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Sports Memories: Fireball Roberts 14

Posted on July 02, 2009 by Dean Hybl

Fireball Roberts won the first Forecracker 400

Fireball Roberts won the first Forecracker 400

Much fanfare is being made this week regarding the 25th anniversary of Richard Petty’s record setting victory in the 1984 Firecracker 400. While Petty is certainly worthy of being honored, let’s also not forget the accomplishments of the man who won the first Firecracker race 50 years ago: Glenn “Fireball” Roberts.

When the Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, the big summer race at the speedway was originally scheduled to be an open wheel (Indy car) race. However, after a flurry of accidents at an April event, open wheel racing was permanently barred from the track.

That left an opening for a second NASCAR event to go with the season opening Daytona 500.

Originally called the Firecracker 250, the race was 100 laps until being expanded to the current 400 miles (160 laps) in 1963.

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      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is a former major league baseball player who came into the game as a teenager and stayed until he was in his 40s. In between, Rusty Staub put up a solid career that was primarily spent on expansion or rebuilding teams.

      Originally signed by the Colt .45s at age 17, he made his major league debut as a 19-year old rookie and became only the second player in the modern era to play in more than 150 games as a teenager.

      Though he hit only .224 splitting time between first base and rightfield, Staub did start building a foundation that would turn him into an All-Star by 1967 when he finished fifth in the league with a .333 batting average.

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