Photo Credit: Pete Biro
There are three things Cale Yarborough never said: 1. I need a relief driver. 2. My car isn't comfortable. 3. I don't care who wins the pole position.
William Caleb "Cale" Yarborough was a throwback to the days of Barney Oldfield, Ted Horn, Curtis Turner, and other immortals who drove by the seat of their pants. He was a daredevil, but one with brains and talent.
"I never had a relief driver during my 30 years of racing and that's one record I'm most proud of," says Yarborough, who retired as a driver following the 1988 season. No other driver with at least 500 starts on the Winston Cup tour can make that claim.
One of Yarborough's pet peeves is hearing a driver say the "car isn't comfortable." He has driven more than one ill-handling car to victory. "My problem was I didn't know if it was (handling right) or not. So it didn't make any difference," he said with a laugh. "I know it has to be just right for most of the (drivers). I was hired to drive a race car and I drove it to the best of my ability. I didn't care how it felt. It didn't make any difference. The car had to get the job done whether it was right or wrong. So I just drove it."
There was no one who tried harder than Yarborough to win the pole position. That's the reason he still ranks third today although he retired following the 1988 season. "Running for the pole was like running for a win. I always tried to win. No one remembers who runs second," he says.
Yarborough, who bought a Winston Cup team in September 1986 is still looking for his first win under the title "car owner,". In addition to his NASCAR successes he also raced briefly on the USAC Indy Car circuit because "he wanted to put some grits and gravy in victory lane at the Indianapolis 500."
The 5'7" tall, 175-pound Yarborough was a giant in a stock car. He won 83 of 558 races, an impressive 14.87 winning percentage. It's the fourth best percentage in NASCAR for anyone competing in more than 300 races. His 83 wins are fifth on the all-time list. He also won 70 poles, third on the all-time list.
While winning more than $5 million in prize money, Yarborough accomplished some other impressive statistics. He's the only driver to win the Grand National (now Winston Cup) championship three years in succession (1976-78), and the only champion (1977) to be running at the finish of every race.
Of anyone leading at least 7,500 miles of race competition, Yarborough ranks second with 34,079.9 miles led and first in percentage at 16.0% He's less than 10,000 miles behind Richard Petty, who entered more than twice as many races as Yarborough. He's also second to Petty in leading the most laps (101) in a race.
Despite being a charger in every race, Yarborough failed to finish in only 197 of his 558 races. In 340 races, he led at least one lap; only two drivers have led more races.
Born on March 27, 1939, Yarborough today is working on building a business empire with his wife of 33 years, Betty Jo, and with his three daughters: Julie, Kelley, and B.J. He faced adversity in his younger days, but he always managed to face it and go on to bigger and greater things.
"When I speak to groups, I try to get people to understand that they can do something to change situations they don't like," says Yarborough, who was born in Sardis, S.C., and still lives there.