Cale Yarborough (b. 1939) - One of NASCAR's 50 Greatest
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Cale Yarborough

Cale Yarborough
William Caleb ‘Cale’ Yarborough was born on 27 March 1939, in Timmonsville, North Carolina. At school he became a football fanatic, representing Timmonsville High School as an all-state fullback. Later he played semi-professional football with the Sumter Generals, nearly making the big time.

Yarborough married Betty Jo, whom he had met at his uncle's drug store, and tried to support her, farming turkeys, and racing cars. He was not all that successful at either venture, although he just scraped along as a stock car exponent. As an eighteen-year-old he added three years to his age to be eligible for NASCAR racing.

In 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1961 he participated in one NASCAR Grand National Championship race each season, winning a mere $535. In 1962 he ran in eight Grand National races, once finishing in the first ten. Next season the total was eighteen and three times he was placed in the top five, his earnings amounted to $5550. Things were looking up.

Herman 'The Turtle' Beam

The first big break came in 1964 when Yarborough was chosen by Herman Beam (nicknamed 'The Turtle') to drive a works-prepared Ford. In his first race he crashed and later a replacement machine suffered wheel bearing failure. Cale was not out of a job for long. He was taken on by top racing car preparers Holman & Moody as a $1.25-an-hour carpenter.

The Wood Brothers Team

He kept his foot in the door and in 1965 he was team driver and earned $25,140, winning one race and finishing in the first ten no fewer than 34 times out of his 46 entries. For 1966 Yarborough joined the legendary Wood brothers' team, an organisation which guaranteed the fastest pit work anywhere in the world - in less than twenty seconds they could change two tyres and add fifteen gallons of fuel. The season brought no victories, although from fourteen starts Yarborough was placed in the top five three times. He also raced in the Indianapolis 500.

In 1966, driving a Vollstedt-Ford he was involved in the first-lap pile-up, but the following year Cale drove impressively, reaching fourth place before hitting the wall. In 1967, driving only in the Super Speedway rounds of the NASCAR Grand National series, Yarborough won twice from sixteen starts, including his first 500-miler, the Atlanta 500. Next year he set the NASCAR tracks alight: at the wheel of a Mercury Cyclone he took part in 21 races and won a record four Super Speedway victories, amassing $136,786 for his efforts. He won both the Daytona classics (the 500 and the Firecracker 400), the Atlanta 500 and the Southern 500.

Pole for the Daytona 500 Classic

The next season was disappointing by comparison: two victories (the Atlanta 500 and the Motor State 400) and 'only' $74,240 in NASCAR earnings. The year ended with a smashed shoulder at Texas International Speedway in December when his Wood Brothers' Mercury Cyclone was wrecked. Doctors said he would never race again, but in February 1970 he took a new Mercury around Daytona International Speedway at a record 194.015 mph to claim pole-position for the Daytona 500 classic.

When Ford pulled out of racing at the end of the season Yarborough decided to try his hand at USAC racing. He entered the Indianapolis 500, finishing sixteenth in a Laycock-Ford in 1971 and tenth in an Atlanta-Foyt in 1972. It was a disappointing time in the wilderness for the short, tubby Yarborough and in 1973 he made a return to the NASCAR Grand National circuit. He won the South Eastern 500, the Music City 420, the Southern 500 and the National 500 to wind up second in the championship.

Next season he fought a season-long battle with 'King' Richard Petty, to come second once more. Ca le did not have to wait too long for greater success, however; he won the Winston Cup Grand National Championship in 1976 and 1977. Both years he won around one-third of the races; in 1977 Yarborough's Junior Johnston Chevrolet won nine rounds to finish the season with 5000 points ahead of Richard Petty. In 1978 it was the mixture much as before, except for the fact that Yarborough's mount was now an Oldsmobile. Even before the season had finished he had ensured himself of his third consecutive Championship.

The Allison Yarborough Clash

Yarborough began the 1979 season with Busch Beer sponsorship and getting into a fight with Donnie and Bobby Allison after the Daytona 500, as Donnie and Yarborough had wrecked their cars while racing for the lead on the final lap. This was the first NASCAR 500 mile race to be broadcast on live television in its entirety (through CBS Sports). The confrontation, and the exciting race that led up to it, are credited with starting the mass growth of NASCAR. Yarborough went on to finish fourth in the standings, winning four races, including the Coca-Cola 500 at Pocono Raceway and the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, one pole, and finishing third in the IROC VI standings.

Yarborough won a career-high and modern-era record fourteen poles in 1980, captured six races including sweeping the events at Rockingham, and scoring wins at Bristol, Michigan, Texas and Atlanta. Yarborough barely missed out on his fourth championship in five years, losing the championship to Dale Earnhardt by 19 points. At the end of the season, Yarborough announced he was leaving the Junior Johnson team and would run a part-time schedule for the rest of his career. He was replaced by Darrell Waltrip. Yarborough won 55 races while driving for Johnson from 1973–1980, compiling an amazing winning percentage of 26.57 percent. Yarborough competed in 18 races in the 1981 season in the #27 Valvoline Buick for M.C. Anderson, winning his fourth Firecracker 400 and his fifth Coca-Cola 500 at Atlanta, finishing in the top-ten a total of six times. Yarborough competed in 16 races in 1982, winning three, including his hometown Southern 500 for the fifth and final time. He also ran the 24 Heures du Mans in 1981, finishing 13 laps before a crash ended the team's efforts.

Cale Yarborough toughs it out with Donnie Allison
Cale Yarborough toughs it out with Donnie Allison.

Victory in the Talladega 500

In 1983, Anderson closed his operation, and Yarborough moved to the #28 Hardee's Chevrolet owned by Harry Ranier, competing in 16 events. He won four races, including his third Daytona 500, his sixth Atlanta Coca-Cola 500, and swept both events at Michigan, along with three poles.[38] In 1984 he repeated by winning his fourth Daytona 500, becoming the second driver to score back-to-back wins, the Winston 500 at Talladega, a race that featured 75 lead changes, and the Van Scoy Diamond Mine 500, along with four poles. Yarborough also captured the IROC VIII championship. In 1985 after his team switched to a Ford, he won his first Talladega 500 and scored his final win in the Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also finished eighth in the final standings of IROC IX.

In 1986, Yarborough won his final career pole at the Firecracker 400, and had five top-ten finishes. He scored a victory at Talladega during IROC X and finished third in the standings. In 1987, he left the Ranier-Lundy team and purchased Jack Beebe's Race Hill Farm team. Yarborough took the Hardee's sponsorship and began running the #29 Oldsmobile Delta 88 as an owner/driver, posting two top-five finishes. He ran his final season in 1988 in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, entering ten races and posting two ninth place finishes. He retired at the end of the year.

During the 1988 season, Yarborough split time in the 29 car with Dale Jarrett, who had one top-ten finish in nineteen starts. Following Yarborough's retirement, Jarrett was named the full-time driver for 1989, as he posted two top-five finishes and finished 24th in points. Hardee's left at the end of the season, and was replaced by Phillips 66/TropArtic and Jarrett was replaced by Dick Trickle. Trickle posted two top-fives and won his only career pole at Dover International Speedway, finishing 24th in points. Trickle began 1991 with Yarborough, but left after four races. Lake Speed took over as his immediate replacement, and had three top-ten qualifying efforts. Despite an eleventh-place run at the Busch 500, Speed left and was replaced for the duration of the season by Dorsey Schroeder, Chuck Bown, and Randy LaJoie.

Chad Little

Yarborough hired Chad Little to be his driver in 1992. After six races and no finishes better than 22nd, Little was replaced by Bobby Hillin, Jr. for one race, before Jimmy Hensley took over for the rest of the season, posting four top-ten finishes and winning Rookie of the Year honors. In 1993, the team switched to the #98 Ford Thunderbird with Bojangles' sponsorship and Derrike Cope driving. Cope had an eighth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway and finished 26th in points. Cope began 1994 with Fingerhut sponsorship, but after no top-tens, he was replaced by Jeremy Mayfield, whose best finish was a nineteenth at North Carolina Speedway, RCA became the team's new primary sponsor in 1995, and Mayfield had an eighth-place run at Pocono Raceway, finishing 31st in points despite missing four races. In 1996, Mayfield had two top-five finishes and won the pole at the DieHard 500. Towards the end of the season, Mayfield left to drive for Michael Kranefuss, whose previous driver John Andretti moved to the 98, finishing fifth at Martinsville Speedway. Andretti won the pole at Talladega again in 1997, and at the Pepsi 400, he led 113 laps and won Yarborough's only race as a car owner.

Despite the win and a 23rd place points finish, RCA left the sport and Andretti signed with Petty Enterprises. Yarborough signed Greg Sacks to drive his Thorn Apple Valley Ford in 1998, but Sacks suffered a neck injury at the Texas 500 and was unable to race for the rest of the year. Rich Bickle took his place, and had three top-five qualifying runs and a fourth-place finish at Martinsville. Bickle resigned to drive for Tyler Jet Motorsports and Thorn Apple departed due to financial problems within the organization. Due to the lack of financing, Yarborough originally closed his team up, but soon reopened and hired Rick Mast as its driver and car dealer Wayne Burdett as a co-owner.

Despite having no primary sponsor, Yarborough and his team ran the full schedule, picking up short-term deals with Sonic Drive-In and Hobas Pipe. Soon after, Burdette left the team and the team signed Universal Studios/Woody Woodpecker as its primary sponsor. At the end of the season, Mast posted two top-tens and did not have a DNF all season, the second driver since Yarborough to accomplish that feat. Despite rumors of a second team with Michael Ciochetti driving, Mast departed for Larry Hedrick Motorsports and Universal left for Team Gordon. Yarborough attempted to sell the team to various businessmen, none of the deals going through. In January 2000, Yarborough closed the team until a buyer could be found. He sold the team in the summer of 2000 to Chip MacPherson, who debuted the new team at Lowe's Motor Speedway with Jeff Fuller, finishing 41st after suffering engine failure. Geoffrey Bodine ran the Pennzoil 400 later that year, but wrecked. The team soon disappeared from the Cup circuit.

The International Motorsports Hall of Fame

Yarborough was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1994, the Court of Legends at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1996 and was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers (1998). In 2009, Yarborough was one of the 25 nominees for the first class to be inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, though he was not selected. In 2010, he was nominated for induction in the second class of the Hall of Fame, and again he failed to make the cut. A stretch of South Carolina Highway 403 through Timmonsville is named Cale Yarborough Highway in his honor.
Cale Yarborough
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