He was a halfback in high school, played four years of semi-pro football and was offered a tryout with the Washington Redskins. But he turned to auto racing and claimed three NASCAR Winston Cup championships.
When a factory glitch occurred in NASCAR, he came north to participate in four Indianapolis 500s with a best finish of 10th in 1972 and two full seasons on the Indy car trail.
He eventually became a NASCAR car owner, but now watches most races on television.
At one time, he owned 18 Hardee’s restaurants but his only business remaining is a Honda dealership in Florence, S.C.
At 71, he resides on a 4,000-acre plantation just outside Timmonsville, S.C.
“I got your message,” came the voice of Cale Yarborough through the phone. “I just finished digging a 30-acre lake by myself. I have six grown kids, and everything’s fine.”
He has fond feelings of his trip to the Indy car ranks.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “I wish I had better equipment. Stock-car racing is my first love, but I just loved Indy. They’re low cars, and you use different techniques but that’s all there was.”
The three-abreast start was his first, but that didn’t bother him, either.
“It didn’t make any difference to me,” he said. “If that’s the way they wanted to run, that’s the way we’d run it.”
The Brickyard 400 came after his retirement, but he would’ve liked the competition.
“I would have loved to,” he said, “but it was after my career. I think I might have had an advantage over everybody because I knew the racetrack. I’m still a big race fan. I just don’t participate any more.”
Yarborough is happy he raced when he did.
“The money there is today … but I wouldn’t take anything for the part of it that I was in. It’s all business now. It was fun then. These boys today don’t know what they missed.”
Years ago, when he was racing and building his array of businesses, he mused thoughtfully about how he was handling life.
“There are times when I wished I had a half-mile dirt track in the back yard and when I came home from work, I’d go cut a few hot laps in a supermodified to blow off steam before I went in to the family.
“That’s still on the drawing board,” Cale said, laughing. “Now I have three grandsons who can go out and play with me.”