Seth and Sutton Sharp
January 21, 2018
The NASCAR record book will always show Cale Yarborough as the winner of the 1983 Daytona 500, but his incredible journey to Victory Lane that day deserves an entire section.
No driver had ever posted a 200 MPH qualifying lap at Daytona, that was until Yarborough hit the track in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo. “Right before qualifying it, I walked to the back of it and beat the spoiler down just a little bit more.” Yarborough recalled.
On a very windy Monday morning, Yarborough put himself at the top of the board with a first lap speed of 200.503 MPH. His second lap was trending close to 204 MPH when Yarborough lost control and his car went airborne. The No. 28 sailed through the air, slid on its roof up the track, before bouncing off the wall.
After the car came to a stop in the grass, Yarborough climbed out of his battered car under his own power. Despite posting the fastest qualifying lap, his pole lap did not stand because he did not complete both laps.
The accident left his Harry Ranier led team in a tough place, as they did not bring back-up cars to the track. The team had Tuesday and Wednesday to search for a car before racing in the qualifying races the following day. After exhausting all options for a car to run in the 500, the team had to think outside of the box.
Crew-chief Waddell Wilson called up his son and sent him to a Hardee’s restaurant in Florida with a pick-up truck and a flat bed to pick up a No. 28 Hardee’s show-car that sat outside of the restaurant. The only difference was that the car was actually a Pontiac LeMans, not a Monte Carlo.
The team worked diligently through the night to set up the car for the qualifying race. It paid off as Yarborough finished third, which placed the team eighth on the starting grid for The Great American Race.
While piloting the Pontiac once again on Sunday, Yarborough passed Buddy Baker on the final lap in dramatic fashion to capture his third career Daytona 500 victory.
After the race, Cale gave all the credit to his crew. “Waddell and everybody did such a fantastic job. They made my job easy and I just had to drive it. These boys can make anything run I guess.”.