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1968: PUSHING THE SPEED LIMIT
Kim Chapin
February 06, 2008
FOR THE DRIVERS, THE BIG TRACK WAS GETTING TOO FAST TO BE FUN, BUT FOR FANS THE RACING WAS AS GREAT AS EVER, AND CALE YARBOROUGH STREAKED TO A NARROW WIN
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February 06, 2008

1968: Pushing The Speed Limit

FOR THE DRIVERS, THE BIG TRACK WAS GETTING TOO FAST TO BE FUN, BUT FOR FANS THE RACING WAS AS GREAT AS EVER, AND CALE YARBOROUGH STREAKED TO A NARROW WIN

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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, March 4, 1968

THE 10TH DAYTONA 500 DID NOTHING TO HURT THE SUPERSPEED image of Daytona Beach. Cale Yarborough won the race over LeeRoy Yarbrough in a magnificent 25-lap sprint to the checkered flag, their nearly identical 1968 Mercurys only a second apart as the 80,000 spectators stood and screamed. � Their duel was just the right capper to the events of the previous 2� weeks, days when car after car skittered and slammed around the high-banked course at speeds just a little bit beyond comprehension.

The record breaking began on Feb. 7, when Cale Yarborough and Tiny Lund opened the first day of practice by hitting 185 mph. David Pearson boosted that to 190. On Feb. 11, when the drivers got down to qualifying for the 500, Cale won the pole position at 189.222 mph, and all of a sudden little knots of brave men were talking to each other—and to themselves. That speed represented an 8.4 mph jump over last year and a whopping 46 mph (or 30%) boost over the fastest qualifying time nine years ago.

Cale's only comment was, "You don't drive these cars anymore—you aim them," but others didn't take the speeds so casually. Lund, as hard a charger as stock car racing has seen, said, "I'm not scared of it, just a little uneasy. But, boy, driving down here sure ain't fun no more."

Three factors contributed to the general uneasiness. First, above 180 mph cars cannot follow a clean groove around the course. In the turns especially they tend to use up all the track they can find. Second, the drivers' straight-ahead vision in the turns is limited to approximately 150 feet; at 180 mph a car travels 264 feet per second. The third factor is drafting. Everybody knew how that worked up to 180 mph. Above that, nobody did until last month: It was like driving an outboard motorboat in the wash of the Queen Elizabeth.

To hardly anyone's surprise, the race was slowed by 11 yellow flags for accidents, and when the last caution was lifted—with less than 60 miles to go—the track was left to Cale and LeeRoy. At that time LeeRoy had the lead by nearly 10 seconds, but by the 190-lap mark Cale was just two seconds behind. Four laps later the margin was down to .6 of a second, and on the backstraight of the next lap the stocky redhead made his first bid for the lead. He pulled even with LeeRoy and actually led going into the number 3 turn. LeeRoy, who was higher on the track, just kept going and regained the first position by the time the two cars had emerged from number 4.

The next time around Cale, who simply had more horsepower, got by LeeRoy for keeps and led him to the finish line by a few car lengths. Cale barely saw the checkered flag. Earlier he had gotten stuck behind David Pearson, whose Ford was spraying oil all over everything, including Cale's windshield.

When it was over, Cale and the 49 other drivers could relish another thrill—that of having come out of the race with their hides intact.

"When February is over," said one, "I feel I've got another 11 months to live."

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