In Sardis, Cale and Betty Jo stopped at his stepfather's mother's house for Sunday dinner, everything from pickled cucumbers to potato salad to barbecued pork and the hottest barbecue gravy imaginable. Uncles and aunts and those inevitable cousins, about 40 people in all, were gathered, and most wanted to talk with Cale or even take his picture.
When Cale stepped away to get some dessert, Dr. Blees Floyd, a brother of Cale's stepfather, Vernon, said, "That Cale, driving those stock cars. He's not afraid of the devil himself."
After his stepfather had showed off his cured tobacco Cale gathered up Betty Jo and Julianne and his brother Jerry and Jerry's wife, and got into Cale's twin-engined Piper Aztec and flew down to Santee-Cooper. Cale went water skiing despite some bruised ribs acquired earlier this year at Charlotte and Darlington. He kept motioning for the boat to go just a little faster.
All in all, it was a weekend in which Cale showed that racing success, a recent acquisition, has not spoiled him. "I hope I haven't changed," Cale said one day. "My father told me that if people don't like you the way you are, they're sure not going to like you if you pretend to be somebody else."
But for all his back-home folksiness, Cale Yarborough is very different from you and me—unless you happened to catch water moccasins barehanded as a kid or dived off 90-foot cypress trees into Carolina lakes. Listening to Cale, one begins to understand why he believes he can win any race, survive any danger. Consider his account of the way he started flying. "Wib Weatherly and I had bought a plane," Cale said, "a Piper J-4. When it got here, Wib and I started to talking, each of us telling the other about how good we could fly. So finally we went out and got in the plane, and I said, 'I'll turn it over and you take the controls,' and he said, 'Naaw, you take the controls and I'll turn it over.' So I did, and never let on about anything and just taxied and took off as pretty as you please. Every time I'd offer to give the controls over, Wib'd say, 'Naaw, Cale, you're doing just fine.' Well, pretty soon we were running low on fuel and it was time to land and I said, 'Wib, I took off; you land it,' and Wib said, 'Naaw, you're doing fine, Cale. You land it.' Then I confessed that that was the first time I'd been at the controls of an airplane. Wib confessed, too. He said that was the second time he'd ever even been up in an airplane. Well, I brought it in, bouncing all over the place and with Wib's eyes as big as saucers, and the next day I was out there and took off again and practiced landings in this field until I could do it pretty good. Never had a lesson in my life."
He has also barged into sky diving, and is perhaps the only diver alive who has missed the entire Atlantic Ocean on a jump. "I was supposed to come down in this little bay by Beaufort," Cale recalls, "but we misjudged the wind and I wound up on top of a dentist's office in the middle of a shopping center about two miles inland."
One day Cale drove to a place just outside Sardis, where the house in which he was born stood before it burned down. "This is where I learned to drive," Cale said, pointing to a deserted stretch of sandy road. "My father had a Dodge he converted into a pickup. I'd put a wash pan on the seat to see up over the steering wheel. It wasn't dangerous. There's nothing out here you can hit very hard."
Between 6 and 17 there was nothing to particularly distinguish Cale as a race driver-to-be. He had a so-so soapbox derby career, and that was about it. He did make all-state as a fullback at Timmonsville High (he later considered several college football scholarships and a tryout offer by the Washington Redskins), but spent most of his time cropping tobacco, cutting timber and otherwise working the family's 500-acre farm. Then came the 1957 Southern 500, the oldest of the stock-car races, at Darlington, S.C., just up the road in the next county from Timmonsville.
The official NASCAR record book reads that Cale Yarborough completed 42.6 miles in the 1957 Southern 500 and won $100 in prize money. What it doesn't tell is that Cale was just 17 at the time (the same year he learned to fly) and that the minimum age for Grand National racing is 21. "I've got about five birth certificates on file with NASCAR," Cale said. What happened was that Cale and Bob Weatherly (Wib's brother) and a few other fellows from around Timmonsville took a stocker over to Darlington, but spent so much time getting it through inspection that by race day neither Cale nor Bobby had ever been on the track, which was probably just as well because neither of them had ever raced on a big track before. The car was not qualified, but in those days it did not have to be, and just before the race Cale pulled the car into line behind 75 others.
"I'm sitting in my stocker," Cale remembers, "and ol' Johnny Bruner, the chief steward, comes over and leans in my window and tells me that they've found out about how I'm too young and got to get out of the car. Well, I get out and put Bobby in the car, but right before the race, with all the cars sitting there roaring their engines, I run out of the pits to my car. I go in the right window and Bobby goes out the left, and when the cars pull away I'm sitting right there at the wheel.