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Nice Meetin' Ya, The Name's Cale
Sam Moses
November 06, 1978
Having just won an unprecedented third straight stock-car title, Cale Yarborough of South Carolina has some notions of a first governorship
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November 06, 1978

Nice Meetin' Ya, The Name's Cale

Having just won an unprecedented third straight stock-car title, Cale Yarborough of South Carolina has some notions of a first governorship

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Betty Jo decorated the interior. She is a petite, dark-eyed woman with the kind of beauty that has doubtless caused her to be described all her life as a "pretty little thing." She was 18 when she married Cale 17 years ago. He calls her "Momma," which she is to Julie, 16, Kelley, nine, and B.J., seven. B.J. stands for Betty Jo. In fact, B.J.'s full name is Betty Jo Yarborough Jr., because, says Cale, "B.J. was supposed to be a Cale Junior. All my boys are girls."

"Cale has always wanted a son, but he can't complain, he gets all the attention around here," says Betty Jo.

Last spring there was also a lion cub in the family, but it grew too big and had to be given to a zoo (as did an earlier pet, Susie the bear), which not only broke the girls' hearts—B.J. was especially fond of Leo—but also the heart of George, a Springer Spaniel. Replacing Leo as the object of George's affection is Rip, a black Labrador puppy, who in turn is regarded jealously by the half-dozen hunting dogs (both bird and coon) in a pen out back. Yarborough hunts quail and dove on his farm whenever he can, but he recently lost his best bird dog, the victim of insecticide dusted on a soybean field near the dog pen. "Best setter I ever had," laments Cale. "I wouldn't have taken $1,000 for him."

On the average, Yarborough is away from home from Wednesday or Thursday until Sunday night, 30 weeks a year. He flies to the races in his twin-engine Piper Aztec, and because all but eight of them are in the South, he can be home for supper on Sunday. This means that, like many athletes' wives, Betty Jo must assume household reponsibilities customarily managed by the man. She travels to some races—more during the summer when the girls are not in school—but usually only those run on Sunday.

Says Betty Jo, "People say to me, 'How can you live like that, with Cale gone all the time?' But if I hadn't married Cale, what would I be doing? I'd probably be married to some farmer around here, living in a house trailer. I appreciate being able to live out here in the country like this. Not everyone can. It's a good life."

There are plans to make life better. Cale thinks a lot about a pasture he plans in front of the house. There are four white wooden rocking chairs spaced evenly between the brick columns on the long front porch. They seem to have been placed there purely in anticipation, the way a man might titillate himself by keeping his new Christmas golf clubs by the front door until spring. "I'm going to build a split-rail fence around the pasture, and I'm going to get me some horses and cows and goats, and next summer they'll be roaming around out there," Cale says. "I'm going to sit out on the porch on summer evenings after supper just looking over my pasture and listening to the quail in the woods."

Yarborough was a dreamer as a boy, and he still is. Living on the farm, moving back to the community where he was born and raised—returning home a conquering hero—fulfills the dream he has had the courage to pursue.

Yarborough drives around the farm in a 1929 Model A Ford that he bought from Glen Wood, who, with his brother Leonard, owns and prepares David Pearson's stock car. The Model A admits to 61,000 miles and is rusty, dented and creaky, its interior torn and musty-smelling, but Yarborough has no intention of restoring the car; to him that would be like paving his driveway. "What for?" he asks. Everything on the car works, he proudly points out, and besides, the car's imperfections give it character. Restored Model A's are common; a beat-up but perfect running Model A, one that regularly jounces along dirt roads in the South Carolina backwoods, is something special.

Yarborough drives it wearing dusty boots, jeans, a T shirt, a down vest with a tear over the right shoulder blade—"Just the size of a lion claw," he jokes—and a crusty, sweat-stained cowboy hat with a leather band. While dust drifts in to join gas fumes from a leaky carburetor, Yarborough spits tobacco juice out the window and grins widely. "Man," he says. "This is Uptown, ain't it?"

The farm was originally a 650-acre plantation that had been inherited by two elderly women. When they died, they willed it to an orphanage, which sold it to Yarborough. He bought an adjoining farm of 350 acres at the same time. The price was $300,000. Today Yarborough estimates the timber alone is worth that much, and the entire parcel between $1.3 million and $1.5 million. But it is neither a modern nor a money-making farm. Four or five black sharecropping families, augmented by day laborers, work the tobacco, corn and soybean fields.

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