Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Like Adding 20 Horsepower

"Cale Yarborough is the best driver the sport has ever seen. When you strap Cale into the car, it's like adding 20 horsepower." -- Junior Johnson.

NASCAR champion Cale Yarborough was born William Caleb Yarborough on this day in 1939 in Sardis, South Carolina.

Yarborough stole his way into his first professional stock car race, at Darlington Raceway near his home town of Sardis, at the age of 18, slipping behind the wheel of a Pontiac slated to be driven by a friend and finishing near last after engine troubles. After that day in 1957, Yarborough struggled along unsuccessfully with turkey farming for awhile and later found work as a grease monkey at Holman-Moody in Charlotte, North Carolina, the shop where Ford racing cars were created.

Finally, in 1965, Yarborough got his chance behind the wheel, and began one of the most celebrated NASCAR careers ever -- one which would include three consecutive national championships (1976, 1977 and 1978), five Southern 500 wins at his hometown course of Darlington Raceway, and 83 victories in 559 starts. He is at the top of the all-time list for the percentage of time in which he led races during his career (16%), and attributes much of his success to his ability to adapt to even the roughest riding cars -- he criticizes drivers who need everything to be perfect in order to win. Yarborough viewed his pre-race qualifying runs as crucial to his success, and his competitive intensity in this area earned him 70 pole positions (3rd on the all-time list).

Outside of racing, the 5' 7", 170-lb. Yarborough has led a daredevil's lifestyle which reflected the spirit of his driving: riding alligators, grappling water moccasins, skydiving and bear wrestling, Yarborough once landed an airplane without any prior experience and has been struck by lightning twice. From 1986 to 2000, he was a racing team owner; he last took the wheel himself in 1988 and was inducted into the International Motorpsorts Hall of Fame in 1993.



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