History of the Food City 500: Cale Yarborough was one tough customer at Bristol Motor Speedway throughout the 1970s
Every racetrack on the NASCAR circuit has been witness to amazing herculean accomplishments by superstar drivers. And a few of those efforts have simply transcended all of NASCAR, becoming legendary tales. One of the first unbelievable feats to ever happen at Bristol Motor Speedway and send shockwaves throughout the greater NASCAR community belonged to South Carolina racer Cale Yarborough.
In 1973, Yarborough completely dominated the BMS Spring Race. He was the fastest in practice. He won the pole. He took the lead at the green flag and he never looked back. Yarborough led every lap of the 1973 Southeastern 500, the early ancestor of the modern day Food City 500.
Yes, you heard that correctly. He led all 500 laps. Every. Single. One. He didn't have any hiccups. Not a challenge from a rival. Not a blown tire. He didn't get caught up in a crash. Not a loose lugnut. Not a $5 parts failure. Not a bad spark plug. Nothing. Not a single problem. That race was all Yarborough in his No. 11 Chevy that was tuned by Junior Johnson. When the checkered flag dropped, Yarborough became the first driver to accomplish leading every lap in a Cup Series race in NASCAR history.
While some have heard the legendary story, what many don't know about Yarborough's epic accomplishment at Bristol, is that he did it over a two week period. Yarborough led the first 52 laps on the race's original date, Sunday, March 11th, before weather forced officials to postpone the finish. The circuit moved on down the road to run a race at Rockingham, N.C. the next weekend and then returned to Bristol on Sunday, March 25th to finish the Southeastern 500. Amazingly, Yarborough picked up right where he left off, by leading the remaining 448 laps without a glitch.
"It may be the single greatest accomplishment in the history of Bristol Motor Speedway," said noted racing historian and journalist David McGee. "It's absolutely amazing. I can't imagine someone leading every lap of the race today. Cale was that dominant; that car was that good. He was putting cars a lap down within the first twenty laps and that really set the stage for the dominance that Cale and Junior Johnson would have for most of the 1970s here. They came back in 1974 and won both races."
Yarborough duplicated the feat in 1978 in Nashville, leading all 420 laps of a Cup Series race at the historic Fairgrounds Speedway. The only other time a driver has led a NASCAR Cup race from start to finish was when Jeff Burton did it in 2000 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
On that magical day in Bristol, Yarborough was just on another level from the rest of his competition. The drivers he beat were certainly no powder puffs. He was racing against the best of the best at the time on the NASCAR circuit.
"To give you an idea of how good Cale was that day, Richard Petty ran second and Bobby Allison ran third," McGee said. "Both are Hall of Fame drivers. They were both two laps down. Cale was completely untouchable."
As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway on May 31st for the milestone 60th running of the Food City 500, race teams will be hoping to put together a multiple-race victory streak and showcase the total dominance that Yarborough displayed at the high-banked, all-concrete bullring throughout the 1970s.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food City 500 will be held for the first time in history without fans in the grandstands. Everyone is encouraged to tune in to coverage of the race on FS1 or PRN at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 31st. Many of the greatest stock car racers in the world will compete, including BMS dominator Kyle Busch, who is going for his third Food City 500 win in a row and sixth overall, Chase Elliott, three-time Bristol winner Matt Kenseth, 2019 Night Race winner Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney, among others.
Also included on NASCAR's revised race event schedule without spectators is the Cheddar's 300 presented by Alsco NASCAR Xfinity Series Race, rescheduled for Saturday, May 30 at 3:30 p.m. That race also will be broadcast on both FS1 and PRN.
Food City 500 weekend ticketholders on file may choose to receive an event credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20 percent, or choose to receive a full refund of their purchase price.* The event credit can be applied toward any admissions, including, but not limited to, grandstand seating, suite and premium tickets, camping, fan hospitality and pit passes. The 120-percent event credit can be used during the remaining 2020 or 2021 seasons for a NASCAR sanctioned event conducted with fans at any Speedway Motorsports owned track, subject to availability.
Fans are advised to keep their current tickets and asked to complete an exchange request form at www.bristolmotorspeedway.com to start the process. Ticket office representatives will follow up with fans within four weeks regarding the status of their request. Ticketholders should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-415-4158 with further questions.
*Shipping, handling and services fees not included in event credits or refunds. Ticketholders have 30 days to request a refund; those who do not request a refund will automatically receive the 120-percent credit.