The 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 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 a single hiccup. 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 absolutely dominate 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.
And on that magical day in Bristol, Yarborough was just on another level from the rest of his competition. And the drivers who 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 April 3-5 for the milestone 60th running of the Food City 500, the modern day relative of the Southeastern 500, race teams will be working hard to try and duplicate Yarborough's incredible 1973 performance by leading all 500 laps in the new era of NASCAR, which includes three race stages during the event, with stage breaks at 125 laps, 250 laps and then onto 500 in the winner take all 250-lap final stage.
In addition to sweeping the BMS races in '74, Yarborough also swept the BMS races in 1976 and '77. He and Junior Johnson working together proved to be an unstoppable force on the East Tennessee bullring throughout the 1970s. He also added additional wins in 1978 and 1980. In total, Yarborough won nine races at BMS, forever leaving his mark on the "World's Fastest Half-Mile."
If you want to see many of the best NASCAR drivers try to win the pole and lead every lap like Yarborough did back in the 1970s, you'll want to get your Food City 500 tickets now. NASCAR stars like BMS dominator Kyle Busch, who is going for his third Food City 500 win in a row and sixth overall, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, 2019 Night Race winner Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and two-time Food City 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, among others, are sure to be in the mix fighting for victory as the laps dwindle down on Sunday, April 5th.
In addition to cheering on their favorite drivers this weekend, Bristol Motor Speedway fans will definitely want to take advantage of so many activities to make a complete weekend of family fun. There will be great video entertainment provided by Colossus TV, the world's largest outdoor center-hung video screen, premium VIP experiences like the Chairman's Experience, tailgating, a visit to the Kids Zone, on-site camping, concerts, a college area, great food and beverages, and so much more.
Bristol Motor Speedway officials are making it easier than ever for families to enjoy the weekend. Kids' tickets (12 and under) and adult tickets are free for Fun Friday, where race teams in all three featured racing series will hit the high banks to make critical practice laps. On Saturday, fans will be treated to Bush's Beans Qualifying for both Cup and Xfinity Series and an amazing racing double-header featuring the Cheddar's 300 presented by Alsco NASCAR Xfinity Series race and the ARCA Menards Series East Zombie Auto 150 race. Saturday's tickets for adults start at $30 and are free for kids 12 and under. On Sunday, adult tickets start at $48 for the Food City 500 NASCAR Cup Series race through the special Jimmie Johnson ticket package that includes a Q&A with the seven-time champ and kids' tickets start at $10. For all races, each child must have a physical ticket in hand to enter the gates. The Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office is the only authorized location that can produce the free kids' tickets.
Fans can also grab Food City 500 tickets at their neighborhood Food City while supplies last and in doing so can add an extra 500 points to their Food City ValuCards. But act fast, in-store sales end at store closing time on Tuesday, March 31st.