Edward Glenn “FIREBALL” Roberts
January 20, 1929– July 2, 1964
Perhaps one of the most well-known of famous Pontiac race drivers is “Fireball” Roberts. Unfortunately, much of this notoriety is perhaps due to his unique nickname and the tragic coincidence of it and how he passed away. Little known is that this nickname, so often associated with racing speed, had nothing to do with the auto racing career he would eventually pursue. It was, in fact, a nickname he earned while pitching for a local Apopka, Florida baseball team when growing up.
Like so many of the early racing legends, especially those growing up in Florida, Roberts was soon at Daytona running modifieds– and doing well from the very start! Through the early 1950s, Roberts only race in a limited role. It wasn’t until 1956 that he joined a Ford team and became very active in the NASCAR circuit. The following couple of years saw him go from many starts, to quitting all together, to driving again, but in only a limited way. One thing was for sure though, when he ran, he often won!
Perhaps his real fame– at least to us Pontiac lovers– was when in 1959 Roberts linked-up with Smokey Yunick that well-known race car builder of the “Best Damn Garage in Town”. There is another fascinating story of Pontiac fame! But, it wasn’t until 1962 when Roberts campaigned the now famous gold and black 1962 Catalina. That was a year full of racing accomplishments and lots of wins. But, for Pontiac lovers it was short lived, as in 1963 Roberts was back to a Ford team. Nonetheless, race fans of all car persuasions, loved him and followed his career wherever he went. Little did anyone know that this very successful career would soon end tragically.
By 1964 Roberts had decided to begin a retirement that would see him racing less, only participating in select events, and enjoying working as a sports spokesman and enjoying other personal interests. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The May 24, 1964 World 600 race in North Carolina started as most others with an upbeat Roberts. However in lap seven he would be involved in a terrible crash between two other drivers that would eventually cost him his life from the blaze that ensued. That was before the days of high tech and safety improvements that we see today. Roberts was not the first or last driver to perish as the race industry learned the importance of ever improving safety innovations.
After being airlifted to Charlotte Memorial Hospital, Roberts struggling to recover from terrible burns over much of his body. He was showing marked improvements when suddenly after six weeks he took a turn for the worse. In the early morning of July 2, 1964 Roberts succumbed to his injuries. He was buried July 5th in Daytona Beach, Florida as his fans mourned the loss of one of the best, most loved race drivers of all time. Today the Pontiac hobby continues to remember his Pontiac time, and you will still see 1962 Catalinas sporting the famous gold and black scheme that we all remember, and think of Glenn “Fireball” Roberts each time we see.
For more about the life and career of “Fireball” Roberts check: www.fireballroberts.com