On the first weekend of the NASCAR racing season, there are no flowers at Fireball Roberts’ final resting place.
There should be.
At the end of a short stone walkway at Daytona Memorial Park is the mausoleum that holds the remains of E. Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, NASCAR’s first superstar driver. Four miles away, its tall grandstands visible from the cemetery, is Daytona International Speedway. The thunder of race cars roaring along the high banks can be heard in this otherwise quiet place, and it sends chills up the spine.
Graveside memorials sometimes overstate the qualities of the deceased. Roberts’ does not.
“He brought to stock car racing a freshness, distinction, a championship quality that surpassed the rewards collected by the checkered flag,” it says.
The letters are fading.
Not many visit this section of the cemetery these days, even on a warm weekend. A cemetery employee says Daytona race weeks usually bring in a curious few.
Most are familiar with the exploits of Earnhardt, Johnson, Waltrip and Gordon; only the old heads remember Roberts, who was a comet across racing skies, the first driver who could have lifted the sport to a large national audience.
His peak years dovetailed with NASCAR’s move from its short-track beginnings into the superspeedway era. Huge, fast tracks had opened in Daytona, Charlotte and Atlanta, sending speeds far beyond what might have been imagined on the dusty bullrings of NASCAR’s infancy. Some drivers crossed that bridge from past to future without skipping a beat; others couldn’t handle the acceleration and exited to obscurity.
Roberts didn’t blink.