Cale Yarborough, three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and stock car racing legend, died in a South Carolina hospital on December 31st, 2023 at age 84.
Yarborough was born March 27th, 1939, in Florence County, South Carolina. His father was killed in a private plane crash in 1950, leaving 11-year-old Yarborough to help manage the family tobacco farming business in his stead, all the while racing on local oval tracks before going on to earn a football scholarship to Clemson University. When forced to choose between continuing football or pursue racing, of course, he chose motorsports.
Yarborough’s 83 race wins throughout his Cup Series career put him right on par with Jimmie Johnson, as the two drivers are tied for sixth place on the all-time NASCAR win list. Of those 83 victories, four were earned in the Daytona 500, and five in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, making him one of the winningest drivers at both speedways. In fact, Darlington dedicated the garage area to Yarborough in 2016, a nod to the fact that he often snuck into the speedway in his younger years. His three Cup Series championships were earned back-to-back in 1976, 1977 and 1979, second to only Jimmie Johnson’s five consecutive championship wins from 2006 to 2010.
Yarborough raced for almost every manufacturer in the Cup Series, including Plymouth, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Ford, Buick and Chevrolet. His 1983 Daytona 500 victory was secured behind the wheel of a Pontiac, while his 1984 win was in the No. 28 Chevy race car.
“Cale Yarborough was one of the toughest competitors NASCAR has ever seen,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France in a statement. “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.”