|Born||Edward Glenn Roberts Jr.
January 20, 1929
|Died||July 2, 1964
Charlotte, North Carolina
|Cause of death||Complications due to racing crash on May 24, 1964, during the 1964 World 600|
|Achievements||1962 Daytona 500 winner
1958, 1963 Southern 500 winner
|Awards||1957 Grand National Series Most Popular Driver
Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers (1998)
International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee(1990)
Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1995)
Florida Sports Hall of Fame inductee
NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee(2014)
|Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career|
|206 races run over 15 years|
|Best finish||2nd (1950)|
|First race||1950 (Daytona Beach)|
|Last race||1964 World 600 (Charlotte)|
|First win||1950 (Hillsboro)|
|Last win||1964 (Augusta)|
|Statistics current as of February 23, 2013.|
Roberts was born in Tavares, Florida, and raised in Apopka, Florida, where he was interested in both auto racing and baseball. He was a pitcher for the Zellwood Mud Hens, an American Legion baseball team, where he earned the nickname, "Fireball" because of his fastball. He enlisted with the United States Army Air Corps in 1945, but was discharged after basic training because of his asthma.
He attended the University of Florida and raced on dirt tracks on weekends. In 1947, at the age of eighteen, he raced on the Daytona Beach Road Course at Daytona, for the first time. He won a 150-mile race at Daytona Beach the following year. Roberts also competed in local stock and modified races at Florida tracks such as Seminole Speedway.
"Fireball" Roberts continued to amass victories on the circuit, despite the changes in NASCAR, as it moved away from shorter dirt tracks to superspeedways in the 1950s and 1960s. In his 206 career NASCAR Grand National races, he won 33 times and had 32 poles. He finished in the top-five 45 percent of the time, and in the top-ten 59 percent of the time. He won both the Daytona 500 and Firecracker 250 events in 1962, driving a black and gold 1962 Pontiac built by car builder legend, Smokey Yunick.
In 1961, Roberts, temporary president of the Federation of Professional Athletes, was in dispute with NASCAR president, Bill France, over the Teamsters' Union affiliate - the FPA - which he and Curtis Turner had helped organize and which France was trying to disband. Unlike the banned Curtis Turner and Tim Flock, Roberts soon returned to the NASCAR fold.
On May 24, 1964, at the World 600 in Charlotte, Roberts had qualified in the eleventh position and started in the middle of the pack. On lap seven, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson collided and spun out and Roberts crashed trying to avoid them. Roberts' Ford slammed backward into the inside retaining wall, flipped over and burst into flames. Witnesses at the track claimed they heard Roberts screaming, "Ned, help me", from inside his burning car after the wreck. Jarrett rushed to save Roberts as his car was engulfed by the flames. Roberts suffered second- and third-degree burns over eighty percent of his body and was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition. Although it was widely believed that Roberts had an allergic reaction to flame-retardant chemicals, he was secretly an asthmatic, and the chemicals made his breathing worse.
Roberts was able to survive for several weeks, and it appeared he might pull through, but he took a turn for the worse on June 30, 1964. He contracted pneumonia and sepsis and had slipped into a coma by the next day. Roberts died from his burns on July 2, 1964.
Roberts' death, as well as the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald at the Indianapolis 500, six days after Roberts' crash, led to an increase in research for fire-retardant uniforms. It also led to the development of the Firestone RaceSafe fuel cell, and all race cars today use a foam-backed fuel cell to prevent fuel spillage of the massive degree that Roberts had. Also, fully fire-retardant coveralls would be phased in leading to the now mandatory Nomex racing suits. Roberts had also lost his close friend, Joe Weatherly, in January 1964 at the Motor Trend 500, at Riverside, California.
There were many sources reporting that Roberts was retiring, since he had taken a prominent public relations position at the Falstaff Brewing Company, and that the race in which he was killed was to be one of the final races of his career.
Despite having his career cut short and having never won a Grand National title, Roberts was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers. Other career accolades he won include induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1995. In 2000, the city of Concord, North Carolina, named a street near Charlotte Motor Speedway in his honor. Former driver Ned Jarrett has stated that his decision to retire was prompted by Roberts' death.
After Roberts' death, NASCAR mandated that all drivers wear flame retardant coveralls while on track. They also instituted the five point safety harness, and the special, contoured drivers seat, all still requirements on all NASCAR entrants.
The "Fireball Run", named for Roberts, was started in 2007. This streaming TV "adventurally" series, headquartered at Universal Studios in Florida, covers 40 teams as they compete in an 8-day, 2000 mile race and life-sized trivia game to raise money for missing and exploited children organizations. The Fireball Run is credited with assisting in the recovery of 38 missing children.