NASCAR Cup Series

Cale Yarborough, 1939–2023

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Credit: NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Cale Yarborough, one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, died Sunday at the age of 84. His health had been in serious decline since spring due to a rare genetic disorder in the SPG7 gene, which led to him being checked into McLeod Hospice House in Florence, South Carolina.

Yarborough’s 83 wins are tied with Jimmie Johnson for the sixth most in NASCAR Cup Series history, which includes four Daytona 500 victories and five Southern 500s. He won the Cup championship three years in a row from 1976 to 1978, the only driver besides Johnson to at least three-peat a Cup title.

His successes throughout the 1970s and 1980s turned vehicles like the #11 of Junior Johnson and the #28 of Ranier-Lundy into icons of the era, while also contributing to the legendary Wood Brothers Racing‘s #21 during the late 1960s. At the tail end of his career, he started his own team Cale Yarborough Motorsports, running the 1987 and 1988 seasons before retiring to focus on overseeing the operation. Cale Yarborough Motorsports ran until 1999, scoring their only win with John Andretti at Daytona in 1997.

Prior to committing to NASCAR full-time in the early 1970s, Yarborough competed sporadically in open-wheel racing which included four Indianapolis 500 starts. He ran the full USAC Championship Car season in 1971, finishing sixteenth in points, and scored his best Indy 500 finish the following year of tenth. He also won five races and the 1984 International Race of Champions.

In 1981, Cup team owner Billy Hagan brought a Chevrolet Camaro NASCAR-based stock car to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for himself, Yarborough, and Bill Cooper. Although the car retired with a brake failure and Hagan only took part more time a year later, the effort along with a similar campaign by Bill France in 1976 helped pave the way when NASCAR returned to Le Mans and completed the race in 2023.

“Cale Yarborough was one of the toughest competitors NASCAR has ever seen,” said France’s son and NASCAR Chairman Jim France. “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 was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America the next year. In 1998, to celebrate NASCAR’s fifty-year anniversary, he was named one of the sport’s fifty greatest drivers, an honour that was expanded to seventy-five as part of the diamond anniversary in 2023. The NASCAR Hall of Fame named him to its Class of 2012.

William Caleb Yarborough: 27 March 1939 – 31 December 2023

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