After losing a tie-breaker to Buck Backer for a 2013 nod, Roberts just gets in a year later
CONCORD, N.C. -- When Richard Trivette noticed that the announcement for the next NASCAR Hall of Fame class was on May 22, he began to have a good feeling that his late father-in-law would get in.
“The 22 is a special number,” he said. “So we hit it right on the head.”
The No. 22 car is what Fireball Roberts drove to all but three of his 33 career victories on NASCAR’s premier circuit, part of a sterling record that helped the star of the late 1950s and early ’60s earn selection to the Hall of Fame. Roberts on Wednesday joined Dale Jarrett, Tim Flock, Jack Ingram and Maurice Petty as members of a 2014 class that will be inducted on Jan. 29.
“This pretty much completes his resume,” said Trivette, who was married to Roberts’ late daughter Pam. Glenn “Fireball” Roberts -- the nickname stemmed from his exploits as a baseball pitcher -- was one of NASCAR’s biggest early stars, racking up victories and winning fans first in modified cars as well as the stock vehicles that were the forerunners of today’s Sprint Cup Series machines. He died in 1964 from burns suffered in a fiery crash in what is now the Coca-Cola 600.
The accident cut short Roberts’ career at age 35. As it was, the Apopka, Fla., native still won the Daytona 500, scored a pair of trumps in the Southern 500 at Darlington, and is generally regarded as the best driver to never win a title at the sport’s highest level.
WHAT: Hall of Fame Voting Day
WHERE: Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center
WHO VOTES: 21 members of Nominating Committee and 33 members of Voting Panel. In addition, one vote is generated by fan input.
WHO WAS CHOSEN: Tim Flock, Jack Ingram, Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty and Fireball Roberts
WHEN THE 2014 INDUCTEES WILL BE INDUCTED: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 (Live television coverage provided by FOX Sports 1)
“Let’s forget about the numbers,” said Leonard Wood, co-founder of the great Wood Brothers team, and a Hall of Famer himself. “When you showed up at the race track, he was a star player. I can remember the very first race here in Charlotte, he sat on pole here in Smokey Yunick’s car. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, how I’d like to sit on pole like that,’ not knowing we were going to sit on pole 13 straight times one time. But every time he showed up at the track, the name Fireball just stood out. Going into the race, you knew if you beat Fireball, you’d probably win the race.”
Trivette and his late wife helped spread the word on Roberts’ behalf, lobbying for inclusion to the Hall of Fame, and using social media to remind fans and voters of his career. “We’ve been working hard to build our fan base up,” said Trivette, whose wife Pam passed in 2009. “He never really ran for a championship, except in the early days. … We’ve been building from the ground up.”
A key source in that research is a journal kept by Roberts’ wife Doris, who Trivette said detailed everything up until a final entry prior to that ill-fated World 600 in 1964. Among her favorite memories was towing the 1939 “White Lightning” coupe Roberts once drove in the modified ranks, ferrying it through the night from one track to another as the driver slept.
“Doris towed the car while he slept and got some rest going to the next track,” Trivette said. “Because they ran day after day. They were running somewhere just about every day of the week. She loved that more than anything.”
Had Roberts lived, Wood said, he believed the driving great may have tried his hand at the Indianapolis 500. But he was just as big off the track, at one point even hosting his own radio program. “The name Fireball just stood out every race,” Wood said. “He was a superstar.”
Roberts nearly earned entry to the Hall of Fame last year, losing out to Buck Baker in a tiebreaker that determined the fifth and final honoree. Wednesday he was the last new member selected, chosen on 51 percent of ballots submitted by the 54 members of the voting committee. Trivette, though, was confident his late father-in-law’s selection would happen eventually.
After all, the number 22 was always good to Fireball Roberts.
“I knew it would come,” Trivette said. “It was just a matter of time.”
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