Cale Yarborough, who won 83 races and three consecutive championships (1976, 1977, and 1978) over the course of a 31-year career in the NASCAR Cup Series, has passed away at the age of 84.
Following the announcement of the death of one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, the leader of the sanctioning body issued a statement of remembrance.
“Cale Yarborough was one of the toughest competitors NASCAR has ever seen,” NASCAR Chairman & CEO Jim France. “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.”
The fierce competitor was one of the integral figures of the finish, and the post-race fistfight, in NASCAR’s most iconic race — the 1979 Daytona 500. In that event, Yarborough was locked in a battle with Donnie Allison for the race win, when the two drivers made contact down the backstretch on the final lap.
The two drivers crashed, which handed the race win to seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty, and as Petty headed toward victory lane, Yarborough, and the Allison brothers — Donnie and Bobby — fought it out in the infield of the backstretch.
Yarborough started his NASCAR Cup Series driving career in the 1957 Southern 500 at the age of 17. There was just one problem; the minimum age to drive in the NASCAR Cup Series at the time was 21. Yarborough lied about his age, and when his true age was discovered, NASCAR forbade him from running the event.
However, the hard-headed Yarborough snuck back into the Bob Weatherly-owned car prior to the start of the event, and after a couple of laps in the event, NASCAR was able to figure out that Yarborough was back behind the wheel and black-flagged the youngster.
Yarborough would be replaced by Weatherly behind the wheel, but Yarborough wouldn’t be done there. On the next pit stop, he would sneak back into the car again, and again, and after a few times of being caught, Yarborough’s first race in NASCAR officially ended with a 42nd-place finish.
The South Carolina native scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Valdosta 75 Speedway in Valdosta, Georgia on June 27, 1965. His 83rd and final NASCAR Cup Series triumph came in the 1985 Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a win which came over Bill Elliott.
Following his driving career, Yarborough slid into the role as a NASCAR Cup Series team owner. Yarborough would field a Cale Yarborough Motorsports entry from 1987 to 1999, and he scored one victory as an owner, which came with John Andretti behind the wheel of his No. 98 Ford Thunderbird in the July race at Daytona International Speedway.
Despite not being gigantic in stature, the 5’7″ Yarborough forged a legacy of toughness, and he also authored one of the greatest driving careers in NASCAR history.