Inner circle was small, loyal

Motorsports Editor
Last update: 01 July 2004     Back To Fireball 7/3/04 N-J Article    Back Home
DAYTONA BEACH -- Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts had a celebrity standing and was known throughout the country as one of NASCAR's top racers.

While Roberts was constantly in the public eye, he successfully cast a blanket over his personal life and enjoyed time to himself.

Judy Judge
From left, drivers Marvin Panch, Tiny Lund, Fireball Roberts and Nelson Stacy were friends. Panch, Roberts, and Stacy were all Daytona Beach residents.

"Bubby was a loner," JoAnne Funderburke said recently of her older brother. "He didn't have many friends. He liked his privacy."

When Roberts granted Sports Illustrated an interview late in 1963, and the opportunity to take an up-close look at his life, he cloaked several facts from the publication.

Roberts' marriage was in failure, and he was deeply in love with another woman, Judy Judge.

Roberts had an "arrangement" with his wife Doris, who stubbornly refused to give NASCAR's first big star a divorce. They were married in 1950.

"She just liked being Mrs. Fireball Roberts," said one of Roberts' friends. "She was OK with Fireball doing anything, just as long as he didn't throw it in her face."

Glenn and Doris Roberts were given a divorce in St. John's County on April 15, 1964, only six weeks before his horrible accident in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Roberts and Judge planned to marry when he retired from driving at the end of that summer.

Doris McConnell Roberts, 75, died May 5 in her hometown of Kannapolis, N.C. She and Glenn had one child, Pamela, who makes her home in Florida.

Fireball's parents, Edward Glenn Sr. and Doris Roberts, moved their family here from Apopka and owned a small motel along Hollywood Boulevard near Main Street. It was his mother who processed the waivers that allowed her son to race as a teenager.

"My mother signed the papers for him to race because daddy didn't want any part of it," Funderburke said. "Bubby and daddy didn't always see eye to eye and went around and around. After he started racing and was married, they got along pretty good."

Back in those days, drivers separated their careers and family life.

"When Bubby was racing, it wasn't family oriented like it is today," Funderburke said. "We'd watch him race but didn't hang around."

There is a third sibling in the Glenn Sr. and Doris Roberts family. Tommy Roberts was born when Fireball and JoAnne were in high school.

"It's like he grew up in another family because we were so much older than Tommy," Funderburke said of her younger brother, who lives in Tennessee.

In addition to his sister and Judge, the rest of Fireball Roberts' inner circle included Irwin "Speedy" Spiers and Bob Laney. Both had known the driver since their teenage years.

Spiers was Roberts' first crew chief as they barnstormed short tracks around the country to fulfill their need for speed. Laney was Roberts hunting buddy.

"Glenn and I were the world's greatest duck hunters," Laney said recently. "We would go hunt where the launching pads are at Cape Canaveral now."

Roberts was close to another NASCAR driver who lived in town, Marvin Panch.

"Fireball was a good man," Panch says. "I got along real good with him. We traveled together a lot."

And there was Dick Joslin, who raced short tracks up and down the East Coast. Joslin was to be Roberts' best man when he married Judge.

And, of course, there were Roberts' spiritual racing Zen masters, Marshal Teague, when he was young, and Smokey Yunick, when he matured and stormed into big-league stock car racing.

It was Teague who lured a young Roberts into the world of racing, while Yunick's black and gold Pontiacs helped propel him to stardom.

And while Roberts tolerated the media, he had at least two friends who carried a reporters' notebook -- longtime News-Journal sports editor Benny Kahn and Max Muhleman, who was stationed in Charlotte. Kahn wrote Roberts' epitaph.

"He had a wide appetite and interest in life," Muhleman said. "I found that fascinating."

|   2004 News-Journal Corporation   | (SM)   |

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