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The "Fireball Myth:
Did "Fireball" Really Get His Name From Baseball?
...... by Norm Froscher

You've heard it again and again. He is on the list of NASCAR Fifty Greatest Drivers of its first half-century. 


Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts. To many of his early friends, he was simply Glenn. Then as in what may be a distorted legend over the years, he acquired the nickname "Fireball" because of his reportedly organized baseball pitching, namely with the Zellwood Mud Hens American Legion team.

Trying to pin down what is the truth, Stock Car Racing talked to a number of folks, including a daughter and sister, state headquarters of the American Legion and an early classmate and fellow student who encountered him again near the University of Florida.

That latter would be Jack Hall, who attended Apopka High briefly with Roberts, and then went on to a college coaching career that would include stops at the Universities of Georgia, Tennessee and Florida and a stint on the sidelines with the New York Jets.

Admittedly, it was Hall's declaration that Glenn Roberts didn't play organized baseball, but that he got the nickname for his "devil-may-care" speeding on the race track that prompted this investigation. 

Roberts reportedly didn't care for the nickname, but it wasn't long before his fellow competitors would be calling him by a shortened version of FireBALLs. You guys will understand. 

While the Roberts family left Apopka when he was in the tenth grade and bought a motel in Daytona Beach, Hall lost contact with him until that encounter near the University of Florida. Oh, did he ever resume the friendship, at over 100 miles an hour, but more on that in a minute. 

Our search on the nickname continued to the NASCAR archives, where NASCAR Hall of Fame Historian Buz McKim said Roberts late widow told him Roberts had told her the moniker came from baseball. And, of course, the NASCAR media guide and other journals say the same thing, baseball, but they don't go far enough.

Some even said he played in the Class D Florida State League, while others insisted it was at Apopka High School or the most popular one, with the Zellwood Mud Hens American Legion team. 

Hall says there was no baseball when Roberts would have played. 

"There was no baseball at AHS 1942 - 1947 due to a U.S. Army camp occupying an area that the WPA had built as a playground area. We only had football and basketball and students came from Zellwood to play those sports." 

Fireball hardly had time for any organized sports, because after leaving Seabreeze High School he went into the U.S. Army. After a short stint, however, he was given a medical discharge because of asthma problems and enrolled at Florida as freshman in September of 1947. He attended for four semesters.

That was vouched for by a daughter, Pam Roberts. 

"He became friends with and hung out with Marshall Teague at his garage in Daytona and Marshall built the car in which he won a race at Martinsville," Roberts says.

And here's the bottom line from his sister: "He never played any organized sports except a very little football. He picked up the nickname "Fireball" from participation in sandlot games as a baseball pitcher. I believe they call them pickup games, " says his sister, who didn't wish her name used. "I don't know where the Zellwood Mud Hens story came from."

Finally, to put the subject to rest, we contacted American Legion State headquarters in Orlando and spoke with Larry Leudenburg. 

"There never has been an American Legion team in Zellwood," he says. "We didn't have a post there and to my knowlege there was no organized baseball." 

Case closed. 

We promised a ride with Fireball, as told by Hall. Here goes:  "He kept his beach-road race car in Gainesville and was said to set speed records to and from Daytona Beach on weekends as there were very few police at the time. One day I was hitch-hiking through town on my way to junior college in Georgia," Hall recalls. "We met and Glenn offered Junior Rogers -- another Apopka friend -- and me a ride up to Dub's Club in northwest Gainesville. He brought his 'roaring' racer', a Ford coupe, around and Junior and I got in. 

"Glenn had on his helmet and was securely strapped in. I sat in the front on an orange crate and Junior squeezed in behind us among the roll bars. Glenn said he would take us on to Alachua. He dropped the Ford coupe into high gear, the wheels spun and we flew away. 

"We pulled past a '46 Buick Roadmaster and that driver turned green when he looked down at his speedometer. We were probably doing 100 miles an hour. Junior got out when Glenn stopped at Alachua and he hitchhiked back to Gainesville. I never rode with him in that race car again." 

Fireball? Is it any surprise Hall thought that was a racing nickname. Fireball. You better believe it. In a race car or on the sandlot. Definitely sandlot.

"Crystal Ball" Roberts ......... by Norm Froscher

Fireball Roberts knew his aerodynamics, too. 

Back in late 1958 NASCAR founder Bill France was just completing his new 2 1/2 mile Daytona International Speedway and had offered a bounty of something like $10,000 for the first driver to go 150 miles an hour on the new high-banked track. 

Roberts, already a star, was on a good will tour for a tire company and came by our Jacksonville Journal offices for an interview with me, the assistant sports editor. 

"One hundred and fifty miles an hour?" I asked. "Jeez, where's it gonna stop, at 160 or 170 even, what's the limit?" 

Roberts didn't hesitate. 

"When the car gets airborne, that's the limit. As long as you can keep that from happening, there's little limit." 

Looking at the race cars of today, with their spoilers, front ends barely off the track and other aero devices to keep the cars from getting airborne, maybe we should call him "Crystal Ball" Roberts.

Go to Webpage of Norm Froscher

Fireball & the Sport of Jai-Alai - What A Player by Roland Via









 Following up on his physical prowess and his natural athletic ability, especially his knowledge of baseball, Glenn loved to play amateur Jai Alai (hi-a-lie), and was good at it. There was a Fronton (an opened walled arena) in Daytona Beach and many afternoons were spent catching the pelota (ball) with the hand-made cesta (wicker basket). Often called "the fastest game on earth", the speed and the challenge fascinated Glenn. This is a betting sport, but Glenn preferred playing as opposed to betting.

His daughter Pam had two of the cestas and I am the proud owner of the one shown in the picture. It is a treasure. Also note the photo that came with the cesta and the newspaper article.








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