Three-Time NASCAR Champ, Cale Yarborough - 1939-2023
Cale Yarborough, one of the top stars in NASCAR in four decades, from his first race in 1957, to his retirement in 1988, passed away on Dec. 30, 2023. NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Yarborough took his first green flag in the 1957 Southern 500, finishing 42nd out of 50 starters after the right front hub failed on his Chevy. He continued to run just a single Grand National race a season until starting eight races in 1962, then started moving up the odds sheets until he scored an initial victory at Valdosta, Ga’s 200-lap race in 1965. ’65 was the year he went sailing over the rail at Darlington in a battle for the lead with Sam McQuagg, emerging the wrecked car with essentially no injuries.
Later on, he went on to win three-straight championships, driving for Junior Johnson’s team and winning the Cup in ’76 – ’78. Over his 31-year career, Yarborough competed in 560 Cup races, winning 83 of them and sitting on the pole for 69 events.
In addition to his NASCAR career, the Timmonsville, SC native competed in 13 USAC Champ Car events, starting with the 1966 Indianapolis 500 (where he was taken out in an eleven-car crash before completing one lap) and finishing tenth in the 1972 Brickyard race. His best Champ Car finishes were a pair of fifths, at Trenton and Michigan in 1971.
This writer’s first real encounter with Yarborough came in 1983 at the Spring race at Rockingham when we were sitting in the side door of a team hauler, talking with a friend on a crew. Yarborough sat down in the hauler opposite us just get away from the hustle and bustle in the garage and started chatting. The entire conversation, other than congratulating him for being the first driver to win a race with an on-board camera, two weeks earlier at Daytona, centered on school and the fact that he had the flu.
NASCAR’s CEO and Chairman, Jim France released this statement: “Cale Yarborough was one of the toughest competitors NASCAR has ever seen. 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.”
Yarborough's NASCAR Cup career summary:
Runnin at Finish
Lead Lap at Finish
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.