The television comes on early Sunday morning, before church, and a television evangelist speaks to the Yarboroughs at the breakfast table. Whenever Cale is home he attends the Sardis Baptist Church. Before services Cale goes to a men's Bible class, in which 12 or 15 men discuss Scripture and current events and also do some gossiping.
One recent Sunday night Yarborough was watching a war movie on television, and the dogfights with Japanese Zeros lit up his eyes. More than anything else, Yarborough would like to have been a World War II fighter pilot; in fact, it is a dream vivid enough that he speaks of it as if the war were on today. "If I weren't a race driver," he says, "I'd like to be a World War II fighter pilot." In 1968 he went to Vietnam at the request of the Defense Department. "I won more races, more money than anyone that year," he says. "Most of the guys over there were young, they had a car back home, they had racing magazines, so I wasn't a stranger to them. That made me feel good. It was a gratifying experience, although it left me with mixed emotions. I saw a lot of burns and amputees.
"They gave me the rank of colonel, a full bird, for priority reasons, I guess, and said I could be in whatever service I wanted. I decided to be in the Marines, since I always wanted to be a Marine. They told me I didn't have to go to any outposts, but I didn't turn down one request to go to an outpost—some with only a dozen guys.
"I was there without a USO tour or anything like that. One night they put me up in an abandoned hotel by a river and had me stay in this little old room on the fourth floor by myself. The Viet Cong were across the river, about 200 yards away, and had been coming over the river every night on raids. I wanted a weapon, but it was against government regulations to give me one. I was told the best thing to do if the Viet Cong attacked was to get under the bed. But the bed was only about four inches from the floor—how in the world was I going to get under the bed?
"In the middle of the night I heard them. Pretty soon there was shooting in the lobby—Army guys were trying to hold them off. But then I heard them on the first floor. Then the second floor. Suddenly there was plenty of room under the bed."
The Viet Cong got no higher than the second floor, but there were dead men on the staircase and in the lobby. One can picture Yarborough, a man who dreams of being a fighter pilot, on his belly under a bed, his cheek pressed to the floor, while beneath him soldiers died. It must have been a moment of great frustration.
Every Monday morning Yarborough makes his rounds in Timmonsville. He stops first at his office. On the window of the adjoining store is what amounts to Yarborough's personal crest, a checkered flag crossed with a Confederate flag. "I used to have dry-cleaning plants all over both Carolinas," he says, "but it was too spread out. I couldn't look after them. Now I'm down to three, and it's a good business." Next to the dry cleaners is a Goodyear tire store, proprietors Cale Yarborough and Bill Singletary. "We're out of room there," says Cale. "We're going to build on pretty soon."
At his desk, Yarborough does a strange thing for a superstar; he returns a call to a man he has never heard of and without knowing what the call is about. Another call ends with him saying, "I might just call someone and see what can be done for you." Making another call, to a realtor, it seems, he says, "I need some land, anywhere from 20 to 100 acres, as long as it can be seen from I-95. I can bring something big in the area if I can get the land right away."
There is a clean-cut young man waiting politely at the office door for Yarborough. He is a local would-be truck driver in need of a truck, and Yarborough is cosigning the man's truck loan. "I had some help myself when I was starting out," says Cale. "It means a lot." He is the cosigner on a number of loans in town. "Probably more than I should be," he says. "I've always had a problem with saying no. I can't help it. A lot of times people take advantage of that. My mother always said I'd never amount to nothing because I'd never say no, I'd always be giving away everything I had."
Yarborough leaves his office and drives about five miles to the Floyd and Yarborough Farm Center, a feed and fertilizer store originally bought into by Cale and now run by his stepfather and his brother, J.C. There is a sign in front of the store that says CHATHAM DOG FOOD SPECIAL, and a black man in his 30s is loading 50-pound bags of dry dog food from a pickup truck into the store. "How you doing, son?" says Cale.