NASCAR Great Cale Yarborough Was Tough as Nails in the Indy 500, Too

Jackson Wheeler
5 Min Read

Cale Yarborough will go down as one of the all-time greats in NASCAR with 83 wins a three consecutive Cup Series championships from 1976-78.

Many, however, forget that Yarborough was fast in an open-wheel car, too. The four-time Daytona 500 winner raced four times in the Indianapolis 500, finishing a career-best 10th in the 1972 race. He also finished 16th in 1971, 17th in 1967 and 28th in 1966,

portrait of cale yarborough

Cale Yarborough was a four-time starter at the Indianapolis 500.

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Yarborough died on Sunday in South Carolina following a long illness at the age of 84.

And while he’ll forever be known for his NASCAR exploits, which included his role in the most incredible of Daytona 500 finishes in 1979, Yarborough was also competitive in an Indy car.

He made his first Indianapolis 500 start in 1966, driving for Rolla Vollstedt. That year, he famously got stuck in the Indianapolis traffic on his way to the track for the first qualifying day and ended up parking his car in the yard of a local resident and walking to the track. He qualified 24th that year in the No. 66 Jim Robbins Vollstedt/Ford.

His race day at Indianapolis in 1966 wasn’t much better, as his car was one of 11 that got eliminated in a first-crash incident that also collected Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt. The race was eventually won by Graham Hill.

indianapolis 500 1966

Cale Yarborough (66) was involved in a first-lap crash at the 1966 Indianapolis 500.

The Enthusiast Network//Getty Images

In 1971, Yarborough started 10 of the 12 races for team owner Gene White in USAC Championship open-wheel season. His best race finish finish that year was fifth, at both Trenton and Michigan, and he ended up 16th in the season points standings.

His 1972 start at Indianapolis was his final start in what was a 13-race career in Indy cars.

Yarborough is one of the most decorated NASCAR drivers in history and he will forever be celebrated as a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Hall of Fame. He was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and one of its 75 Greatest Drivers in 2023.

“Cale Yarborough was not just a NASCAR champion and Daytona 500 winner, he was one of the most versatile race car drivers our sport has seen,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles. “He qualified for four Indianapolis 500s during one of the race’s most competitive eras and competed in a season of IndyCar Series racing—scoring two top-five finishes—in 1971 during the height of his driving career.

“The fans and drivers at IMS loved his competitive spirit, passion, and understanding and appreciation of what racing at Indianapolis means, whether as a driver or team owner. Our sport and our event have lost an icon.”

Headshot of Mike Pryson

Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and MLive Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek in 2011. He won several Michigan Associated Press and national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for auto racing coverage and was named the 2000 Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club’s Michigan Motorsports Writer of the Year. A Michigan native, Mike spent three years after college working in southwest Florida before realizing that the land of Disney and endless summer was no match for the challenge of freezing rain, potholes and long, cold winters in the Motor City.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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