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.
His latest foray into the white heat of the sport was in support of a drive to bring a new kind of racing to American fans. Yarborough was the national spokesman for the Team Racing Auto Circuit and member of the series’ board of directors.
Its prospects looked good. Though no drivers or team owners were officially signed on, the circuit had a television deal that seemed to spell success. But it wasn’t to be.
“When I started working with TRAC, they sold me on some ideas and I sold them on some ideas,” Yarborough says. “NASCAR is great, but as popular as motorsports has become around the world, I think there’s room for another series that’s a little bit different.”
The series, based on four-car teams representing cities instead of owners, was set to begin next spring, but Team Sports Entertainment Inc., the owner of TRAC, announced in late August it was discontinuing its effort to field a racing league.
Instead of going head-to-head with NASCAR, TRAC had opted to take a novel approach to auto racing by structuring the circuit in a traditional sports-league format. Instead of an individual winner, the finishes of the four-car teams would have been tabulated to determine the victor.
TRAC had hoped to field six four-car teams, putting 24 cars on the track in a given race. Plans called for a 12-race regular season (two home events for each team), then a “playoff” race to determine the TRAC championship.
Instead of stock cars, TRAC vehicles were based on muscle cars. For the inaugural season the pilots would have driven Dodge Vipers, Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros.
TRAC was supposed to have its inaugural season this spring, but it was unable to line up owners and drivers in time for a 2003 start. There was also upheaval in the front office. TRAC then pushed back its first season to May 2004, but its inauguration now may never come.
According to a statement released by TRAC, the company’s business plan depended on its ability to sell operating rights by Sept. 30, 2003. After realizing doing that would not be possible by the date specified, TSE decided to pull out – effectively sounding the death knell for the circuit.
The board of directors, including Yarborough, will now meet to determine the next steps, which, according to a statement, include developing a new business, identifying any available combination opportunities, bankruptcy or dissolution.
Meet the Drivers
Hometown: Chesapeake, Va.
Drives Motorcraft Fords for Wood Brothers Racing.
Rudd recently established Ironman status in NASCAR Winston Cup competition, making his 700th career start in the Pennsylvania 500. In his career Rudd has 23 victories, and his best points finish is second.
He began racing at age 9, competing primarily in motocross and go-carts.
Amazingly, prior to his Winston Cup debut in
March 1975, he had never driven a stock car.