Yarborough recalls historic first night race win at BMS
When Cale Yarborough won the Volunteer 500 Aug. 26, 1978 at Bristol Motor Speedway, he certainly was happy, but there was one thing about that particular victory that made it a little different than the seven others that came before it.
This time, Yarborough was making history. While it was his eighth win at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile, when he took the checkered flag some 16 seconds in front of Benny Parsons, he did something never before achieved at Bristol -- win a race under the lights.
That August race 33 years ago was the first BMS race contested at night. And for Yarborough, the historical part of the evening was lost on him at that moment.
“I was just happy to win another race at Bristol,” said the three-time NASCAR champion. “And I don’t guess I even really thought too much about it being the first race at night there. I was just glad I’d been able to get me another one at that place.
“It did put me back in the old racing days though, when we used to race everything at night. When we heard Bristol was getting lights all of us were happy about it. Night racing at Bristol was the way to go because it made it a lot cooler. Racing at night just made it better for all of us.”
While the lights that were erected for that race 33 years ago were far from the specially designed and innovative systems used today, Yarborough said they were pretty advanced for that time.
“Those lights were wonderful,” he said. “I know compared to what they have today they might not hold up, but for guys who cut their teeth racing at night in nothing better than street lights most of the time, we thought those lights were top-notch.”
Yarborough snagged two of his nine race wins at BMS at night, including his final one in the summer of 1980. He says even back in his heyday, the night races were the way to go at Bristol.
“They raced at Nashville at night, but when Bristol started doing it in the summer, that was by far the thing that brought the people out. Even back then, that night race was the one everybody wanted to come to.
“That night race was something special back in ’78 but now, well, everybody knows how people love that August race in Bristol. And let me tell you, winning at Bristol is special… that’s something I know a lot about… but winning that night race, that’s something that you never forget. There’s just something special about knowing you beat everybody with all those people watching at a place as tough as ol’ Bristol.
“Even these guys today... that race means something big to them. Winning at Bristol at night just puts you in a special class.”
Darrell Waltrip’s 12 wins -- including seven in a row -- at Bristol Motor Speedway, are marks other driver has matched. He also won more night races, seven, than any other driver. Next in line are Dale Earnhardt with four wins and Rusty Wallace with three under the lights.
Had Bristol’s summer race been moved to night earlier in the decade of the 70s, Yarborough would have finished with five, instead of two. He maintains that the sport’s elite drivers performed at the top of their game at Bristol because they had a special affinity for the track.
“Shoot, I love that place and it liked me,” said Yarborough. “Same goes with Waltrip and Earnhardt. We all knew how to get around it in the daylight and at night and I’ll guarantee you both of them loved that night race just as much as I did.
“Like I said, racing at Bristol at night just made it an even more special place to win. I’m proud of the races I won there because I know how tough they were to win. And it ain’t no different today. Still a tough old place and these guys today… when they win, they know it’s worth something.”
Fans can enjoy 750 laps of action at BMS, beginning with the IRWIN Tools Night Race and the Food City 250 Aug. 26, for as little as $99. Should they be in town Aug. 24 for the Wednesday night doubleheader, featuring the O’Reilly Auto Parts 200 Camping World Truck Series and the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 Whelen Modified event, fans can take in all four races under the lights in packages starting at $129.
Single-event tickets for Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race start at $90 while ticket prices for the Food City 250 begin at $45. Wednesday night doubleheader tickets for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 200 and the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 are $30.
Parents also can take advantage of reduced ticket prices for children as kids 12 and under can watch the Food City 250 for only $10 while children in that age bracket will be admitted free to the Wednesday night doubleheader.