 times and 22 runner-up positions in 206 races. He set an astonishing 400 records at various tracks, leading a total of 5,970 laps including 1,644 laps led at tough, old Darlington Raceway, SC, NASCARS's first super speedway.
He won several times over the years, but it was on the fast, exciting new super speedways that began to crop up in the late '50s and early '60s that he made his mark. Darlington was his favorite super speedway and on it, Roberts became one of NASCAR's best in the fledgling start of the big track era. He won the Rebel 300 in 1957 and 1959 and the Southern 500 in 1958 and 1963. In 1960, he won the Dixie 500 at Atlanta International Raceway. His 1962 Daytona 500 and July Firecracker 400 victories made him the first to sweep the speedway's two events in a single season.
His 1963 victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway was particularly significant. He came to the track in excellent physical shape after recovering from an injury. His plan was to start in the middle of the pack, which meant having to qualify on the second day. During practice however, he hit the guardrail in his No. 22 Holman-Moody Ford and almost washed the car out. But it was repaired in time for him to set a qualifying mark of 133.819 mph that got him the ninth starting spot. Roberts was known as a predictable hard-charger, but he ran a uncharacteristically cautious race until the latter stages, when he then began to charge. He took the lead with only 75 laps left and won in a cakewalk. He had run the perfect race, saving man and machine.
A year later at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Roberts was involved in a fiery crash with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. Severely burned, he survived for 37 days before he succumbed to pneumonia on July 2, 1964. He was entombed in Daytona Beach, Florida, his beloved hometown. For more information, stories, pictures, statistics, go to Fireball's website: FireballRoberts.com.
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