They turned out to be right. Yarborough had a great year driving Junior’s Chevrolets.
But the season was not devoid of controversy. At Charlotte in October, another competitor declared Junior’s and Richard Petty’s engines illegal.
Both powerplants went through a lengthy, convoluted and unheard-of inspection process that took more than 24 hours to complete.
The accuser? Bobby Allison.
Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.
When Richard Howard and I started to consider Cale Yarborough as a replacement for Bobby Allison at the end of the 1972 season, I reckon we thought there wasn’t much of a chance we couldn’t get him.
At the time Cale was pretty much out of work.
He had built up a solid reputation as a hard charger during his years in NASCAR – especially with the Wood Brothers.
But in 1970, Ford’s pullout hurt the Woods as much as it did me. Glen Wood told Cale he really didn’t know which direction his team was going to go and he couldn’t assure Cale things would be the same.
This kinda surprised me, but Cale left NASCAR altogether. He took an offer from Gene White, a Firestone Tire dealer, to race on the USAC Indy Car circuit.
Back in those days it was pretty common for drivers to aspire to Indy Car racing because of one thing – the Indianapolis 500.
It didn’t work out for Cale. He raced only 12 times in 1971 and in 1972, White cut his team from two cars to one. Cale raced in the Indianapolis 500 that year then made only five starts in his own stock car.
It sure didn’t take a genius to figure out that Cale would jump at any deal offered to him by a quality team.
Richard and I knew that but we also knew Cale was a determined hard charger. We saw that during Cale’s years with the Woods.
Lee Roy (Yarbrough) had been with us but unfortunately he got sick. We lost him. Then we had Bobby and with those two men we had gotten used to the caliber of drivers they were.
We didn’t want anything else.
Cale was exactly the kind of driver we were looking for. Now, if we could tie him to the ground and get out of him what we could get out of him, that we didn’t know.
Cale joined us before the 1973 season began. With him on board, we were in pretty good shape. Things happened fast. Cale led all 500 laps of the Southeastern 500 at Bristol on March 25, just the fifth race of the season.
Ol’ Cale said it was like being on a Sunday drive. That sure made me feel good because it said the team had prepared a near-perfect car for him.
Cale won again on May 12 at Nashville. Then he won the Southern 500 on Labor Day in Darlington.
It was the second time he won that race – the first was with the Woods in 1968 – but it was always special for him to win on the track that so captivated him as a kid growing up in nearby Timmonsville, S.C.
Our fourth win came in the National 500 at Charlotte on Oct. 7. But there were problems. Someone seemed to have issues with us – as if that was anything new.
Cale won the race by 1.4 seconds over Richard Petty. Both of ‘em were two laps ahead of, guess who, Bobby Allison.
Seems Bobby was a bit upset that our car and Richard’s could put six to eight lengths on him going down the straightaways at Charlotte, a 1.5-mile track. He sought out Bill Gazaway, the chief inspector at the time.
NASCAR didn’t take Bobby’s money and instead ordered a teardown of all three engines. This was new to me. Post-inspections did not exist as they do today. So what was up?
They rolled out Bobby’s car first, declaring the engine legal. Several hours passed and neither ours nor Richard’s car budged.
Richard Howard was furious. He claimed our Chevrolet had passed pre-race inspection and then, six hours later, NASCAR couldn’t confirm if the car was legal.
Richard was, you remember, the promoter at Charlotte. And he claimed he had been paying inspectors to be at his track all week and if some illegal cars had gotten past them, then he’d wasted his money.
And he also said that if the finishing order was changed he was going to sue NASCAR.
I liked what I heard. Those were fightin’ words. And he made a point: We were allowed to race, so weren’t we legal? Wasn’t it the same for the Pettys?
You won’t believe what happened next.
It was after 10 p.m. when Gazaway announced that all three engines would be sent to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach and a final judgment would be made on Monday, Oct. 8.
It was the craziest thing I’d ever heard of. And, by the way, didn’t they already declare Bobby’s engine legal?
Well, it was 5 p.m. on Oct. 8 when NASCAR announced that Cale’s victory was official. I could have told them that a day earlier.
NASCAR said that the procedure used to check the engines in Charlotte was inadequate and, because the pre-race inspections determined that all the cars confirmed to the rules, the results of the race were official.
That sounded a lot like what Richard Howard had already said. Wonder if a threatened lawsuit had anything to do with it all?
It sure didn’t sit well with Bobby. He said NASCAR had just figured out a way to lie out of the situation because it knew the other two engines were illegal.
He threatened to quit NASCAR and withdrew from the next race, at Rockingham.
Bobby never was a good loser – I’ll say that for him.
But it all made national attention and the publicity for NASCAR wasn’t good. Bill France Jr., the president, made himself unavailable for comment.
However, a week later he and Bobby met in Atlanta. Afterward, Bobby said he would race at Rockingham and was confident NASCAR would take steps to avoid misunderstandings in the future.
NASCAR said that, starting at Rockingham, it would enforce post-race inspections to check carburetor plates, air cleaners, engine size and stuff like that.
Sure, I reckon there were folks who thought Cale’s victory was tainted. Believe me, it wasn’t. NASCAR didn’t really have the right kind of measuring equipment needed to pinpoint if an engine was legal or not. Every measurement was iffy.
Besides, if I was going to cheat I’d make it worthwhile. You wouldn’t even have to measure my engine to know it was oversized.
Our first year with Cale was what Richard and I expected. He won four races, finished second to Benny Parsons in the point standings and earned $267,513, more than any other driver. Now, I really liked that.
We were ready for 1974.
Didn’t know it then, but it was going to be a strange year.