In the Rearview Mirror: Cale Yarborough, the original 3-time champion

1983 Michigan Cale Yarborough in car
Check out the old-school onboard camera that Cale Yarborough carried during this
1983 race in Michigan. Credit: RacingOne multimedia/Getty Images
Joining the NASCAR Hall of Fame in just a few weeks is Cale Yarborough, a fitting enshrinement for the first driver to reach three consecutive championships. Yarborough’s feat has only been matched and then surpassed by Jimmie Johnson.

William Caleb Yarborough, more simply known as Cale, had an illustrious NASCAR career before settling back down to focus on his family. With a career spanning 31 years and 560 races, Yarborough accomplished more than most drivers now days will ever dream of.

Cale had a rough start to his life, his father died in an small plane crash when Cale was only 11. Yarborough became the man of the house being the oldest of three boys. Cale participated in sports while in school, becoming a high school football player who would later play semi-pro football in Columbia, South Carolina.

As a teenager, Yarborough took interest in racing and grew up running on the dirt track circuit. He attempted to make his way into the Southern 500 at Darlington while still a teen, but was caught and disqualified.

Finally able to race in 1957, Yarborough made his NASCAR debut during the Southern 500 at Darlington  Raceway, driving for Bob Weatherly. Only completing 31 laps, Yarborough finished in 42nd place.

Racing sporadically through 1965, the season brought Yarborough his first “full” season. Racing 46 of the 55 races and achieving his first win at Valdosta Speedway in Valdosta, Georgia, the first of many for the future champion.

Driving for owners such as Holman Moody, Banjo Matthews, and the Wood Brothers, Yarborough achieved his crowning glory of success with Junior Johnson. Not many “good” drivers can claim as a badge of honor that they drove for all the top teams in the sport instead of it being an indication of a problem driver.

Yarborough has 4 victories in the Daytona 500 with his first win coming early in his career, when he edged out LeeRoy Yarbrough for the win in 1968. The season of 1968 was a banner year for Yarborough and Wood Brothers Racing. Winning 6 races and claiming 12 top-10s, the team only competed part-time and was not a contender for the Grand National championship.

Cale remained on a part-time basis with Wood Brothers until the end of the 1970 race season. Ford Motor Company withdrew their support from NASCAR, leaving the talented driver without a team.

Driving only four NASCAR races in 1971, Yarborough shifted his focus to USAC and also competed in the Indy 500 for his third attempt at the Borg Warner trophy.

Yarborough returned to NASCAR full-time in 1973 in the No. 11 Car-Care Chevrolet, but midway through the 1974 season changes came. Junior Johnson bought the No. 11 team from Richard Howard. Johnson and Yarborough proved to be a match made in racing heaven, though they had their initial struggles.

Hard to fathom that the legendary Cale Yarborough went through a season like 1975: 14 DNFs in a total of 27 starts. Those numbers are mind boggling. Despite the hardships that season, Cale managed to add to his win tally, racking up 3 additional victories that year.

Drivers often face a defining career moment, where you can pinpoint their pinnacle moment. For Cale Yarborough, that has to be the entire 1976 season, with a staggering 9 wins – 4 consecutive, Yarborough brought home his first Winston Cup Championship.

Little did anyone realize that one championship in 1976 was setting up the Yarborough/Johnson dynasty in the Winston Cup. The dynamic duo won two additional championships, dominating the Winston Cup championship from 1976-1979.

Yarborough was in contention to win the 1979 Daytona 500 when he and Donnie Allison crashed on the final lap. This was the first 500 broadcast on live TV and boy, Cale and Donnie sure put on a show that day. Not wanting to be left out, Donnie’s brother Bobby joined in the melee. The classic still photo from the resulting fight after the crash shows the men fighting it out, the way it should be, fists a flyin’ and no one getting hurt or using cars as weaponry.

Cale Yarborough lost a chance at another Daytona 500 and shows his frustration with his fists afterwards.

At the end of the 1980 season, Cale decided to depart Junior Johnson’s team and scale back his racing to part-time. In eight seasons the dynamic duo racked up 55 race wins and three consecutive championships, a feat that went unmatched for 31 years.

As he scaled back his racing schedule, Cale Yarborough still won races. Yarborough finally hung up his goggles and helmet in 1988, with a grand total of 83 career wins.

Ending his individual driving career, Yarborough purchased Jack Beebe's Race Hill Farm team, rebranding it as Cale Yarborough Motorsports. Owning cars was much more of a struggle for Yarborough. In 13 years and a long list of drivers that included Dale Jarrett, Dick Trickle, Randy LaJoie, Lake Speed, Derrike Cope, Jeremy Mayfield and John Andretti; Andretti was the only driver who took Yarborough’s team to victory lane.

Now, Cale Yarborough can be found at races occasionally, or at Cale Yarborough Honda in Florence, South Carolina.

Yarborough attended the 2008 NASCAR Championship Week which marked Jimmie Johnson tying Yarborough's 3-peat, which Johnson surpassed the next season.

2008 Dec Champions Week NYC Jimmie Johnson with Cale Yarborough backstage at banquet
Johnson and Yarborough during the 2008 NASCAR banquet.
Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
Cale Yarborough will be inducted into the 2012 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 20th, capping a lifetime of awards and honors for the original 3-time champion.

Amanda Ebersole offers Skirts and Scuffs readers a look back at NASCAR history
13923424986_nJZQNIn the Rearview Mirror. The great sport we enjoy today has glorious roots and is full of wonderful history, so join Amanda each Wednesday as she reminisces. What is your favorite memory of the golden days of NASCAR? Feel free to contact Amanda via
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In the Rearview Mirror: Cale Yarborough, the original 3-time champion In the Rearview Mirror: Cale Yarborough, the original 3-time champion Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, January 04, 2012 Rating: 5