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He won 34 races, including two at
Martinsville Speedway, and was so good his mechanics sometimes were accused
of cheating on his car.
Then NASCAR Technical Director, the late Norris Friel, used to laugh about it. "Hah," heíd grunt, "they fuss about Fireball, but I can tell you his secret. When those other guys are letting off, heís still going deeper into the corners."
In the 1962 Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Roberts and Fred Lorenzen put on a show that many fans still remember. Roberts was considered the "King," before Richard Petty, and Lorenzen was his heir apparent. Roberts had built a four-lap lead in the spring Virginia 500 only to fall out with mechanical problems and he was out to make up for it. "Iím going to run the hell out of Ďem every lap," he said. "Iíve never won a race stroking."
True to his work, he started on the pole and surged into the lead with Lorenzen on his bumper. But every time Roberts would back off in the turns, Lorenzen would hit his bumper and the crowd was eating it up.
This went on for 102 laps until suddenly, Roberts pulled into the pits with handling problems. Lorenzen took the lead and his fans roared their approval. But their cheers turned to groans when Lorenzen pulled into the pits three laps later with a crunched radiator.
Nelson Stacy won the race but Fireball held court with the media. "Iím not mad but it was a foolish thing to do." he said. "I was minding my own business when he started bumping. I was running as fast as I wanted to go and if he wanted to pass, he could. I just locked up my brakes and busted his radiator. "I guess all we proved is that the back end of a Pontiac is tougher than the front end of a Ford."
The next year, Roberts and Lorenzen were teammates on the Holman and Moody Ford team. And when Roberts was fatally burned in a fiery wreck at Charlotte in 1964, finally succumbing to the injuries on July 2nd, it hastened Lorenzenís retirement three years later.
"He was a god to me," Lorenzen said. "When Fireball died, it turned my whole racing career around. He was like Santa Claus was to all the little kids. I thought Christmas had been taken away. "His passing changed my whole meaning of racing. When I was a kid, back in Illinois, I listened on the radio to Fireball Roberts driving in the Southern 500. I canít tell you how much his death hurt me."
It came from Red Byron, winner of the very first race at Martinsville in 1947. Roberts had started the first Southern 500 at Darlington in 1950 in 63rd place and finished second to Johnny Mantz with Byron third. "When I beat Red Byron, I knew I could be a race driver," Roberts said. Byron told him to get his car number when he retired.Red Byron and the # 22 Copyright © 1999 FireballRoberts.com by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised: 05/07/12 20:55:47 -0400. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works. FAIR USE NOTICE: This web page may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This page is operated under the assumption that this use on the Web constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Any text or images that you feel need to be removed please contact me. FireballRoberts.com is not associated or affiliated with any racing club or organizations including that of NASCAR. Opinions and other content are not necessarily those of editors, sponsors.