NASCAR Media Conference
October 20, 2008
JIM HUNTER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to a special teleconference ahead of Sunday's Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Our guest today is three-time NASCAR champion, Cale Yarborough, the only driver to win three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles in 1976, '77 and '78, and one of only seven drivers with three or more titles.
His place in NASCAR history is especially important now that the series reigning and two-time champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, is attempting to become the first driver in 30 years to equal Cale's feat.
Cale, it's great to have you on the call with us today and we appreciate you taking the time.
CALE YARBOROUGH: Thank you, Jim. It's good to be with you.
JIM HUNTER: As one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, Cale ranks fifth all time with 83 career wins. He competed for 23 seasons, winning all three of his championships with legendary car owner and driver Junior Johnson. A native of Sardis, South Carolina, Cale also is a three-time series runner-up, a four-time Daytona 500 champion, and a five-time race champion at Darlington Raceway, the track too tough to tame.
He has three wins and two poles at Atlanta Motor Speedway where the series heads this week for race seven in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He also won once as a team owner with driver John Andretti in the series '1997 July race at Daytona.
Cale, what is your perspective and how do you feel today having won three consecutive championships?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, I feel good. I'm happy that I was able to win three consecutive championships. But it looks like that record's going to come to an end this year.
JIM HUNTER: We'll turn it over to the media for questions for Cale.
Q. Pretty exciting situation obviously. You had this record for a long, long time. Did you ever think it would be equaled? Is it more difficult now with the Chase for the Championship to do this or is it just the same as it was back then, just a difficult thing to do?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, it's an awful difficult thing to do. I think it may have been harder to win 'em back then than it is today because you had to compete against everybody back then.
As far as it lasting 30 years, I just wonder how come it took so long for somebody to win three in a row. That was a long streak. 30 years is a long time, but I was happy to hold it.
Q. Cale, as you look at this 48 team, watch them, Johnson and Knaus compared to you and Junior and Herb, in what way do you think this 48 team is like you and Junior's team and in what ways are they different?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, you know, there's no doubt about what kind of team Junior put together during those years. It was an excellent team. Of course, Rick Hendrick has put together an excellent team for Jimmie Johnson. That's what you've got to have to be able to win a championship, much less three championships in a row: an excellent race team.
Q. Did you kind of see this coming the last year or two? Did you see the 48 team and say that your record may be tied if they keep going?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, yeah, of course the first part of the season it wasn't looking too good for Jimmie. But he always comes on strong in the end. The handwriting's on the wall now. It's gonna happen. And if it happens, I understand that I was Jimmie's hero when he was growing up, so if he does it, more power to him.
That don't mean I'm pulling for him now (laughter). But if he does it, I'll be in good company. I hope he feels the same way.
Q. Do you have any thoughts on why it's taken 30 years to put three together again?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I have no idea. Thinking back with Petty and Earnhardt, Gordon, you would think that some of those guys would have put three together within those 30 years. But thank goodness they didn't.
Q. Cale, can you talk a little bit about the magic that a team has. It seems like when somebody is going for a championship, nothing goes wrong. Jimmie and Chad last night said they almost felt they were on a different plane.
CALE YARBOROUGH: It's hard to explain really. When you get on a roll like Junior and I were back in the earlier days when we won three in a row, Jimmie and his team all are on a roll now, it's just hard to break that momentum when they get going.
Q. Does it have a lot to do with chemistry? Is chemistry really the key?
CALE YARBOROUGH: No, no doubt about it. Without chemistry, any of it wouldn't work.
Q. You talked a little bit about why it took so long. You had pretty formidable opponents back in the '70s. We also have the discussions today, the quality of the playing field, your going against guys like Petty, Pearson, and he's going against guys like Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon. What is the difference looking at it today compared to the competition as it was back in the '70s?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, back in the '70s, was tremendous competition, like you said, the Pettys, Bakers, Allisons, all those guys, they were all great racecar drivers. Jimmie is going up against some good racecar drivers today. They were good back then and they're good today. It's just hard to do.
Q. You were such a popular figure back in the '70s. Junior's personality was so strong. The contributions of Herb Nab get pushed back into the background by folks. Talk about Herb, what his real input into that team was.
CALE YARBOROUGH: Herb had an awful lot of input into that team. He was the dedicated crew chief. In his day, he didn't have the engineering degrees and all, but he had the knowledge of a racecar, how to make it work. He was very much part of a winning team.
Q. A lot of folks look back, including some of today's drivers, at result sheets from some of those years and point out that a lot of races finished with two, three, four cars on the lead lap. They'll make a point that today's competition is so much tougher than back then. I'm guessing you don't look at it that way. Is winning a championship to you as difficult when you did it as today?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Must have been pretty tough. Nobody's done it in 30 years.
Q. There are some people who say if Jimmie wins three straight, his accomplishment can't be compared to yours because of the differences in the points system. Do you believe that?
CALE YARBOROUGH: You know, even though the points system has changed, to be the champion you still got to do better than anybody else has done. That's the bottom line.
Q. Looking back when you won three in a row, you won a lot of races at the tail end of seasons, were good at slamming the door on people. Does that make you wonder what kind of Chase driver you'd be?
CALE YARBOROUGH: The only thing I can say is Jimmie better be glad I'm not racing with him today (laughter).
Q. When you look at what Jimmie is doing right now, in terms of appreciating what you've done, have you appreciated what Johnson is doing, particularly the way he seems to be able to dominate when he wants to at certain tracks?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Oh, yeah, I can appreciate what he's doing. He's got his head on straight and he's doing everything right and I can appreciate that.
Q. As far as the Chase, this format, how do you think you could do in a format like this? Could you just go all out or would it be a thing where you could calculate like some drivers seem to do?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I never was one to do much calculating. I went all out every lap I ever raced in my whole career. I'd still be doing it today.
Q. Could you contrast and compare your style of driving with Jimmie's. Do you see a difference in the way you drive a car or is it pretty much the same?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I think it's pretty much the same. I've watched Jimmie. He's the kind of driver that likes to run up front. That's the way I drove. I can see a lot of me in Jimmie.
Q. Have you ever met Jimmie? Can you talk about his personality versus your personality a little bit.
CALE YARBOROUGH: I don't know Jimmie that well. I've met him. He came along after I was gone. He seems to be an awful nice fella.
Q. People are going to want to compare Jimmie with you and some of the other greats in the sport if Jimmie wins a third title. For the sport's newer fans who might not have seen you race, Petty, but know the names, how do you compare Jimmie Johnson with drivers of another era? How do you judge who's better or where they rank?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, of course, Jimmie's going for his third straight championship so he ranks up there pretty high. As I said a few minutes ago, I see a lot of me in Jimmie and his driving style is a lot like my driving style was.
Q. What are things that some of the newer sportsfans who know the names but see the drivers like yourself, what are some of the things they should be reminded about what kind of drivers you were and the talent level back in that era.
CALE YARBOROUGH: We were all dedicated drivers. Jimmie is a dedicated driver and has a lot of dedicated competition he's running against. That's what it takes to run races and win championships, is have that dedication and determination to get it done.
Q. Who would you list as the best drivers that you raced against? Who would be your No. 1 and No. 2?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I couldn't put 'em in 1, 2, 3 or 4. They were all good race drivers back then. I was very blessed to beat 'em a lot of times.
Q. We're coming up on the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Daytona 500. You won three championships going into that. Did what happened in 1979 at the Daytona 500 derail your efforts to go for a fourth championship?
CALE YARBOROUGH: No. I had decided that I was going to cut back on my schedule and spend more time with my family. That's what I did and have never regretted it. I would have loved to have won that fourth one, but I felt like I needed to spend more time with my family. That was more important than a fourth championship.
Q. 30 years later we all know who won that race, but who won the fight?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I did (laughter).
Q. Which of your three championships do you think was the toughest?
CALE YARBOROUGH: The first one is always the toughest, but all three of 'em were awful tough.
Q. Why is the first one always the toughest?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, the first time you win a race or a championship, getting that first one under your belt is always the toughest do, then the others come easier.
Q. What got easier the next year?
CALE YARBOROUGH: It didn't really get easier. I think it eased my mind some that I'd already won one and most likely the next one would be easier.
Q. Was it difficult heading into '78 to not think about the fact you could do something that no one had ever done? Did you think you were going for a historic third championship in '78?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Oh, yeah, yeah. That was something you thought about, something that nobody else had ever done. I say again, it sure lasted a long time.
Q. Can you go back to the 1984 race in Daytona that President Reagan was at and you pretty much ran neck and neck with Petty till the end? Can you describe what that race was like with him there and the hoopla surrounding that race?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I wasn't thinking about Reagan being there. It was a heck of a race. We had a good race going. The only thing I can say about that race is that was one I wish I had to run over again. I believe it would be a different outcome.
Q. Do you think drivers of the past had to be a lot more physical to win with the cars of the past, without power steering and such? Do you think today's best drivers need athletic ability?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, they all look like they're in pretty good shape and have a lot of athletic ability. I tell you, those was some tough racecars to drive back in our day. I would just love to be able to see how they could stand up to what we had to do back then.
Q. What was the toughest part about those cars compared to the cars that they race today?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, of course, we didn't have any power steering. We didn't have any air-conditioning.
(Connection with Cale lost.)
JIM HUNTER: From a Chase standpoint, when Cale won the championship in '76, he won five of the last 10 races. In '77 he won two of the last 10 races. In '78 he won four of the last 10 races. So it indicates that he might have been pretty strong even if the format had been different.
Also I might add, for those of you who don't know Cale, he was one of the most tenacious drivers NASCAR has ever had. He seemed to be able to take a car that wasn't handling very well and make the most of it, come out with a better finish than what the car might be capable of. That's a trait that both he and Jimmie Johnson seem to share, turning a potentially really poor day into a good day.
But Cale was strong. He was also a runner. Cale always stayed in shape. Of course, he's probably still in pretty doggone good shape. He works on his farm. He's very active. He was a one-time county commissioner.
CALE YARBOROUGH: I'm back, Jim.
JIM HUNTER: I was just telling them that you would take a bad car and make the most of it. That's something that you and Jimmie seem to have had in common.
CALE YARBOROUGH: Absolutely. I had some bad cars in my day, but I tried to make the best of it. We'd work on 'em during the race. Jimmie does a lot of that, too. Sometimes he's not right on it to begin with, but seems to work it out before the race is over.
JIM HUNTER: We'll turn it back to questions.
Q. Does it seem like it's been nearly 30 years since that 1979 Daytona finish. Do people ask you as much about that as anything else you've done in your career?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Yes, they do. They ask me all the time about it. And, no, it seems like yesterday almost. These 30 years have gone mighty fast.
Q. What do you tell them when they ask you about it?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I just tell them I was happy to be able to do it and happy it lasted as long as it did.
Q. What are your memorable moments in the sport and where does that Daytona '79 race compare with your memorable moments?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, it's sure something I will never forget because the fans won't let me forget it. That's all they want to talk about, still to this day.
But my most memorable moment was winning the 1968 Southern 500 in Darlington. That was considered my home racetrack. That was on the old racetrack before they remodeled it. I wouldn't take that win for all the rest of 'em put together almost.
Q. How did you celebrate afterwards?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I was so tired and so beat after that race, I don't even remember. I don't think we celebrated. I came home, went home and went to bed.
Q. Where do you live?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I live about eight miles from Timmonsville in little community called Sardis. I live on a 4000-acre plantation right in the middle of it. I'm living in heaven.
Q. How did you and Junior hook up? In '74 you were running for a different car owner and won six times, then switched over to Junior's team.
CALE YARBOROUGH: No, I switched over to Junior's team before '74 I think. I was running IndyCars at the time. I was ending up a two-year Indy contract. Bobby Allison was driving for Junior. He and Junior were going to separate, and Junior was looking for a driver, I was looking for a ride. We got together. We made a good combination.
The championships that I won with Junior were his first championships and, of course, mine. We just hit it off at the right time, the right place, did the right things.
Q. I know there was a special chemistry on the team. You and Junior saw eye-to-eye on what you needed to do to race, right?
CALE YARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. Junior liked my driving style and I'd always been a fan of Junior's. I liked his. They were pretty much the same. So that chemistry right there was good for us.
Q. When you got cut off, you were talking about the physical part of it, no power steering, air-conditioning. Seems like another difference between you and these guys is they're always in a jam. You were out there in hundred-degree heat. As these championship seasons wore on, did that physical grind play a part in it or did it get a little easier as the season went on physically?
CALE YARBOROUGH: No, it always got tougher as the season went on. But I think being physically fit played a big part in my whole career. Like Jim Hunter, I was an athlete all my life, knew that you had to stay physically fit to do the best job that you could. I think it played a big part in my career.
Q. You went off to college on a football scholarship. Seemed like you said there was a Friday night that came race time. Can you recount that moment in your life when you picked racing over football?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I had a scholarship to Clemson, a football scholarship, playing under Frank Howard. 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, that 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 I packed my clothes and left.
Of course, he kept calling. I told him, I said, 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.
In the end, Frank Howard is one of my biggest fans. 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 and 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.
Q. One of your favorite people, DW, was not very happy about the Chase. He doesn't think it's a very good format, doesn't think there's enough excitement. What do you think about the Chase format?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Well, I got mixed emotions about it really. I think it's created some interest in having kind of a playoff. But I'd rather it be the other way around.
Q. To have a situation like last year, Jeff Gordon dominated during the regular season, winds up having a 200 plus point lead wiped out after the 26th race, do you feel that's pretty unfair?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I feel the same way. One thing I agree with DW on.
Q. Jim Hunter talked about your tenacity. Did a lot of that come from your years in the boxing ring as well?
CALE YARBOROUGH: Yeah. Not only in the boxing ring, but sports in general. As I said before, I played all sports, worked hard at all of them. The boxing part of it was good for me. I'm glad I got into the Golden Gloves in my early years.
Q. Did that help you in '79? That famous picture that we all saw. You've told it a million times. Since we're coming up on the anniversary of that, can you pretty much take us through what led up to that, how that famous moment in broadcasting occurred.
CALE YARBOROUGH: I've told that story several million times. I'll do it again.
I had the fastest car and had it set up to where I could slingshot him on the last lap. That may have been a mistake on my part. I should maybe have gone on and passed him, go on and won the race handily. I was trying to make a show out of it. Unfortunately it really came out to be a show. It was one of the best things ever happened in NASCAR.
Here again, it was a very unfair fight. One Yarborough against two Allisons, that wasn't even fair. But that's the way it ended up. We were friends the next day and we've been friends ever since. In fact, Bobby came by and spent the afternoon with me not too long ago.
Q. Would you like to see that kind of emotion coming from the drivers today?
CALE YARBOROUGH: I would like to see a little more of that. I think the sport's great, but I think it would help it even some more.
JIM HUNTER: Cale, thank you for taking the time. I'm sure everybody appreciates it. So thank you. That will conclude our teleconference.
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