Memory Lane - Fireball Roberts

NASCAR Garage Memory Lane: Fireball Roberts NASCAR Garage The nickname "Fireball" was an appropriate one for the way Edward Glenn Roberts Jr. drove a race car. What isn't well known, however, is that he picked up the nickname before his racing...

NASCAR Garage Memory Lane: Fireball Roberts NASCAR Garage

The nickname "Fireball" was an appropriate one for the way Edward Glenn Roberts Jr. drove a race car. What isn't well known, however, is that he picked up the nickname before his racing days. The moniker "Fireball" was pinned on Roberts when he was a star pitcher for the Zellwood Mudhens of Apopka, Fla., in the 1940s. But it was on the race track that Roberts gained the recognition as one of the best drivers that the sport of auto racing has ever seen. Roberts was part of many NASCAR firsts during his career. He participated in the first NASCAR-sanctioned event, took second in the inaugural Southern 500, and won the inaugural Rebel 300, which was a convertible race in those days. In 1958, he became the first driver to win two 500-mile races in a single season.

In 1962, while driving a Pontiac Catalina set up by the legendary Smokey Yunick, Roberts swept every NASCAR Grand National (NASCAR Winston Cup Series) race held at Daytona International Speedway, including his qualifying race, the Daytona 500 and the Firecracker 250 (forerunner of today's Pepsi 400.)

Roberts' 1962 Pontiac Catalina could crank out over 400 horsepower once Yunick was through with it. Its superiority was proven by the records it and Roberts set on the race track.

Roberts set an all-time race speed record of 156.999 mph in the first of the 1962 Daytona 500 qualifying races . That put him on the pole for the "Great American Race" that year, and over the course of the race he led 144 of the 200 laps, including the final 50.

With an average speed of over 152 mph, the race was not only the fastest 500-miler of that time, but it was also the first 500-mile race to average over 150 mph. Roberts, Marvin Panch and others dominated that year in those Pontiacs, with wins in 22 of the 53 races.

That car, which can be seen at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum just outside Talladega Superspeedway, remains in its true showroom condition. The hinged doors have stock panels inside; the seat is stock with just enough padding to combat centrifugal force; the dash is mostly unchanged; the window glass is stock and still rolls up and down; and the steering wheel is original, with just a little bit of tape added for friction.

(The NASCAR Garage television program can be seen each week on TNN: The Nashville Network. The program will air Sunday, Feb. 15, at 9 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. Check your local listings.)

Courtesy of NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Marvin Panch