Cale Yarborough, the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to win three consecutive championships, has died. He was 84.
“Cale Yarborough was one of the toughest competitors NASCAR has ever seen,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said. “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 started his racing career on local tracks in his native South Carolina where he grew up on a farm. In his youth, Yarborough was a star football player but chose racing over attending college on a scholarship, and there were times he would sneak into the Darlington Raceway garages, a track he would go on to conquer five times (in the prestigious Southern 500) as a driver.
Yarborough made his first NASCAR Cup Series start in 1957 — at Darlington. His big break came when teaming with car owner Banjo Matthews in the 1960s and Yarborough would score his first career win in 1965 in Valdosta, Ga.
During his NASCAR career, Yarborough also drove for the legendary Wood Brothers. Together, they won 13 races. But it was the partnership with Richard Howard and Junior Johnson that produced the most success for Yarborough with 55 victories and 39 of his 69 career poles.
In his career, which spanned three decades, Yarborough won 83 races in 560 starts. Among those were five Southern 500 victories and four Daytona 500 victories.
One of the Daytona 500 races Yarborough didn’t win is among the most memorable in NASCAR history. Yarborough and Donnie Allison collided while battling for the win on the last lap of the 1979 race, which ended with both cars crashed in Turn 3. Yarborough, Donnie and Bobby Allison came to blows on live television(watch video below), the first time a NACAR race had been shown live flag-to-flag.
Yarborough is the only four-time Daytona 500 champion. Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to have won more consecutive championships.
Yarborough and Johnson are also tied for fifth on the all-time wins list. A victory at Dover in 2017 pulled Johnson alongside his idol, and he was wearing a tribute helmet to Yarborough that afternoon.
“I was very fortunate to have a similar experience when I tied (Yarborough) with the three consecutive championships and he surprised me at the banquet,” Johnson said that day. “But to tie him at 83 wins, I swear to you, I only dreamed of winning a race, and to have 83 and to tie him is just absolutely mind-blowing. He reminded me of my grandfather a little bit in his personality, so that was a takeaway or a reason that I watched him and was into him.
“He won a lot when I was watching him race at that point in time, and then that 28 car just looked good. There was just something about it, the look of the car — it looked mean. It was fast.”
As a team owner, Yarborough went to victory lane with John Andretti at Daytona in the summer of 1997. Yarborough opened car dealerships in South Carolina after his retirement.
Yarborough was named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998 and inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012. Among his accolades also includes being inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame (2013) and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (1994).
“Once again, I just want to thank my family,” Yarborough said in his NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech. “I want to thank my friends, I want to thank my fans, I want to thank the people that voted for me, I want to thank NASCAR. But most of all, thank you Lord.”