Cale Yarborough’s racing days are over, but he hasn’t lost his passion for the sport.
What do you think would happen if some of the old NASCAR greats got to drive head-to-head with today’s stars? Would Richard Petty beat Jeff Gordon? Would Bobby Allison beat Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
One of the all time greats says he could beat today’s young guns. Fifteen years have passed since Cale Yarborough last strapped himself into a NASCAR Winston Cup machine, but the Hall of Famer has little doubt that his best would be a match for the best in the business today.
Yarborough tallied a staggering 10 victories in both 1974 and 1978, and he claimed three consecutive Winston Cup titles from 1976 through 1978.
And while NASCAR is experiencing its greatest popularity today, Yarborough suggests the old guard would stack up quite well against the young guns.
“Not to take anything away from the drivers of today – and there are a lot of great ones – but I really think in the old days we were the better drivers,” he says. “Back then there wasn’t the technology they have today, and just the tires we had to race on really made it tough. A lot of times in order to finish a race you’d have to drive the car sideways.
“So I think if you could somehow have the new guys race the old guys, us old guys might have an advantage because we had a lot less to work with.”
Yarborough entered the sport the hard way.
“Back in my day they didn’t have go-carts like they do now,” says Yarborough. “If you wanted to get started racing, the best way to do it was to get involved in soapbox derby.
The Timmonsville, S.C., native is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame as well as the Talladega Texaco Walk of Fame. During his driving career, Yarborough had spirited battles with some of the greats – some that even spilled outside the car, a situation today’s NASCAR is familiar with.
During the 1979 Daytona 500, Yarborough was trying to chase down Donnie Allison on the final lap. As the pair jockeyed for position, the two hooked up, hit each other twice and wound up crashing into the retaining wall.
That allowed Richard Petty to win the race and caused Donnie and Bobby Allison to trade a few punches with Yarborough on the infield grass. The entire incident happened on national television and helped the trio gain even more popularity than they already enjoyed.
But Yarborough’s greatest claim to fame was driving – not fighting.
“I enjoyed every track I raced on, but I especially enjoyed racing at Talladega and Daytona,” Yarborough says. “I just really liked the speed and the competition more than anything else.”
By the time his storied career was in the books, Yarborough had scored 83 Winston Cup wins, good enough for fifth on the all-time list. Four of those wins came in the Daytona 500, three at the Talladega Superspeedway (and an added IROC win for good measure) and five at Darlington, which served as his “home track.”
“Darlington was pretty good to me,” Yarborough says. “But I was fortunate to win just about everywhere I raced, so really I have fond memories of them all. Those were some good days.”
His first year of Winston Cup racing came in 1965, and he grabbed his first career checker that same season, winning the Valdosta 100 in Georgia.
Yarborough’s final Winston Cup victory came 20 years after his first – in 1985. Since then he has done a little bit of everything, from being a Winston Cup car owner to a restaurant mogul to a farmer – and succeeded at every stop.