the differences in equipment, tracks and competition
from one era to the next, it's impossible for any racing
expert to compile a definitive list of the top all-time
"In this business it's hard to rate people because
they run under different circumstances with different
equipment against different people. There ain't no
best," says Richard Petty, who, regardless of
variables, is in everybody's top 10 (usually near the
Driver Jeff Gordon, left, greets Edward Glenn
"Fireball" Roberts, right, and John Andretti,
center, in this frame from a campaign for
NASCAR featuring new and old drivers.
Petty knows the discrepancies in comparing the
generations. But in regards to Fireball Roberts, he also
knows something else.
"If he was good then, he would be good today," says
Petty. "He would be in my top 10.
"He understood the equipment enough that he knew he
could only do so much with it. He pushed it from time to
time, a little over the edge."
The old racing term "win or break" seemed a perfect
motto for Fireball Roberts. Often, he won, capturing 33
races in just 207 starts between 1950-64. He also had 36
Especially during his glory days with owner/mechanic
Smokey Yunick, Fireball often had the fastest car
at the track, and he liked going to the front and
staying there as long as he could. His desire to get to
the front was similar to another giant of the era,
"As far as I'm concerned, between him and Junior
Johnson, I'd rate them 1 and 1," says Marvin
Panch, another star from the early 1960s. "I liked
Junior, liked Fireball. They were both hard-chargers."
Fireball earned the bulk of his national racing fame
on the biggest and fastest tracks of the day -- Daytona,
Darlington, Charlotte and Atlanta. But it was during the
early years of his career, on the smaller, rougher
tracks of the Carolinas, that he earned the respect and
admiration of his fellow racers.
"He went up to run some sportsman cars in the
Carolinas, and was outrunning the local guys," remembers
"Those days, drivers won the race. Today, cars win
the race," says longtime columnist and commentator
Chris Economaki. "Fireball knew how to throw the
thing around. He had the ability to do it -- very much
When looking for a modern racer that compares to
Fireball, some point to the 1980s heyday of Bill
Elliott, who had a reputation for cars that weren't just
fast, but usually always in one piece at race's end.
"He (Fireball) wouldn't mess with you at all," says
Panch. "You could trust him on the racetrack. We did a
lot of drafting together. You always knew right where
he'd go. It was a pleasure to race with him.
"But I do remember one time . . . I can't remember
who it was, but one guy kept bumping him in the back.
Kept on bumping him, then finally Fireball locked the
brakes down and took out the guy's radiator -- drained
But he was more than just a talented right foot.
Those who knew Fireball always rate his intelligence as
one of his greatest gifts. It was common for him, the
night before a race, to break down the following day's
event in 10-lap increments and explain where he thought
he'd be at any given point.
"He was a good driver who had a good head on his
shoulders," says Panch. "He was smart."
And in the ultimate testament to Fireball's talent,
smarts and good fortune, Panch adds of Fireball, "He was
always smart enough to get a first-class ride."
2004 News-Journal Corporation |
news-journalonline.com (SM) |
Copyright © 1999 FireballRoberts.com
by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised:
05/07/12 20:55:48 -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
FireballRoberts.com is not associated or affiliated with
any racing club or organizations including that of
Opinions and other content are not necessarily those of editors, sponsors.