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The Fireball Myth

This week we’re going to dispel another NASCAR myth, namely: How did Fireball Roberts get his nickname? There have been several different versions of how Edward Glenn Roberts, Jr. got to be known as “Fireball.” The most common version is that he picked up the name while pitching for a Central Florida American Legion team, the Zellwood Mud Hens. Some say he got it while attending the University of Florida and playing for the school’s team. But although he did indeed attend the university, Roberts never played on their team.

Although I have spoken to Roberts’ late widow in the past, I recently met with his sister, Joanne, and got the true story to put this myth to rest.

While growing up in Apopka, Florida, young Glenn, or “Bubby” as he was known around the house, would pick up summer jobs on the Broadwalk at Daytona Beach. One of those jobs was as a pin boy at the bowling alley. Before electric pin setting machines were invented, the pins were put in place by brave young men who sat in the framework above the end of the alley. One of his co-workers was a lad named Dimitri Balkus. The pair used to play a lot of sandlot baseball and it was there that one day Balkus described one of “Bubby’s” pitches as a real fireball. The name stuck.  Although Roberts hated the moniker, it brought him much attention and did wonders to set him apart from the drivers of the 1950s.


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