Touted as a move away from his run of clean-cut early-60s beach-party flicks, Fireball 500 saw screen idol Frankie Avalon playing racing driver ‘Fireball’ Dave Owens, immersed in the dirtier world of stock car racing and moonshine running.
As the star rookie of the west-coast race season, Dave wins the feature Riverside 500 race before packing up and towing east, with Daytona glory firmly in his sights.
A stop-over in Charlotte to generate some cash sees him land on the doorstep of local race team owner Charlie Bigg (Harvey Lembeck), who gives the ever-confident Dave a steer of one of the older, beater-class stock cars they campaign. Impressed with Dave’s prowess behind the wheel, Charlie introduces him to the smooth and sultry boss-lady, Martha Brian (Julie Parrish), hinting to her that their star recruit may be just the driver they need for their moonshine-running operation.
A supposed cross-country night race has the unsuspecting Dave carrying a boot-load of moonshine (filled by Len Lesser – Seinfeld’s legendary Uncle Leo, no less). Unfortunately, this brings him to the attention of local Internal Revenue Service agents Hastings (Doug Henderson) and Bronson (Baynes Barron), who dangle a six-month jail term over Dave’s head should he not cooperate with being their inside man.
All the while, Dave has been ingratiating himself with local hard-nosed gal Jane Harris (Annette Funicello, Avalon’s staple partner from the surfie romps) and her uncle, dodgy race promoter Big Jaw Harris (Chill Wills). But it is the instant rivalry between Dave and local hotshot driver Sonny Leander (Fabian) that causes the most drama. The pair duke it out both on track and in the pits, and it isn’t long before Dave is thinking that Sonny is the cause of all his local trouble with the law.
The stakes are ramped up a serious notch when young local racer Joey (Mike Nader) is mysteriously killed doing a basic moonshine run and his jars of the good juice are stolen. Dave himself is lucky to escape after a nasty wreck under the same odd circumstances.
Dave eventually teams up with Sonny to investigate who is really messing with the shipments, and they soon discover that it’s a deadly inside job.
I’m allergic to musicals at the best of times, but thankfully my pre-existing fears going into Fireball 500 were allayed, with only a couple of short (yet surprisingly catchy) singing numbers included.
In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this flick. One of the coolest parts is the liberal inclusion of the George Barris-built ‘Fireball 500’ custom ’66 Barracuda as Dave’s daily driver and tow car; both the Fireball and the car trailer sport matching Radir five-spokes for extra oomph.
As a further bonus, the choice to make Dave’s personal race car a familiar Richard Petty ‘Petty Blue’ Plymouth, sporting Petty’s famous 43 race number, meant that real racing footage from The King and his NASCAR buddies could be included, too.
- 1966 Plymouth Barracuda
- 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca
- 1965 Plymouth Belvedere
- 1957 Ford Custom
- 1957 Oldsmobile Super 88
- 1966 Plymouth Fury convertible
- 1964 Dodge A-100
- 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
- 1966 Chevrolet Impala
- Frankie Avalon
- Annette Funicello
- Julie Parrish
- Harvey Lembeck
- Chill Wills
- Doug Henderson
- Baynes Barron
- Mike Nader
- Len Lesser
Crunching demolition derby action, vintage NASCAR thrills and spills, dirt-track speedway, mountain corner-carving, and even a figure-eight chicken race!
An up-and-coming Californian stock car driver with dreams of Daytona glory takes an expected southern detour
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COOL FLICK FACT:
Pioneering Hot Rod and Car Craft magazine publisher Robert E ‘Pete’ Petersen worked as a technical advisor on the film.