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“Fireball” Roberts, joining the NASCAR Hall of Fame with fellow inductees Tim Flock, Jack Ingram, Dale Jarrett and Maurice Petty, is considered by many racing historians to be NASCAR’s first superstar driver. His unique nickname, however, may not have had anything to do with his driving days – find out about this and more in this Hall of Fame edition of Fast Facts.
- Edward Glenn Roberts Jr. was born Jan. 20, 1929 in Tavares, Florida. In his youth, Roberts was mostly interested in auto racing, but did spend time playing pick-up baseball – there are conflicting stories about whether Roberts earned his nickname from these sandlot baseball games or from his driving style.
- Roberts raced on weekends while attending the University of Florida. He competed on the Daytona Beach Road Course for the first time in 1947, and one year later won a 150-mile event on the beach.
- Roberts and fellow drivers Flock and Curtis Turner tried to organize the Federation of Professional Athletes, which led to a dispute with “Big Bill” France. Turner, who had approached the Teamsters Union for a loan in efforts to regain control of Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Roberts met with union representatives about forming a drivers union spanning NASCAR, USAC and other series. France found out about the meeting, barred union members from racing in NASCAR, and suspended Turner, Roberts and Flock for their roles in organizing the union. Roberts was reinstated shortly thereafter when he denounced the organization.
- In 15 seasons of competition in NASCAR’s top series (today, the Sprint Cup Series), Roberts competed in 206 races, earning 33 wins, 122 top 10s and 32 poles. He won the Daytona 500 in 1962 and the Southern 500 at Darlington twice: 1958 and 1963.
- In May 1964 at the World 600 at Charlotte, Roberts was involved in an early-race wreck with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett, which sent Roberts’ car into the wall before flipping and bursting into flames. Roberts suffered second- and third-degrees burns over 80-percent of his body. He survived for several weeks following the wreck, but took a turn for the worse about five weeks later when he contracted pneumonia and sepsis and slipped into a coma. Roberts passed away on July 2, 1964.
- Roberts’ accident and death led NASCAR to mandate flame retardant coveralls for all drivers while on track, as well as the development of a safer fuel cell.
- Roberts, in spite of never having won a NASCAR championship, was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1990) and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1995).
- Learn more about the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the inductees at www.nascarhall.com.