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Cale Yarborough, NASCAR Legend, Dead at 84

Cale Yarborough, NASCAR Legend, Dead at 84

Cale Yarborough, one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers and multiple-time winner of the Daytona 500, has died at 84 years old.

The news of Yarborough’s death came out on New Year’s Eve. No cause of death has been released.

“Cale Yarborough was one of the toughest competitors NASCAR has ever seen. His combination of talent, grit and determination separated Cale from his peers, both on the track and in the record book,” Jim France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR, said. “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.”

Yarborough rightly earned his place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, winning at Daytona four times and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway five times.

Cale Yarborough, though, played a key role in getting NASCAR more attention nationwide. This story shows just how tough he was when driving. The Daytona 500 was being televised live from start to finish in 1979. On the final lap, Yarborough crashed with Donnie Allison. Once their cars stopped, Yarborough and Allison got out and started trading fists. Bobby Allison, Donnie’s brother, pulled alongside the cars, got out, and started throwing fists himself. All of this was going on while Richard Petty took the checkered flag.

Cale Yarborough Fight Helped Raise NASCAR’s Profile

This incident took place at a time when the Daytona 500 had its largest television audience ever. With the on-course shenanigans happening and Petty swooping in for victory, it helped raise NASCAR’s profile. Yarborough retired from full-time racing in 1980. He won six races that year and took second place in the Cup standings. Yet he won Cup titles in 1976-78. He also kept racing on a part-time basis, too.

Yarborough did receive induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012. “I sure hoped I was going to get to this point because working in the back of the fields in that hot sun would make you want to do something else,” he said during his induction speech. “I always dreamed of … ending up where I have ended up tonight.”

Upon hearing of Yarborough’s death, Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, issued a statement. He said, “The NASCAR industry and our millions of fans have lost one of the grittiest and most successful superstars of all time. Cale’s remarkable legacy and accomplishments in NASCAR will live in our minds, our hearts, and the archives of the NASCAR Hall of Fame forever.”

Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty Pay Their Respects

“Cale Yarborough was my childhood hero,” NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson wrote on X. “What an honor to be tied with the legend for 83 Cup series wins. He was ‘the man’ and the legacy of Cale Yarborough will forever live on. My deepest condolences to Cale’s family.”

“Richard Petty and The Petty Family extend their deepest condolences to the family of Cale Yarborough,” a statement from Richard Petty reads. “His rivalry and competitive spirit with The King will always be a renowned part of NASCAR history, showcasing their mutual respect and the intensity of their competition on the track. Our thoughts are with the Yarborough family during this difficult time.”

Cale Yarborough is survived by his wife Betty Jo and daughters Julie, Kelley, and B.J.