Four races into the 1983 NASCAR Cup Series season and Cale Yarborough was batting .500.
In those four races – the Daytona 500, Richmond, Rockingham and Atlanta – the three-time champion had won twice.
And he’d earned both those wins in backup cars.
He’d won the Daytona 500 on a last-laps pass in a quickly prepared LeMans after he’d flipped his primary car the week before in qualifying.
Two races later, at Rockingham, Yarborough was involved in a wreck with Neil Bonnett after leading 161 laps. That car was the same one his team had intended to take to the March 27 race at Atlanta.
Instead, the car Yarborough showed up with in Atlanta and beat Bonnett for the victory was another backup car. And not just any backup car.
“We had to pull a show car out of a mall to race,” Yarborough said after the race according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”
Yarborough won four times in 1983. The Atlanta win and his ensuing win at Michigan came after he started 41st and 37th.
Also on this date:
1960: Lee Petty bumped his way by Junior Johnson with 14 laps to go and won a race at North Wilkesboro to claim his 49th career Cup win, passing Herb Thomas for the most all-time. Fans were not pleased with how Johnson, a native of North Wilkesboro, lost. According to “NASCAR: The Complete History,” they showered Petty with rocks and debris as he celebrated in victory lane.
1977: Cale Yarborough celebrated his 38th birthday with a dominating win at North Wilkesboro. He led 320 of 400 laps and beat Richard Petty and Benny Parsons.
1988: Darlington Raceway hasn’t been the site of too many upset Cup Series wins, but it was 1988. Lake Speed, then 40, dominated to win the TranSouth 500 by 18.8 seconds over Alan Kulwicki. Speed, who made 402 Cup starts between 1980-98, led 178 of 367 laps. Speed, Kulwicki and third-place finisher Davey Allison were the only drivers on the lead lap.
2004: Martin Truex Jr. led 134 of 250 laps at Bristol and won his first career Xfinity Series race and his first national NASCAR series race. Truex, the 2004 and 2005 Xfinity champion, would have to wait 15 more years to capture his first short-track win in the Cup Series, in 2019 at Richmond.
2011: Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson on the last lap to win the Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.
March 25 in NASCAR history: Car of Tomorrow makes debut
After years of development with the intention of making stock car racing safer, NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” or the Gen 5 car if you’re into that – made its debut on the Cup Series stage on March 25, 2007 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The race featured a thrilling green-white-checkered finish, as Kyle Busch held off Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon to win the Food City 500.
Then Busch, who’d led the final 20 laps, thew water on NASCAR’s new toy after the usual post-race interview pleasantries.
“I’m still not a big of these things,” Busch told Fox. “I can’t stand to drive them, they suck.”
Busch and the rest of the Cup Series would be stuck with that generation of car, and its ugly rear wing for a few more years. After rolling out full-time in 2008, the “Car of Tomorrow” stuck around through the 2012 season.
Even today, the well intentioned car leaves a bad taste for some.
1973: Cale Yarborough led all 500 laps to claim a Cup win at Bristol Motor Speedway. For Yarborough, it was his first Cup win since returning to NASCAR full-time after two years spent competing in USAC Champ Cars. Yarborough finished two laps ahead of second-place finisher Richard Petty.
David Pearson never competed in a full NASCAR Cup Series season. The closest he came was making 48 of 49 starts in 1968.
Despite this, he ended his career with three titles and 105 wins.
Even in a regular part-time role, he still beat up on the competition.
And in 1973 when Pearson made only 18 of 28 Cup events, he really beat up on them. He won 11 times, including a stretch of nine wins in 10 races.
It started on March 18 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham.
For Pearson, it was his third start of the year after missing the Feb. 25 race at Richmond. Driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Mercury, Pearson started on the pole alongside eventual season champion Benny Parsons.
For 492 laps, the competition chased the “Silver Fox” as Pearson led every lap but the 73rd while he pitted under caution (the Wood Brothers’ crew could get Pearson out of the pits in 20 seconds!).
Oh, and he lapped the field.
In the closing laps, Cale Yarborough ran in second one lap down. He did this after his seat broke away from the roll cage, forcing him to hold on with one hand and drive with the other.
Then misfortune struck Pearson with five laps to go when he ran over an exhaust pipe and cut his right-front tire.
With the caution out for debris, Pearson pitted for fresh tires as Yarborough made up his lap.
But Yarborough didn’t have enough for Pearson, who dashed out to win by 3.8 seconds in a three-lap shootout.
“I just knew I was a goner when I hit the metal,” Pearson said after the race according to the book “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era: 1972-1989.” “I didn’t see it in time to dodge it. It would have been a shame to have led all those laps then lose. I sure was glad to see that caution flag come out.”
Fifth place in the race, Dick Brooks, finished six laps down. 10th place, Bill Dennis, was 19 laps down.
The only time Pearson wouldn’t win in his next nine starts would be the World 600, when he placed second to Buddy Baker. They were the only cars on the lead lap.
Pearson would finish third or better in his next 12 starts. He’d cap off the year by completing a sweep of the Rockingham races, winning the season finale over Baker as the only driver on the lead lap.
The car lineup was slowly revealed over the last week on social media, culminating in tomorrow’s exhibit opening.
Here are the 18 cars that Earnhardt chose.
Richard Petty’s 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
The car Petty drove to a win in the historic 1979 Daytona 500, which marked the first live flag-to-flag TV coverage of the “Great American Race.”
Petty claimed the win after last-lap crash between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison as Petty ran in third. Petty would race an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet in 1979, winning five times on his way to his seventh and final Cup title.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1994 Chevrolet Lumina
Fifteen years after Petty’s seventh title, Dale Earnhardt became the second driver to reach that mark, winning four times in 1994 along with 20 top fives and 25 top 10s in 31 races. It marked the end of Earnhardt’s run of six championships in nine years.
It took a little longer for Jimmie Johnson to join Petty and Earnhardt as a seven-time champion, doing so 22 years after Earnhardt. Johnson won five times and earned 11 top fives and 16 top 10s through 36 races. Three of those wins came in the last seven races of the season.
Jeff Gordon’s 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo
The actual car Gordon won the 1997 Daytona 500 with – his first of three wins in the “Great American Race” – will be on display. The win kicked off Gordon’s second championship campaign. Gordon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, would go on to win 10 races for the second year in a row.
Bill Elliott’s 1988 Ford Thunderbird
“Awesome Bill from Dawsonville’s” lone Cup title came in 1988. That year he won six times, including the Southern 500 for the second of three times.
He also won the July race at Daytona, at Bristol, Pocono and swept the Dover races.
Tony Stewart’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix
The car Stewart drove to his first of three Cup titles and the second Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing following Bobby Labonte’s in 2000.
Stewart only won three times (Atlanta, Richmond I and Watkins Glen), but had a 13-race streak that included two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s. He took the points lead for the first time after the 30th race of the 36-race season.
Benny Parsons’ 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle
A former Detroit taxi driver, Parson’s lone Cup title came in the 1973 season despite him only claiming one win (Bristol II). But in the 28-race season, he finished outside the top 10 just seven times.
The championship was part of a nine-year stretch where Parsons did not finish outside the top five in the standings.
Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 Ford Thunderbird
One of the most celebrated championship stories in NASCAR history, the independent driver-owner Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup title in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, besting four other drivers who entered the race with a shot at the championship, including race winner Bill Elliott.
Kulwicki, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, died in a plane crash on April 1, 1993 on his way to Bristol Motor Speedway.
The car that will sit on “Glory Road” is the car Kulwicki drove to his fifth and final Cup win on June 14, 1992 at Pocono Raceway.
Bobby Allison’s 1983 Buick Regal
Allison claimed his lone Cup title in 1983 off of six wins, 18 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 30 races.
Allison’s wins included three in a row late in the season, with the first in the Southern 500. His title came after he had placed runner-up in the standings five times.
Cale Yarborough’s 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
In 1978, Cale Yarborough became the first driver to claim three consecutive Cup titles, an achievement that’s been repeated only once since with Jimmie Johnson as part of his five straight titles.
Driving for Junior Johnson, Yarborough won 10 races (for the second time in his career) and earned 24 top 10s in 30 races.
Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150
Baker won his second consecutive Cup title in a car nicknamed “The Black Widow.”
Baker competed in 40 of the season’s 53 races, winning 10 times and earning 30 top fives plus eight more top 10s.
Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix
Wallace’s lone Cup title came in 1989 when he drove the No. 27 car for owner Raymond Beadle. Wallace claimed six wins and 13 top fives during the 29-race season, his last before he teamed with Miller Genuine Draft as a sponsor.
Wallace won the championship by just 12 points over Dale Earnhardt.
Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 Buick Regal
Waltrip claimed his first of three Cup titles in five years in 1981 while driving the No. 11 car for Junior Johnson. That year he won 12 races (which he would also do in 1982) and earned 21 top fives in 31 races.
His wins included four in a row late in the season at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham.
David Pearson’s 1968 Ford Torino
Pearson claimed his second of three Cup titles in 1968 driving the No. 17 car for Holman-Moody Racing. He claimed 16 of his 105 career Cup wins that season, his most in any year.
Pearson also earned 36 top fives over the course of the 49-race season. He started in 48 races.
Jimmie Johnson’s 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Johnson started his historic five-year championship streak in 2006. That year he claimed five wins, including his first victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
This is the first car on the new version of “Glory Road” representative of NASCAR’s playoff era.
Dale Earnhardt’s 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The car Earnhardt drove to his first of seven Cup titles in 1980 while he raced for owner Rod Osterlund.
Earnhardt won five times and led the point standings for all but one of the season’s 31 races, leaving the season opener at Daytona second in points.
Dale Jr. helped complete a restoration of the car so it would be historically accurate.
Richard Petty’s 1964 Plymouth Belvedere
The car “The King” raced to his first of seven Cup titles, totaling nine wins and 37 top fives over 61 starts, including his first of seven victories in the Daytona 500.
In the 500, Petty lapped the entire field of 46 cars while leading 184 of 200 laps.
Herb Thomas’ 1951 Hudson Hornet
Thomas won 48 races in his Hall of Fame career, including seven times in his first of two championship campaigns in 1951. Thomas raced a Plymouth for much of the first half of the season before switching to the Hornet. His seven wins included a victory in the Southern 500.
Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson, who won 50 NASCAR Cup Series races as a driver and 132 as an owner and was part of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, has died at 88.
Johnson had reportedly been in declining health and had entered hospice care earlier this week, according to NASCAR.com.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Lisa, his daughter Meredith and son Robert Glenn Johnson III.
A native of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Johnson – whose origins were in bootlegging moonshine – was named one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers in 1998 after a 14-year career that ended in 1966 and included a win in the 1960 Daytona 500.
He was immortalized as the “Last American Hero” in an Esquire magazine feature written by Tom Wolfe in 1965 and later in a 1973 movie adaptation starring Jeff Bridges.
As a car owner for drivers that included Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, Johnson claimed six Cup championships. His last race win as an owner was the 1994 Southern 500 with Elliott.
It was Johnson who helped connect the RJ Reynolds tobacco company with NASCAR, which led to Winston sponsoring its premier series from 1971-2003.
In 1986, Johnson received a full presidential pardon from President Ronald Reagan for his 1956 federal conviction for moonshining.
“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of Junior Johnson on behalf of the Johnson family. First and foremost, everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame offers our most sincere condolences to Lisa, Robert, Meredith and the entirefamily,” NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley said in a statement. “We have lost one of NASCAR’s true pioneers, innovators, competitors and an incredible mechanical and business mind. And personally, I have lost one of my dearest friends. While we will miss Junior mightily, his legacy and memory will forever be remembered, preserved, celebrated and cherished at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and in the hearts and minds of race fans around the world. Please join us in remembering and celebrating Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. ”
NASCAR issued the following statement from its CEO and Chairman, Jim France:
“Junior Johnson truly was the ‘Last American Hero.’ From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit. He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has. The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
Johnson was considered one of the greatest innovators in NASCAR history. Perhaps the most famous innovation he was credited with was “discovering” drafting and the the benefits associated with it, leading to his sole Daytona 500 win as a driver in 1960 (he also won the Great American Race as a team owner two other times, in 1969 and 1977). In several interviews over the years, Johnson said he discovered drafting by reportedly being able to “see” air moving between his car and the one in front of him, and how the air flow would help “pull” his car closer, being able to “push” the car ahead of him — and bringing along his own car as well — faster and quicker, and also leading to allow Johnson’s car to slingshot around and ahead, oftentimes leading to a win.
Like many drivers of his era, including fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, Johnson primarily ran partial schedules during his 14 seasons of racing in what was then known as the NASCAR Grand National Series. But even running part-time did not hinder him, including 13 wins in 36 starts in 1965. That was also his final regular season as a driver, with his last win coming later that same year at what was considered his home racetrack, North Wilkesboro Speedway.
It was also because of his primarily part-time status that Johnson never competed in enough races in any single season to come close to win a Grand National championship as a driver — with his highest finish in any season being sixth (in both 1955 and 1961).
Johnson was just 35 years old when he hung up his steering wheel for the final time, going on to even greater success as a team owner. Even though he received numerous offers to get back behind the wheel, he passed on all of them, preferring to call his own shots as leader of his own team. Or, as he put it numerous times, “in a supervisory capacity.”
Johnson was most known for his No. 11 race car as both a driver and owner. As a driver, he also drove for several owners in cars sporting numbers including 26, 27, 3 and 55. As an owner, his teams sported 26, 27 and 98, but it was No. 11 that became so associated with him as an owner, primarily from 1974 through his final season leading his team in 1994.
He would sell all the equipment and assets of his organization upon the completion of the 1995 season to Brett Bodine, but for nearly another quarter-century, Johnson would remain a popular ambassador for NASCAR and the sport of stock car racing, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as well as remained a fan favorite until Friday’s passing.
He called his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in its first year of operation the greatest day of his life.
News of Johnson’s death drew quick response on social media:
When I was a kid growing up in Owensboro, Ky I dreamed of meeting Jr Johnson, my dream came true, meet him, he became my boss and made me a champion, I loved that man, God Bless Jr and his family, You were the greatest! RIP
No one outside the France family has been more instrumental to the growth of Nascar than #JuniorJohnson, who has passed at age 88. A superstar driver, then multi-championship team owner, he brought RJR/Winston to Nascar, vaulting the sport to national prominence.
RIP to the last American hero, Junior Johnson. Junior was one of the first superstars in NASCAR and was one the first innovators within the sport. He was also a car owner, and owned cars driven by greats such as Darrell Waltrip, and my all time hero, Bill Elliott. Thanks Junior. pic.twitter.com/3NfGAFm93i
All of us at Richmond Raceway are heartbroken to hear the legendary Junior Johnson has passed away. ‘The Last American Hero’ won here as a driver twice, in 1961 & ‘65, and won 7 more times here as an owner.
No-one can ever be compared to Junior Johnson…nobody! Among the most identifiable names in Motorsports, most fascinating characters in all forms of entertainment, among the most abundant lives ever lived… There will never be a Life or Story quite like that of Junior Johnson🏁
North Carolina has lost a giant with the death of NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. I just got off the phone with his wife, Lisa, and our prayers are with her, his children, Robert and Meredith, and the entire family. – RC
It’s never easy when an icon of a sport passes. This evening, we remember the moonshiner turned legendary racer and owner, Junior Johnson. His love of our sport helped grow it into what it is today. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. #NASCAR#GodspeedJuniorpic.twitter.com/i9BFfhXzKw