There are few structures on the land: weatherworn tobacco sheds, some barely standing, their rusty tin roofs heating up in the sun, their gray boards groaning at the occasional gust of wind, the delicate aroma of tobacco scenting the afternoon air. At the edge of a bean field is a pole with a dozen or so large gourds strung around it like bells on a court jester's hat. The gourds have been hollowed and serve as nests for martins that, says Cale, live in South Carolina in the summer and South America in the winter. "They're nice to have around here," he says. "One martin eats about 2,000 bugs a day."
The Model A chugs along a weedy road, deep into a sparse but broad area of pine trees.
"I dug this drainage ditch here with a drag line 2½ years ago," he says, his eyes revealing both pleasure and pride. "This ditch is 3½ miles long." He heads off the dirt road and back onto the pavement and stops at a crossing. There is no sign of life in any direction. "I own all four corners of this crossing," he says. "There's some valuable property here." There is satisfaction in his voice, but it is matter-of-fact. The pride is missing. All he did was buy the corner; he dug the ditch.
He drives slowly along the country road. First one, then two, then three, then four scruffy and excited dogs begin chasing the Model A, nipping at the skinny white-wall tires and darting across its path so close they disappear below the rusty hood. Yarborough ignores the dogs (which are even more experienced at flirting with death than he) and points at a dirty white wooden building, stacked on cinder blocks like many of the houses along the road. "That's a church," he says. "I own it; it came with the farm.
"I took a real gamble when I bought this farm 10 years ago," Yarborough says. "I scraped up enough money for the down payment, but had no idea where the rest of the $300,000 was coming from. That was a big chunk to bite off then. I was driving for Ford at the time, and they pulled out of racing soon after that, and I thought, 'Well, there goes the farm.' I had to race Indy cars for a while, I had to know where some money was coming from. I didn't want to lose it. This farm was really what I wanted. It made me work a little harder. Today the farm is paid for, lock, stock and barrel."
Yarborough's fling with open-wheeled racing was brief and inconclusive. In four Indy 500s, he finished only once, a 10th place in 1972. His only full Indy-car season, 1971, was beset with problems, mostly organizational. He was No. 2 man on a two-man team, No. 1 being the taciturn Texan, Lloyd Ruby. "Cale did have a little problem," says Ruby. "You know, there is a difference between stock cars and Indy cars."
Says Dave Laycock, Yarborough's and Ruby's crew chief that year, "The problem Cale had was that the whole operation was in an uproar and Cale was a victim of circumstances. Cale didn't have second-rate equipment, but he had second-rate help. He's a hell of a driver, but one thing he didn't do was catch on to the flat tracks as good as he should have—he was used to banked tracks. He had all the talent; it was just a matter of bringing it out of him. If he could have been dealt with a little better, he would have done better. He would have had a hell of a lot better shot if it had been a one-car operation." "You got to take a chance to have a chance," says Yarborough.
The bookshelf behind the television set in the Yarborough living room contains only a handful of books: Emily Post on etiquette, a racing history of the Ford Motor Company, Beautiful Bible Stories, The Total Woman. The book on the end of the shelf, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is Yarborough's favorite.
Yarborough's office in Timmonsville is a cluttered room, hidden behind the Cale Yarborough Dry Cleaners. The desk is covered with dozens of letters, some opened, some unopened. Yarborough has no secretary and answers all his fan mail himself. Also on the desk is an assortment of mementos from a crowded career: a heavy, leather-handled hunting knife Yarborough uses as a letter opener; photographs of his daughters; a baseball autographed by the Little League team sponsored by the dry cleaners; a valve from a racing motor; a box of Milk-Bones for horses. There are two three-foot-high trophies at each end of a brick fireplace (the building once was a restaurant), and on the wall are an 8"-by-10" glossy of Billy Carter, wearing a grin and Cale's tall hat, his arm draped around Cale's shoulder; half a dozen posters of products Yarborough endorses; a calendar with a watercolor of a setter at point; a color photo of Cale's 1977 race car, a machine affectionately called the "Ole Yaller Chicken Special" (the car was mostly yellow, the sponsor Holly Farms poultry); a highway map of Florence County; two young fans' crayon drawings; two pencil sketches of Cale and Betty Jo in a victory circle; a certificate of honorary membership in the Boy Scouts; a personally inscribed photograph of Gen. William Westmoreland posing beside South Carolina and American flags (Yarborough supported Westmoreland in his unsuccessful gubernatorial nomination bid in 1974); a photo of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond ("He can give you 50 pushups just like that, and he's got him a young wife, too"); and a framed message: a drawing of four wooden barrels overstuffed with dollar bills, under which is the caption OUR BUSINESS IS MAKING MONEY.
"I love racing, but as far as I'm concerned, the name of the game is making money," says Yarborough. "I've invested every penny I've made in racing. I've spent very little. I've thrown none away. We don't live like I make half a million dollars a year. I've got three kids to worry about. Let me place my money somewhere we can enjoy it later on." That somewhere, in spirit at least, may be his piggy bank. In the bedroom that is bigger than the house he was born in—a bedroom off of which is a sunken whirlpool tub and a sauna—Yarborough keeps a 10-gallon milk can painted red, with a slot in the lid, which is welded on. Every night before he goes to bed he empties the change from his pockets into the milk can.