2012-01-26 / Sports

Legends Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER

“Legends” is the best way to describe NASCAR Hall of Fame’s third class of inductees, who were enshrined this past weekend at the HOF in Charlotte.

Topping the list as one of the sport’s biggest performers was Cale Yarborough.

When the name, “Cale” comes up in NASCAR racing circles, there’s never any doubt to who it’s being referred to. It’s Cale Yarborough, an acknowledged legend in the world of stock car racing. Year after year from his first victory in 1965 to his last in 1985, capacity crowds came to see the Timmonsville, S.C., native race because of his fast pedal-tothe floor, hard-charging, driving style.

Yarborough has stood in victory lane 83 times, set on the pole 68 times and is the only driver to have won three consecutive Winston Cup Driving Championships. In spite of his impressive record, one incident has gone down in history as the most talked about in his 31-year career as a driver.

Most racing fans recall Cale from the 1979 Daytona 500 – a race that was won by Richard Petty.

On the last lap, Donnie Allison was leading Yarborough as they went down the backstretch. Yarborough attempted to get by Allison on the inside, but Allison dropped down and closed him off. Both cars banged against each other several times before they spun into the infield.

Richard Petty went on to take the checkered flag, while Donnie’s brother, Bobby, finished the race, then roared back around the track to help Donnie. Helmets were off, and fists were flying as television cameras beamed the fracas to a world-wide audience of millions.

“I had planned my move and was in a perfect position to shoot past underneath.” said Yarborough. “But he kept coming down and cutting me off each time I tried to pass. Finally we both just lost control and ended up in the grass. But it looked worse on films than what really happened. It was more of a scuffle than anything else.

“Heck, I’ve always been good friends with Bobby and Donnie, and Red Farmer. As a matter of fact, they’ve made me an honorary member of the Alabama Gang. But I never could stand to lose. I raced to win and if anybody got between me and the checkered flag I was going after him. You see, being friends off the track is a whole lot different than when you’re side-by-side at 200 mph with them on the track.”

Now 72, Yarborough flew an airplane without benefit of lessons, but landing was another story. He wrestled an alligator and survived being struck by lightning.

At 5-feet-7 inches and 130 pounds, he was a ferocious prep fullback and linebacker at Timmonsville (S.C.) High School and likely could have been a collegiate football star. He worked out by wrestling bales of tobacco in his daddy’s barn and credited that labor with making him one of the era’s most fit competitors. And in his spare time, Yarborough drove a school bus.

Oh, and Yarborough was ejected from his first race, the 1957 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, because NASCAR officials found out he’d lied about his age on his license application. The 18-year-old, who said he was 21, qualified 44th. He hid on the car’s floorboards and took the wheel as owner Bobby Weatherly exited while inspectors’ were looking elsewhere.

Yarborough actually started the race – wearing a helmet and goggles, he got “lost” in the pre-race crush – but received a quick black flag when it was apparent the driver of the No. 30 car was not Weatherly.

From those beginnings, William Caleb Yarborough became the first to win three consecutive NASCAR premier series championships (1976-78) and three times finished second in the standings. During a career that began in 1957 and concluded after the 1988 season, Yarborough won 83 races – sixth on the all-time list.

The remainder of this year’s inductees included, Dale Inman – an eight-time champion crew chief for Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough, a pair of three-time NASCAR premier series champions; Darrell Waltrip and Glen Wood, who won a combined 167 races, and the late Richie Evans – a ninetime NASCAR Modified champion, the first to be inducted from outside NASCAR’s premier division.

Inman, Richard Petty’s cousin, is generally credited with inventing the modern role of crew chief. He won seven championships with Petty Enterprises and an eighth with Billy Hagan and driver Terry Labonte in 1984. Randleman County, N.C.’s Inman, 75, who retired from the sport in 1998, won 193 times. The list of current NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chiefs learning at Inman’s side is a lengthy one.

Like Ned Jarrett, a member of the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Waltrip is both champion driver and television broadcaster. Waltrip won championships in 1981-82 and 1985 driving for NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson. The Owensboro, Ky., native won 84 times in 809 starts ranking fourth on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup victory list with Bobby Allison.

“I was telling my wife Stevie earlier this week that I hoped I wouldn’t get emotional tonight, but she reminded me ‘Honey, you always get emotional about the things you are passionate about,’” Waltrip said. “This night, these men, and the people in this room, they’re what inspire me.”

Wood, a four- time NASCAR premier series winner, left the driver’s seat to own the fabled No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford team. With his four brothers, who include NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and crew chief Leonard Wood, the organization counts 98 victories, including its fifth Daytona 500 win in 2011 with 20- year- old Trevor Bayne. Those who drove for the 86-year- old Wood’s Stuart, Va.-based team included fellow inductee Yarborough, NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, A.J. Foyt and road racer Dan Gurney.

“This is not just about me being inducted in the Hall of Fame,” said Wood. “It's also about the Wood Brothers. And it’s about NASCAR. And I’m proud to have been a NASCAR driver and car owner for the past 60 years, and I’m proud of this great honor.”

Evans, nicknamed the “Rapid Roman” by virtue of racing out of Rome, N.Y., won nine championships over a 13-year span – including eight in a row – driving modified stock cars, primarily a race car fashioned from pre-World War II coupes and sedans powered by high horsepower engines.

Racing trivia question: What year was the first Daytona 500 held?

Last week’s question: Who won the 1949 NASCAR championship, which was the first for the fledgling organization? Answer. Red Byron.

Contact Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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