Fireball 500 is a stock car racing film, blended with the beach party film genre. A vehicle for stars Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Fabian, it was one of a string of similar racing films from the 1960s. Written by William Asher and Leo Townsend, and directed by William Asher, it tells the story of Dave Owens (Avalon), a stock car racer forced to run moonshine.
- Frankie Avalon as Dave "Fireball" Owens
- Annette Funicello as Jane Harris
- Fabian as Sonny Leander Fox
- Harvey Lembeck as Charlie Bigg
- Chill Wills as Big Jaw Harris
- Julie Parrish as Martha Brian
- Sandy Reed as Race Announcer
- Douglas Henderson as Hastings
- Baynes Barron as Bronson
- Ed Garner as Herman
- Mike Nader as Joey
Up and coming stock car racer Dave Owens from California goes to race in the South. He plays into the hands of local moonshine producers by agreeing to drive in a cross-country road race, not knowing he is in actuality smugging moonshine. The IRS men are in the area looking to arrest the moonshiners and those that drive for them. He is assisted by Jane Harris and Sonny Leander Fox. Soon Dave and Sonny begin a friendly rivalry for Jane and Dave agrees to help the revenue men catch the moonshiners.
The movie was part of a conscious attempt on AIP to move away from beach party movies, which were losing popularity, and go towards youth rebellion films such as Fireball 500 and The Wild Angels. AIP executive Deke Heyward said that:
The next big thing for teenage films is protest. Teenagers empathize with protest because they are in revolt against their parents... These films represent a protest against society. These will be moral tales, there will be good guys and bad guys. But we will show the reasons for young people going against the dictates of the establishment.
Stock car racing had already been the subject of Red Line 7000 but this movie would be specifically told from the teenagers point of view.
Fabian signed a multi picture deal with AIP in late 1965 and this was the first movie he made for them. It was shot in early 1966. The "Fireball 500" is a 1966 Plymouth Barracuda, heavily customized by George Barris, with a 1966 Hemi 426 Plymouth engine that develops up to 425 h.p. At one point in the film, the car is referred to as the Batmobile, prompting Frankie Avalon's character to quip, "Yeah, well this was built first." Barris also built the Batmobile for the Batman television show which premiered in January 1966.
Footage from Fireball 500, specifically shots of the 4B car (Jim Douglas' car) toppling over on its roof, show up later in the demolition derby scenes at the beginning of The Love Bug. When making the film AIP would hire a race car driver and install cameras in the front and rear of his car to obtain shots. The film is notable for its depiction of the inherently dangerous Figure 8 racing.
Funicello and Fabian starred together again (without Avalon) the following year in AIP's follow-up feature, Thunder Alley.
The film's soundtrack is by Les Baxter, and features six songs written by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. Frankie Avalon sings "Fireball 500," "My Way" (not to be confused with the song made popular by Frank Sinatra), "Turn Around," "A Chance Like That", and "Country Carnival." Annette Funicello sings "Step Right Up."
In July 1966 it was announced Burt Topper would produce a follow up, Malibu 500. This became Thunder Alley.