Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cale Yaborough and the coach

One good thing about the fact that Jimmie Johnson has a chance to match Cale Yarborough’s record with a third straight Cup championship is that it provides a good opportunity to tell Cale Yarborough stories.

Yarborough was a car owner by the time I started covering the sport full time, but I certainly remember watching him race. In my mind, Cale was leading every lap I ever saw him race. He just wanted to be up front more than he wanted to breathe, it seemed.

When I was sports editor of the newspaper in Gastonia, N.C., my hometown, we had a lady who worked in the business office named Charity Tignor who was without question the biggest Cale Yarborough fan I knew. Charity would have walked barefoot across a mile of broken glass to see Cale race. She might have walked half of a mile through a blizzard just to see him read a newspaper or clip his fingernails.

Anyway, NASCAR had Yarborough on a conference call the other day and he started telling the story about how he chose racing over football. Clemson fans will get a kick out of the story.

"I had a scholarship to Clemson, a football scholarship, playing under Frank Howard,” Yarborough said, speaking about the legendary coach as the South Carolina university. “I was racing during the summer. I was just about to win the track championship.

"I went to Coach Howard and told him I needed to go home to race one more race and then I'd be through with it. He said, ‘If you go back, pack your clothes, don't come back. You either go and race or play football.’ ”

So Yarborough packed his clothes and left Clemson.

“Of course, he kept calling,” Yarborough said. “I told him, ‘You told me to pack my clothes, and that's what I did. I'm going to make racing my career.’

“He says, ‘Son, you'll starve to death.’

“I said, ‘Well, I may.’ ”

Yarborough did all right, of course. He won 83 Cup races and three championships and had career earnings of over $5.6 million dollars.

He also had legion of fans – fans like Charity Tignor ... and like Frank Howard.

“In the end, Frank Howard is one of my biggest fans,” Yarborough said. “He used to love to go to races and stand in my pits.

“I'll never forget that he was at Talladega when I won a race there. He was in the winner's circle. He walked up to me and put his hands on my shoulder. He always called me boy. He said, ‘Boy, I ain't never been wrong many times in my life, but I want you to know I was wrong this time.’ ”


Mike Hutton said...

Cale certainly was the ultimate racer's racer. He'd either return from each race with the trophy or the steering wheel, whichever was left. Thanks for sharing, David.

Anonymous said...

Great story...JJ is proving he is worthy of the comparison too!

Unknown said...

Great story David, thanks for sharing.