LONDON: The Racing Journal


VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — NASCAR’s recent Hall of Fame induction ceremony was respectfully done with everybody saying the right things. I continue to be bothered by the fact that many pioneering people will never get the chance to make the Hall of Fame.

The fact is that many are deceased and voters may wish to select people who can make an acceptance speech. I think the real problem is that most voters are only aware of contemporary drivers.

One should realize the difference between the early days of NASCAR and what is seen today. When started, NASCAR was comprised of actual “stock cars,” unlike today’s vehicles which are built from the ground up with computer generated components.

In the early days, there was plenty of “cheating,” and most of it involved adding horsepower to the factory engines. They ran for years on street tires and factory shocks, springs and brakes. Today’s cars are constantly being tweaked on every pit stop and they change tires as often as they can.

The “back in the day” boys, if the car didn’t handle. They only recourse was to change their driving.

There are many early NASCAR stars, who deserve to be recognized. As far as I’m concerned, the standout from that era was Glenn “Fireball” Roberts.

Born in Florida in 1929, he ran his first Grand National race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) in 1947. Three years later, at age 22, he won his first GN at Hillsboro, N.C., and wound up second in the standings. He continued the next five years to mostly run in the modified division, which might be why he never won the GN title.

He got his nickname, not from racing but from his scary fastball he threw for the Zellwood Mud Hens.

I was lucky as a young fan to see him storm around the nasty one-mile circular oiled oval at Langhorne, Pa. He could make a stock car do wonders on that tricky track. One race, his car held up and I saw him win.

In 1962, he accomplished a feat done by no one else. In Smokey Yunick’s Pontiac, he won the pole, his qualifier and dominated the Daytona 500. He also won the Firecracker 250 that summer to sweep that season.

In 1964, the racing wars seemed to wear him down. He was going to retire.

Competing in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his car burst into flames after a wall crash to miss others who were wrecking. He was badly burned. He fought for over a month but passed away.

Fireball Roberts was a true “wheelman.”

He should have been in the Hall of Fame already. He won 33 GN races and 32 poles.