Sunday, December 31, 2023

NASCAR Legend Cale Yarborough Dies

NASCAR Legend Cale Yarborough Dies

Three-time Cup Champion, Yarborough won four Daytona 500s and became the first NASCAR driver to win three straight titles

RIP Three-time #NASCAR Cup Champion, Cale Yarborough Dies


NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough has died. He was 84.


Yarborough is one of the most successful NASCAR drivers ever with 83 Cup Series wins and three championships. Yarborough won those championships in three straight seasons from 1976-78 as he amassed 28 wins and 70 top-five finishes over 90 races in that span.


“Cale Yarborough was one of the toughest competitors NASCAR has ever seen,” NASCAR chairman Jim France said in a statement. “His combination of talent, grit and determination separated Cale from his peers, both on the track and in the record book. He was respected and admired by competitors and fans alike and was as comfortable behind the wheel of a tractor as he was behind the wheel of a stock car. On behalf of the France family and NASCAR, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Cale Yarborough.”


One of Yarborough’s most famous moments in NASCAR came right after he won his third and final championship. Yarborough was racing for the lead with Donnie Allison in the 1979 Daytona 500 when the two drivers collided on the backstretch and their cars went sliding through the infield. After climbing from their cars in the infield as Richard Petty ended up winning the race, the two started tussling as Allison’s brother Bobby had also arrived on the scene.


Donnie Allison - Cale Yarborough 1997 Fight (NASCAR)


The fight was a signature moment for NASCAR, which was primarily a regional motorsports series at the time. The 1979 Daytona 500 was the first race televised live from start to finish on broadcast television, and a snowstorm in the Northeast and Midwest led to many tuning into the race because they were stuck at home.


Yarborough is one of just seven drivers with more than 80 Cup Series wins and is tied with Jimmie Johnson for the sixth-most wins at NASCAR’s top level behind Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Allison and Waltrip finished their careers with one more win than Yarborough.


Yarborough was also the first driver in Cup Series history to win three consecutive titles. While Petty, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt each have seven championships, only Johnson won more than two consecutive titles. Johnson tied Yarborough with his third consecutive title in 2008 and went on to win two more to get five straight from 2006-10.


Petty is also the only driver to win more Daytona 500s than Yarborough. Petty won seven 500s in his career to Yarborough's four.


A South Carolina native, Yarborough attended races at Darlington Raceway as a kid and competed in the 1957 Southern 500 as a 17-year-old even though NASCAR realized how old he was right before it began. Yarborough had lied about his age to enter the race — the minimum age was 21 — and started the race before switching places with a different driver much to NASCAR’s chagrin.


Yarborough’s legendary status also comes from his daredevil personality. It’s no stretch to say he’s one of the toughest and boldest NASCAR drivers to ever compete in the series. Just read this story he told Sports Illustrated in 1968 about flying a plane for the first time.


"Wib Weatherly and I had bought a plane," Cale said, "a Piper J-4. When it got here, Wib and I started to talking, each of us telling the other about how good we could fly. So finally we went out and got in the plane, and I said, 'I'll turn it over and you take the controls,' and he said, 'Naaw, you take the controls and I'll turn it over.' So I did, and never let on about anything and just taxied and took off as pretty as you please. Every time I'd offer to give the controls over, Wib'd say, 'Naaw, Cale, you're doing just fine.' Well, pretty soon we were running low on fuel and it was time to land and I said, 'Wib, I took off; you land it,' and Wib said, 'Naaw, you're doing fine, Cale. You land it.' Then I confessed that that was the first time I'd been at the controls of an airplane. Wib confessed, too. He said that was the second time he'd ever even been up in an airplane. Well, I brought it in, bouncing all over the place and with Wib's eyes as big as saucers, and the next day I was out there and took off again and practiced landings in this field until I could do it pretty good. Never had a lesson in my life."


Yarborough had his most success racing for Junior Johnson’s team. He left Johnson’s team after the 1980 season. He won two of his four Daytona 500s in the 1980s as he won 14 races from 1981-1985 even though he was competing on a part-time basis.


He became a car owner ahead of the 1987 season and drove part-time through 1988 before retiring from driving. Yarborough’s team wasn’t very successful; John Andretti won the team’s only race in the 1997 Pepsi 400 before Yarborough shut the team down and sold it in 2000.


Yarborough was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011 on the hall’s third ballot. He was a finalist to make the hall in each of the first two election cycles but wasn’t among the first 10 inducted.


source: Yahoo Sports Media

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