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Qualifying Record-Breaker

Statistics             Awards

To call Fireball Roberts NASCAR's first "star" would be to ignore stars such as Herb Thomas, Lee Petty, the Flocks, and other heroes of yesteryear.

Although it would be much later before Winston Cup racing produced a star who transcended the sport, it's accurate to say that Roberts was NASCAR's most famous driver when in died in 1964, thus from "Star" to "Superstar".

Roberts had just turned 19 when he competed in the first sanctioned NASCAR race, a modified event on the Beach & Road course in Daytona Beach, Florida on February 15, 1948. Roberts captured his first NASCAR victory in 1950 at Hillsboro, N.C., but it was six years before he won another. He preferred primarily racing modifieds on dirt, which were faster cars than the stock cars of that time. True racers wanted to race the faster cars. The pay-outs were better at that time in the modifieds. They normally were the feature event, even above the NASCAR stock cars, and a crowd favorite.

1957 found him an "overnight" sensation winning 8 races, but 1958 was truly his breakout year by capturing the Northern 500 at Trenton, N.J., and the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C. to become the first driver to capture two 500 mile races in one year.

1960 found Roberts, at age 31, ready to burst upon the fans attention as he crafted his skills on the superspeedways at Charlotte, Atlanta, and Hanford, Conn., as well as Daytona International Speedway, and Darlington.

Roberts pedal-to-the-metal style was not conducive to winning championships, and in fact just picked the races he wanted to run and never ran enough to contend for a points championship. But his forte was in qualifying on the big tracks. Fireball--who by the way was not fond of his moniker and told his friends to call him Glenn, captured an unheard-of six Grand National poles, still an unmatched feat to this day.

Roberts extraordinary qualifying feats during that era include
 - Winning at least five Grand Slam poles three years in a row(1960-1962), a feat no other driver has managed in consecutive seasons.

- Becoming the only driver in history to lead every lap of a superspeedway race, when he set the pace for all 178 laps of a 250 mile race at California's Marchbanks Speedway on March 12, 1964.

- Earning the pole in five consecutive Grand Slam races, culminating with the 1961 Daytona 500, a feat that has been bettered only once.

- Completing a string of five consecutive classic poles starting first with the 1963 Daytona 500.

- Becoming the first driver to win poles on all four Grand Slam tracks in the same season ('62), a feat accomplished only twice since.

- Capturing five straight superspeedway poles in 1960 and '1961, a record that would be tied 13 years later and would take 24 years to break.

- Becoming the first driver to win the pole for three classics in one season (1962)

- Winning at least five superspeedway poles three consecutive seasons (1960-62), the second longest such streak in history.

- Winning at least one classic pole five years in a row (1959-1963), a streak bettered only by David Pearson and Jeff Gordon.

- Becoming the first driver to win at least one superspeedway poles in five consecutive seasons (1959-1963) and the first to win multiple superspeedway poles in four consecutive seasons (1959-1962).    


oberts also was the first driver to capture at least one Grand Slam pole in five consecutive years (1959-1963) and had another string of three consecutive classic poles, a streak exceeded only by Bill Elliott's four and equaled by Pearson. Roberts also posted two other streaks of four consecutive Grand Slam poles. Only four other drivers have managed to complete that feat once. And streaks of four or more superspeedway poles have been accomplished five times -- three of them by Roberts.

Now nearly 40 years after his untimely death, Roberts still ranks second in classic poles (10), third in Grand slam poles (21), ties for seventh in Grand Slam wins from the pole (3), tied for eighth in superspeedway poles (21), tied for 11th in superspeedway victories from the pole (3), and 18th in poles (35).

Considering his relative lack of opportunities on superspeedways, it would not be inappropriate to call Roberts the best qualifier in the history of NASCAR's big tracks.

That doesn't mean he wasn't capable of finding victory lane, however.

Roberts was the first driver to post four consecutive seasons of multiple superspeedway victories (1960-'61), and the first to win on Grand Slam track six consecutive  seasons (1959-1961), and the first to win Grand Slam races from the pole in consecutive season (1959-'60). His five 500 mile victories were a record at the time of his death, and he still ranks in the top 20 in victories (33), superspeedway wins (14), Grand Slam triumphs (10), dirt victories (12), and road wins (2).

Hall of Fame mechanic Smokey Yunick was quoted, "I'm telling you, that Fireball was the best driver I ever had." Quite the quote considering that Tom Flock, Buck Baker, Bobby Isaac, Bobby Allison, Curtis turner, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford and Herb Thomas drove for him.


 Lap 7
 in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24th, 1964 found Junior Johnson's Ford spinning into Ned Jarrett's, and the latter caught on fire, Roberts swerved abruptly to avoid their cars, then bounced into the rear of Jarrett's machine. Robert's Holman-Moody Ford tagged the wall hard and landed upside down in a sea of flames.

Jarrett, who had leapt from his burning car, ran to Robert's car and heard his friend and rival scream "Oh, my God, Ned. Help me. I'm on fire!" By the time Jarrett pulled Roberts out of the charred machine, initial reports were that 80 percent of Robert's body had received third degree burns. Roberts, whose condition worsened with asthma, fought for his life at Charlotte Memorial Hospital. He underwent surgery June 30 and came out of the operation in a coma. Two days later, July 2nd, as the place where he was the defending champion, and where he dominated the competition, Daytona International Speedway, was preparing for the Firecracker 400, the most popular driver in the sport had known to that point died at the age of 35 from pneumonia and blood poisoning.

The man is gone, but the records remain.

Much of this story is written in the book The Complete Statistical History of Stock-Car History by Richard Sowers and edited by fireballroberts.com pending permission.

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