Daytona 1968: It Was Yarborough Vs. Yarbrough Or Cale Vs. LeeRoy
“Come on Yarborough!"
"Come On Yarbrough!"
The fans standing and screaming at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 25, 1968 weren't yelling about the slightly different spelling of the great drivers' names.
They were pulling for either Cale Yarborough or LeeRoy Yarbrough to win the biggest show in NASCAR racing, the Daytona 500.
And It obviously was going to be one of the two friends, not related and their names pronounced the same almost universally, never mind that missing "o."
As the laps wound down at the soon to be world-famous 2.5-mile track, it appeared that Florida home-state favorite Yarbrough would prevail.
Then, the folksy South Carolinian Yarborough caught up, and with just four of the 200 laps to go, swept around his rival and held on to win by a second in a Mercury fielded by the Wood Brothers, Glen and Leonard, of little Stuart, Va.
All these years later, that race remains among the classic 500s as “The Great American Race” looms again on Feb. 26.
Both Cale and LeeRoy, Yaborough and Yarbrough, were known as "chargers." If their cars could take the full-bore philosophy of both, they would be in contention at the end.
And so it was 44 years ago.
Yarborough's Mercury took his "go or blow" style. So did the almost look-alike Mercury of Yarbrough, fielded by a team owned and led by the legendary Junior Johnson, winner of the second Daytona 500 in 1960 as a driver.
Yarborough led laps 89-143, Yarbrough led 144-166. Bobby Allison slipped ahead laps 167-171 after his faster two rivals pitted.
Yarborough was ahead laps 172-176, LeeRoy back in first place for 177-196, and, finally, Cale in the winning position 197-200.
"Oh, yeah, I remember that race almost second by second," said Yarborough, now a highly successful businessman in the Florence area of South Carolina, and a recent inductee into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame in Charlotte. "It rates way up there among all of 'em I ever won (83 victories, sixth on NASCAR's all-time list) because to outrun LeeRoy took a day's work.
"With just 25 or so laps to go, I was fourth behind him. Paul Goldsmith and Bobby Allison, two of the toughest ever, were between us. Once I got by them I set sail on LeeRoy. I had run laps around 183 (mph) most of the race. Now I was running 186 or a little bit more.
"I caught him on the backstretch and went by. LeeRoy was a good guy and a racer. He didn't give it to me, but he didn't take it away either. I'll always respect him for that."
Yarborough won by a margin of 1.3 seconds over Yarbrough.
Finishing third and fourth, respectively, and the only other drivers to complete all 500 miles were Allison in a Ford fielded by the colorful Bondy Long and Al Unser in a Dodge engineered by Cotton Owens.
Yarbrough made up for the late-race setback in 1969, winning the 500 for Johnson. LeeRoy also took the World 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., to become the first driver to sweep what was then stock car racing's "Triple Crown."
Yarborough, as mentioned earlier, continued his career to become a legend.
Johnson filed away what he had seen the stocky South Carolinian do that day more than four decades ago.
He hired Cale in the 1970s and they won three straight championships together.
LeeRoy Yarbrough eventually turned to Indy Car racing and suffered head injuries in crashes. He died in1984 at age 45.
The memory of his dramatic duel with Cale that day at Daytona lives on.