Volume III, Issue 10, Page 1

News & Analysis

Cale Yarborough Picks Johnson

Three-time NASCAR Champion Says Johnson Will Tie His Record

Cale back in a NASCAR racer after driving Indy cars Cale today

There’s been tough hombres and SOBs in NASCAR over the years, but you’ll have to search long and hard to find a guy tougher than Cale Yarborough.

Lemme tell ya a story that may sound more like bull than eye witness. But it’s true. It was at Michigan when Cale gave the wall in turn three a real hard lick – no, make that a damn hard hit. This was in the days before SAFER barriers and cars with crush zones. The cars were big ‘ol tanks back then. Cale come off that wall, drove the car into the pits, stopped smack dab in the middle of his team’s stall, right where he was supposed to and shuts her off. Well, as fast as he done that, the team went to workin’ on his racer. I was standing center of the car so I had a perfect view of Cale. And just as I’m lookin’ at him, he done passed out! I couldn’t believe it and looked around to see if anyone on the team had seen it – that boy mighta needed some help. They didn’t so’s I started waving my arms around like a wild man, and pointing to Cale. Well, they got to him and he come around a few minutes later and was OK. Wow, hit a wall at 160, drive it into the pits, park her in the right stall and then pass out. Yeah, that’s how tough Cale Yarborough is.  

Cale led EVERY (Yes, EVERY) lap at Bristol - all 500 of them. That meant he had enough of a lead that he could pit and still come out the leader.

Want more tough? He once crashed his car out of, yes, OUTTA Darlington Raceway, did a bunch of endos and wrapped it around a tree. All he got was a scratch on the forehead. When his wife asked if was all right, he said something like, “I’m OK but I crashed my racer.”

Cale shown with the CBS camera that he took with him when he won the Daytona 500. He later said they could put their camera in his car any time.

Or try this one from 1984. Cale is the first NASCAR boy to crack a 200mph lap at Daytona when qualifying. After hitting the Big Duece, his car takes off like a friggin’ airplane, tossing and turning in the air, trying to decide where to go. An onboard camera showed Cale sawing at the wheel, trying to bring that sucker back down to earth to make it to the finish line. He finally lands on his roof and comes out without injury. Dig this, he then uses a back-up car to win back-to-back Daytona 500s (’83 and ‘84).

‘Ol Cale is known for a lotta things in NASCAR but he’s kinda kept a low profile since his driving days. Recently, though, the press done hunted him down cuz he might just be sharing his record for winning the championship three years in a row - 1976, ’77 and ’78.

Jimmie Johnson is the guy who might just saddle up to that record, so should he keep on like he’s doing? But let’s not get ahead ourselves. Instead, let’s talk about Cale who won those three titles driving the Chevy and GM cars of another legend, Junior Johnson.

Cale told a bunch of stories like how he come to choose racing over football. Cale said bye-bye to the scholarship and went racin’ instead. His head coach at Clemson, Frank Howard, was the guy who forced him to choose and later became one of his biggest fans. Cale’s favorite win came in ‘68 when he won the Southern 500 at Darlington. That’s when that race was THE one to win for any Southern boy that knew what racin’ was. ‘Course, being a South Carolina boy probably prompted help, too. And don’t forget, Cale has FOUR Daytona 500 wins to his credit so that Southern 500 really is special to him. Cale also talked some about how him and Junior Johnson done good, gettin’ those three titles and just said, “We just hit it off at the right time, the right place, did the right things.”

The infamous national TV fight between Cale and the Allison brothers, Donnie and Bobby.

But a lotta folks want to talk to Cale about what we call, “The Fight.” In 1979, CBS was the first national network to televise the Daytona 500 from start to finish. Well, it kinda turned out more like start to fight. Cale and Donnie Allison were bumping and banging each other and then flat out crashed themselves out of the last lap. When the two of ‘em got out of their cars and started throwing hands at each other, Donnie’s brother, Bobby, joined in. All those millions of TV watchers saw it all. And it was on all the news shows later that night, too. Cale laughs and says, “I’ve told that story several million times. I’ll do it again. I had the fastest car and had it set up to where I could slingshot him (Donnie) on the last lap. That may have been a mistake on my part. I should maybe have gone on and passed him, go on and won the race handily. I was trying to make a show out of it. Unfortunately, it really came out to be a show. It was one of the best things ever happened in NASCAR.”

And who won that fight? “I did,” Cale says right quick. But Cale, who used to do some boxing, says it wasn’t a fair fight. “One Yarborough against two Allisons – that wasn’t even fair,” he says. “But that’s the way it ended up. We were friends the next day, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Cale walked away from racing a full schedule with a very surprising move to part-time when he was the cat to beat. “I had decided that I was going to cut back my schedule and spend more time with my family,” he says. “That’s what I did and have never regretted it.” But didn’t a record fourth title make him want to keep racin’? “I would have loved to have won that fourth one, but I felt like I needed to spend more time with my family. That was more important than a fourth championship.” That speaks volumes about Cale’s values.
He still lives in South Carolina with a 4,000 acre spread in Sardis and he says he’s “in heaven.” So what  does he say when somebody asks him [about] the 30 years he’s held his three-time champion title? “I just tell them I was happy to be able to do it, and happy it lasted as long as it did.”

So what does Cale think about the #48 driver? “I’ve watched Jimmie,” Yarborough says. “He’s the kind of driver that likes to run up front. That’s the way I drove. I can see a lot of Jimmie in me.” Cale says it’s a done deal for Johnson getting the big three, too. “The handwriting’s on the wall. It’s gonna happen,” he predicts. “I understand that I was Jimmie’s hero when he was growing up, so if he does it more power to him.”

So, kinda like a political endorsement, does Cale think Johnson’s his boy? Not accordin’ to Cale, “That don’t mean I’m pulling for him,” he says laughing. “But if he does it, I’ll be in good company. I hope he feels the same way.” Cale says Johnson “seems to be an awful nice fella” and he’d be mighty proud to share his record with him.

Then the tough guy Cale comes out, he laughs a big laugh and says, “The one thing I can say is Jimmie better be glad I’m not racing with him today.”

And you know what? That tough son of a gun means it.  

Recent Stories