KANNAPOLIS -- Mrs. Roberts, 75,
passed away peacefully at her home in Kannapolis, with family and
loved ones by her side, Wednesday morning, May 5, 2004.
Mrs. Roberts was born in Mecklenburg County to the late Felix and
Ila McConnell, Sr. The family including her brother, the late Felix
Reid McConnell, Jr. moved to Kannapolis in the mid 1930s. She
graduated from J.W. Cannon High School in 1946 and went to work in
the tabulating department for Cannon Mills. In 1950, Doris McConnell
married the late Glenn 'Fireball' Roberts
and moved to Daytona Beach, FL where she lived for over 20 years.
She moved back to Kannapolis and opened Cousin's Cross Stitch on
South Main Street and retired in 1996 after selling her shop. She
spent more time doing the things she loved, which included attending
NASCAR events and functions, fund raisers and children charities.
Survivors include her daughter, Pamela
Roberts of Rockledge, FL; two grandchildren,
Angela Gibson and her husband,
Josh of Concord and
Matthew McDaniel and his wife,
Jenny of Cocoa Beach, FL; two
great-granddaughters, Chloe Gibson of
Concord and Shyli McDaniel of Cocoa
Beach, FL and great-grandson, DJ Bennish
of Cocoa Beach; two nieces, Becki Barnhardt
and her husband, Tony and
Kathi Strader and her husband,
one nephew, Felix Reid McConnell, III;
one great-nephew, Anthony Barnhardt,
all of Kannapolis; great nieces, Suzan
Senerchia and her husband, Jay
of Rougemont, Donna Tucker and her
husband, Rodney of Mooresville and
Tammy Greene and her husband,
Michael of Concord.
There will be a memorial service celebrating her life, Tuesday, May
11, 2004 at 11:00 a.m. at Charity Baptist Church with Rev. James
Hunt and Rev. Jim Gaines officiating. The family will receive
friends for one hour prior to the service at the church. Burial will
be in Sharon Memorial Park, Charlotte, with a graveside service at
2:00 p.m. Tuesday.
The family requests that memorials be made to Hospice of Cabarrus
County, PO Box 1235, Concord, NC 28026-1235 or Old Timers Racing
Club, 119 Northeast Drive, Archdale, NC 27263.
Lady's Funeral Home of Kannapolis is serving the Roberts Family.
A poignant story about Fireball
from Doris Roberts . . .
THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT - BOB ZELLER, STAFF WRITER
Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.
FIREBALL WOULD'VE BEEN PROUD
NEARLY 32 YEARS AFTER HER HUSBAND'S DEATH, DORIS ROBERTS LOOKS BACK.
1996-- Two Sundays ago, on race day at North Carolina Motor Speedway, an elegantly
dressed older woman came into the infield media center and took a seat among
the reporters preparing to cover the NASCAR race.
This is where she watches every Winston Cup race at The Rock. A few
old-timers, such as veteran motorsports journalists Bob Myers and Benny
Phillips, greeted her warmly. Some of the newer folks didn't know who she
A name tag on her blouse identified her as Doris Roberts. Her husband's
name was Glenn. He was better known as ``Fireball.'' But she always called him
``He told me his name was Glenn Roberts and he wanted to be called that,''
He has been gone now for almost as many years as he was alive. Fireball
Roberts died at age 35 from burns suffered in a fiery crash on the backstretch
at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day in 1964.
His death was tragic, and ironic - his nickname came not from driving stock
cars fast, but from his skill as a baseball pitcher.
At Indianapolis that Memorial Day, another fiery crash claimed the lives of
Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. It was one of the most tragic days in the
history of American automobile racing.
Fireball Roberts clung to life for six weeks after the crash. He was burned
over 80 percent of his body, with second- and third-degree burns. But
pneumonia and blood poisoning set in, and he died on July 2, as the NASCAR
tour returned to his hometown, Daytona Beach, Fla., for the Firecracker 400,
which he had won the previous two years.
Today, almost 32 years later, the sadness of his loss is still right below
the surface for Doris Roberts, who is 67. The mere mention of his name can
make her emotional. But she harbors no bitterness. She is proud to be in the
NASCAR family and thankful she hasn't been cast aside in the sport's headlong
rush toward the 21st century.
Fireball Roberts is now a part of NASCAR history, but he is still relevant
today, she said, because the sport has reached the stature he always felt it
deserved. As a stock-car racer, he wanted to be taken seriously when the sport
was widely considered buffoonery.
``Glenn wanted so badly for stock-car racing to come into its own, rather
than having a carnival atmosphere,'' she said. ``He was very adamant about
Fireball Roberts started his racing career in 1947, at age 18. He made his
reputation on the way he drove.
``It was the way he came through the turns at on the Daytona beach
course,'' Doris said.
She was 19 when she persuaded her parents to make the trip from their home
in Kannapolis, N.C., to the beach in 1948.
``We were sitting in the North Turn grandstand, and the way he came through
the turn, my mother thought he was the most exciting thing she had ever
seen,'' Doris recalled. ``It's a pity she didn't feel like that after I
brought him home.''
Doris met Fireball on Memorial Day 1950 at a track in Charlotte. She was
there with some of her girlfriends, sitting on the hood of her car. She had
blond hair and blue eyes. She had already decided she wanted to marry a
She and Fireball went to dinner, and he swept her off her feet.
``I was so impressed by him in person,'' he said. ``He was a classical
music fan, and so am I. I could not get over that - and his intelligence. He
was really a fascinating person. He could talk about anything.''
Their first formal date was at Buddy Shuman's garage in Charlotte.
``I sat there while he changed the engine on a race car,'' she said. ``He
didn't apologize for his racing in any way, shape or form. There was work to
be done, and I ran second to the race car.''
He courted her for three weeks, then asked her to marry him. She said yes.
And in 1951 they had their only child, Pamela.
``Of course, I had to do little-boy things to spend time with my Daddy,''
said Pamela, now 44, who was with her mother at Rockingham. ``He'd pick me up
from school and we went out to the speedway and took the dogs. And he'd shoot
the guns sometimes, to keep the dogs from being gunshy.''
``He was a great daddy. We went to the beach all the time. We'd go flying,
too. We'd take the plane up and he would play out over the ocean until the
tower told him to quit.
``When he was at home, he would lift weights in the back yard in the
afternoon, and all the neighborhood kids would gather there.''
Fireball Roberts won 32 races in what is now the Winston Cup series. But he
made his greatest mark at Daytona International Speedway, even though he raced
there fewer than six years.
It is difficult to describe how terrifying Daytona was when it opened in
Lee Petty may have said it best: ``There wasn't a man there who wasn't
scared to death of the place. We had never raced on a track like that before.
What it amounted to was that we were all rookies going 30 to 40 mph faster
than we had ever gone before.''
``It was very scary,'' Doris Roberts said. ``The tires were my greatest
fear. I worried more about the tires than anything else.''
The tires were passenger-car tires back then and were not designed for the
stress of high speeds on a high-banked track.
Fireball won the first Firecracker race - then a 250-miler - in 1959. But
his greatest Daytona performance was in 1962, when he swept all the races he
was in, including the Daytona 500.
``I was so proud of him,'' Doris said. ``And 1958 was a banner year, too.
He won every race he entered that was 500 miles or more.''
But Fireball was not a good loser.
``I always wanted to know how well he did,'' said Pam. If he did bad, I'd
just stay in my room.''
Family members dealt with the risk of racing the way racers always do -
they dismissed the possibility of death.
``I told myself, and Glenn also told me, that nothing would ever happen to
him,'' Doris said. ``And I decided it would never happen to him. And that's
how you lived with it. But deep down, you knew there was a possibility.''
``I was 13 when he died,'' said Pam. ``That Sunday, I was learning how to
surf on the beach for the first time. My boyfriend came out to the water and
told me he had crashed.''
She thought it was just another routine accident. She kept surfing.
Doris was at home, listening to the race on the radio.
``I couldn't do anything until Pamela got home,'' she said. They flew to
Charlotte that evening.
``I'll never forget that night,'' Pam said. ``We got there and that waiting
room was full.''
In the final six weeks, Fireball ``went in and out,'' Doris said. ``We
could talk to him sometimes. We didn't talk about the crash. But the first
couple of days, he thought he had won the race.
``He asked about Indy. We did not tell him about MacDonald and Sachs. It
was a day-by-day thing, even up until he died.''
Fireball Roberts had invested wisely, so he left his his wife and daughter
in good financial shape. But it was an emotional struggle, and Doris had to
fill the role as mother and father.
``I gave her a present once on Father's Day,'' Pam said. ``I had a lady
design a race car and stitch it. And when I gave it to her, I told her, ``You
were just as good a daddy as you were a mommy.''
In February 1965, Bill France Jr., who is now NASCAR president, called
``He asked me if I wanted to come out (to the Daytona track) and I said
no,'' Doris recalled. ``But I told Pam and she said, `Mother, I want to go.'
So we did. Everybody was just so wonderful. Actually, they were just very
``NASCAR is really very good to us. The people involved are just so
terrific. They make me feel a part of it.''
But Doris, who moved back to Kannapolis in 1970, has never returned to
Charlotte Motor Speedway.
``It always makes me feel so good for someone to say to me, `Fireball was
my favorite,' Doris said. ``I've had people say that after he was killed, they
never went back to another race. I wish they would.
``I cannot believe the things that are happening in NASCAR racing today.
I'm so pleased that racing has come as far as it has. Glenn worked so hard for
it to reach this,''
Doris Roberts said. ``Glenn wanted so badly for stock-car racing to come into its own.''
``You know, Don Garlits (the drag racer) told me once,
`Doris, we can look in a mirror and see how old we are. But Fireball's image is
frozen in time.''
TOM COPELAND/Landmark News Service
Copyright © 1999 FireballRoberts.com
by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised:
05/07/12 20:55:44 -0400.
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