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NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Cale Yarborough

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Cale Yarborough, NASCAR

NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Cale Yarborough

Ken Squier
Cale Yarborough
January 20, 2012


MIKE JOY:  In 1976 through '78, Junior Johnson put a strong car underneath him that wouldn't break, and Cale Yarborough ruled the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  When his career was complete, it was apparent that he was a champion with consistency and a winner of 83 Cup races.  No one charged harder lap after lap.  On a caution period you saw Cale pull those gloves up tight and get up on the wheel.  No one was tougher to beat.  There was only one place you'd find Yarborough's name toward the back:  The phone book.
KEN SQUIER:  Thank you very much.  Cale Yarborough.  He was always about believing in oneself, self‑reliance, and the imagination to test it and test it completely.  Dream big.  That was Cale.
Now, that was a gift that Julian and his mother, Anna Mae, they provided their three sons down there on that small farm in Timmonsville, South Carolina, and for Cale it became his strongest suit.
When he was a pup, his dad took him to a stock car race, just a couple of guys getting a little dusty.  On a Thursday night it might have been in Columbia, on Friday it would have been Florence, but Saturday was Sumter.  And he was imagining, just imagining that he would be out there someday, just ten years old, and for him that's still unforgettable.
Cale was sure, sure that his dad was going to be a racer.  And then there was that plane crash.  His number one guy, with whom he sat by his radio on the farm and listened to that first Darlington 500 and had told Cale that the next year they'd be 17 miles from Timmonsville for sure on Labor Day to see that race.  Farm folk, resilient, risk takers.  Cale just elected to take his risks a little different from the family and the neighbors.
But talk about determination and self‑reliance.  Hard times?  You bet.  Dead broke?  Started racing at 15, often.
His mother later in a television broadcast, they did an interview with her, and she remembered saying to Cale, "Cale, why do you do it?"  Said the same thing when he took up boxing when he was 13, said the same thing when he took up skydiving, said the same thing when he got into the business of parachuting, one time missed the target by two miles.  And then there was the Cale Yarborough aerial and auto stunt show, three acts.  "Cale, why do you do it?"
And then there was the alligator wrestling.  Once was enough.  He went where the chances so often were slim to none, and he always did it against the biggest odds.  Persistent?  Oh, you bet.  He pushed and prodded until the Timmonsville Flash became a name to be reckoned with.
Early days in those Southern Carolina short tracks, he drove hard, he drove so hard, they would claim after race after race that he would come in and get sick to his stomach.  The first time he won a major race, that was the Atlanta 500 for the Wood Brothers, he got out of that race car, and he said he threw up two quarts of Valvoline.
Driving for Junior Johnson, childhood hero, he heard the command from Junior that really defined his style.  Four words, with which he really chimed.  Junior Johnson ordered, "Go to the front."  Good enough for him.  Fit his style.  It was a style that made a very famous American author William Neeley, Bill Neeley, later write in one of his books, "There is no doubt that Cale Yarborough will go down in history as the hardest charger who ever lived, the most aggressive of them all."
Richard Petty, he said it differently.  He said, "If Cale is just keeping up, you know he's doing as best as he can on that day.  Otherwise he'd be in front of you."  He was and still is today the real deal.  Sports followers of all stripes recognized it.  February, 1983.  When that race was over, J.J. O'Malley, lead line in the National Speed Sport News said, "Cale Yarborough took 25 million people for a Sunday afternoon ride to victory lane in the silver anniversary Daytona."
That was when he carried that CBS camera and the audio in that Waddell Wilson prepared Pontiac, No.28, and let me add something here that wasn't talked about in the script and so on.  But prior to that race, CBS had those big meetings up in New York about how they were going to make it different.  Shoot, they'd been doing the Daytona 500 since 1979.  What are we going to do differently?
The idea was brought forth that perhaps the thing to do would be to talk to the driver during the race.  For heaven's sakes, what are you talking about?  You can't talk to the drivers while they're in the race; they're risking their lives.  What is all that about?  Well, maybe we could talk to them while they're under caution.
Well, that's the worst idea we've ever heard.  Can we make one phone call?  Just one.  So I called Cale, and I laid out the deal, and there was dead silence.  There wasn't a word.  And then Cale said, "I'll tell you what, I'll do it on one condition:  If you let me, from inside my car, describe what it feels like to come down to start the Daytona 500."  Jesus God, there is a Lord.  Oh, my heart.  And he did it, and he set the table for that broadcast in 1983.
Six cautions, last caution came with 33 laps to go.  Went under caution, Cale is running fourth and hanging in there.  And the world is watching and listening to him at that time talk about what he could do with this.  And it reminded me in later years of those great moments that come in sport, those very special moments when a great athlete tells you what he's going to do and he goes out and does it.
So Cale, you're running fourth, you've got the giant, Buddy Baker, fastest 500 to date in history, 1980, up in front.  You've got Joe Ruttman running in second, driving the finest performance of Joe Ruttman's life, and you've got the kid from the Dawsonville Pool Hall there, the new kid on the block, he's running pretty good, too, Bill Elliott.  Cale is tagging along.  So what are you going to do, Cale, if you're going to win this 500?  And he told us what he was going to do, that he was going to run back there, try to stay with those leaders, but when it came to the last lap, he was going to go for it, and he would be there.
That story was done 80 years before in the World Series in Chicago.  The Yankee Clipper, Joe Louis, it's one of the most remembered stories in the history of baseball.  Ruth gets up to bat against the Cubs, takes that bat, didn't like at all the pitcher on the other side, Root, and he waved that bat at him, then waved it up at center field.  Root reared back, he let her fling, and the babe ran that rascal right up over the fence.  It's one of those moments that's not forgotten.
And Cale replicated that.  He duplicated that in '83.  Gets down to it, and those last laps, the final 11 laps of that race, knows the tale.  He was giving America the most dramatic sense of what this sport was all about.
That big ol' car swishing around out there and him holding on, guiding that thing through those corners, white flag, one lap to go, he mashes the throttle, he looked like a rattlesnake striking, down to the inside, came around through 2 into the back stretch, and there was a moment as he slipped by Elliott, slipped by Ruttman, pulls alongside Baker, oh, my heart, here comes '79 all over again, the two of them start down the back stretch, and then Baker pulled away and he won that race.  This was Cale's time, and in that moment he came through, just like that babe Ruth story from 80 years past this year.
He called the shot and showed America how it was done, but more important, with that aggressive charge, he told us so much about the style that was the sport, and he said so much about the racer.  So hear it again.  You've heard it all night.  But hear it once again.  Cale Yarborough, with a faithful and trusting woman by him every step of the way, became three‑time, first time in NASCAR history, consecutive champion of the most competitive racing series in the world, four‑time winner of the Great American Race.  And recognized throughout the game, three‑time winner, always trying to get him two more, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure and indeed biggest honor I've had that on this 20th day of January, the year 2012, to present the Hall of Fame inductee ring and the official induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame to Cale Yarborough.
CALE YARBOROUGH:  Thank you, Ken.  You know, tonight as far as I'm concerned is a thank you night for so many people that have made it possible for me to be here tonight.  You know, racing is kind of like a big, tall ladder.  When you begin, you start off on the bottom step of that ladder, and it's a long, hard climb to the top.  But I feel like tonight I'm finally standing on the top step.  It's been tough, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of hard times, but there are five of us here tonight, and I congratulate each one of them, and thank you, Donnie, for doing the video for me.
But the first one I want to thank is my wife, Betty Jo, of almost 53 years of putting up with me and sticking with me throughout some awful hard times, I'm going to tell you.  She should be standing right here with me tonight.  I didn't get here tonight.  I had help, and she was my biggest help.
I would like to tell a little story about when we first moved to Charlotte in the early 60s, John Holman gave me a job at Holman & Moody's sweeping the floor for $1.25 an hour, and Betty Jo and Julie and I, she was our only little girl at the time, we moved to Charlotte.  And lived in a little old cabin that John Holman let us live in except he charged us rent.  We had to pay for it.  But the only thing that I owned to my name was my wife and my daughter.  We were flat broke when we got here.
A few weeks ago I was out in my farm shop, and the telephone rang, and I knew Betty Jo had gone to parts, I think, and I knew she wasn't going to answer, so I picked it up and answered it, and it was a lady from Columbia, South Carolina, that owns a very, very high‑priced women's dress store.  And she says, "Would you please tell Betty Jo that her outfit for the induction banquet is in."  I says, "Okay, I'll tell her."  I knew this was going to hurt.
Anyway, after I hung up, I got to thinking about the hard times that we went through, and she stuck with me through some awful hard times.  We had a budget we could go by, just had to stick with it.  And we'd go to the grocery store on Saturday night to buy enough groceries to last out the week.  We were there one Saturday night and we had our grocery cart filled with everything we thought we could afford.  We had to keep a count of everything that we bought so we could pay for it when we got to the checkout counter.
Well, we were coming down the last aisle heading toward the checkout counter and happened to come upon a pallet of cans of black eyed peas that were on sale for 10 cents a can.  A big can, too.  So we talked about it, and she agreed.  We went back and put all the stuff that we bought back everywhere it was supposed to be, went back to that black eyed peas pallet and bought every can of black eyed peas that we could afford to buy.  We had black eyed peas for breakfast, we had black eyed peas for dinner, we had black eyed peas for supper, a long time.
Well, honey, I'm glad you went and bought that outfit because you look good in it, and I'm glad we could afford it.  But needless to say, this coming week we're going to be looking for another black eyed pea sale.
I've got to thank my daughters, three daughters, Julie, Kelly and B.J., all my grandkids, they're all here tonight, thank goodness.
And I've got to thank my mother.  Yeah, she did say, why did you do it, why do you do it, but she stuck with me throughout my whole racing career.  And thank you, Momma.  And she may get mad for telling this, but her next birthday she'll be 91 years old, and she's going strong, let me tell you.  And she looks like she's 60.  I wish I was in that good a shape.  And I've got two brothers, Jared and J.C., they're both here with me tonight, and thank you for coming.
As I said, this is a thank‑you night for me.  All I can do is thank the people that made it possible for me to climb that long, tough ladder.  And I have one that's here with me tonight that gave me my first full‑time ride as I was a young teenager on the short dirt tracks of South Carolina, and he's here as my guest tonight, J.N. Wilson.  Thank you, J.N., for getting me started.  That's been a long time ago, too.
Marion Cox, who gave me a lot of good rides early in my career, and I learned a lot from him.  Julian Buesink, who brought a car to Darlington and Daytona for me a few times during my early days, and he helped me an awful lot.  Then I teamed up with Herman Beam for the first full‑time ride on the Grand National circuit, which is the Western Cook now, but back then it was called the Grand National.
And then a man by the name of Jacques Passino.  He was head of racing for Ford Motor Company, helped me an awful lot, parts, helping me get started, and I can tell you, if it hadn't been for Jacques Passino, I'm sure I wouldn't be here tonight.  Thank you, Jacques.
John Holman, who gave me my first job here at Holman & Moody's sweeping the floors.  I was glad to have it, a dollar and 25 cents an hour, but that's where it all started.  Ralph Moody, who taught me an awful lot about this sport.  Then there was Kenny Myler, who we had a good run with.  We were running a year‑old car that Ford was letting us run, 1964 Ford, 1965.  Kenny gave me my first win in Valdosta, Georgia, on a half‑mile dirt track in 1965.  That dirt track racing was tough back then.
Then I went with Banjo Matthews.  Banjo taught me a lot.  He caught me to run those 500‑mile races.  He taught me how to do it.
And then of course Glen Wood.  You can't say enough about the Wood Brothers.  They really put me in a top‑notch car, and we won races.  And I'll tell you this:  I am so honored and so pleased to be inducted in the same class with Glen Wood.  It's just great‑‑ turned out just right.  Then there was Leonard Wood.  Leonard, you won't be far behind us, bud.  You deserve every bit of it.
Then there's Ronald Bolstad who gave me my first ride at the Indianapolis 500, drove two years for him there.  And then Gene White, signed me a two‑year contract to drive his IndyCars on the whole Indy circuit for two years.  And I did, because Ford had pulled out of racing and we didn't know what was going to happen the next years.  I had so many bills to pay, I had to know where a few dollars was coming in, and signed with Gene White.  I ran for Gene White for two years, and then I wanted to come back to NASCAR, wanted to come back to stock car racing, and as you heard, Junior was looking for a driver, and I was looking for a ride, and boy, we hooked up, and we had a good ride for sure.  Good ride.  Three championships, consecutive championships, my first championship, Junior's first championship.  Junior, can't thank you enough, man.  We had a good ride.
And then I decided for some reason‑‑ Richard Petty, you don't know how many championships we might have won.  You might not have even been in the picture.  (Laughter.)
But anyway, I wanted to spend more time with my family, so I decided I'd cut my schedule back, would like to run about 15 or 16 races, and that's what I did.  I told Junior that I was going to back off some.  So I signed up with M.C. Anderson, a three‑year contract to run 16 races a year.  We won so many races in the first two years, in the third year he wanted to run for the championship.  I said, M.C., that's not what the contract says.  I said, I'm going to run a limited schedule.
So I left M.C. and went to Harry Ranier, and of course Waddell Wilson.  And we did things that is almost unbelievable.  We had a great run.  I had so many good crew chiefs that helped me out so much throughout the years, and not only the crew chiefs, I had a lot of good crewmen, too.
But let me tell you, after I got through with Harry Ranier, I formed my own team like Harry did and Buddy did and a lot of us did, and I'll tell you, that was a big mistake.  And I drove part‑time and I had different drivers and I got Dale Jarrett started and all.  I never could win a race in my car.  I could win in everybody else's car but never did win in my car.
The only race I won as a team owner was with John Andretti.  We won the Firecracker 400 in what year was it, I forgot.  We won that one year.  And John Andretti is here tonight, it's good to see him.
But once again, I just want to thank my family.  I want to thank my friends.  I want to thank my fans.  I want to thank the people that voted for me.  I want to thank NASCAR.  But most of all, thank you, Lord.

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