Waltrip owes Yarborough for his time with Junior Johnson

Dale Wilkerson                                      June 2011

The Class of 2012 for the NASCAR Hall of Fame includes championship winning drivers, mechanics, and one of the most creative minds ever to patrol the garage area.

The inductee’s include: late Richie Evans who won multiple championships in the NASCAR Modifieds before he died in a practice crash at Martinsville in 1985, Dale Inman who won eight championships as a crew chief, Glenn Wood who recorded wins as a driver before turning his cars over to some of the greatest drivers of all time in a career that has spanned six decades, Cale Yarborough who has four Daytona 500 wins with one of those coming in Glenn Wood’s Mercury, and Darrell Waltrip the only five time winner of the Coca Cola 600.

The first two of the inductee’s to be announced Tuesday afternoon, combined to bring their Hall of Fame owner the one of the just a few trophies he didn’t capture as a driver, and they did this three times each. That would be a combined six NASCAR Championships for Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip during their stints behind the wheel of the Junior Johnson prepared #11 General Motors Products.

Some folks may be thinking, “Hey wait a minute, they drove a Chevy for Junior Johnson. Just what do you mean by saying G-M products?” Well, Junior knew that at certain tracks the Chevy design wasn’t the fastest, and that is why he fielded Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, and Buicks for these two drivers.
Remember that famous last lap tangle in the 1979 Daytona 500 with Yarborough and Donnie Allison? That was a 1977 Oldsmobile 442 that Yarborough was driving for Johnson. How about the famous Mountain Dew car that ole DW drove for him? That one was a Buick Regal.

Johnson wanted the championship as much as he wanted race wins, and he prepared the absolute best cars available for each of these drivers when they sat at the controls of his famous number eleven. Six championships later, Johnson, Yarborough and Waltrip each helped secured their spots in the NASCAR Hall of Fame together.

Winning championships while driving for Johnson is a no-brainer for how these two drivers helped Johnson earn his spot but just how did Yarborough help Waltrip you ask?
When Cale decided to run a limited schedule, he told Darrell Waltrip he should talk to Junior. Now try to imagine if Cale and suggested that young kid (at the time) out of Georgia, Bill Elliott talk to Junior. Or what about the driver that defeated him for the 1980 championship, the hard driving youngster that went from Rookie of the Year in 1979 to Champion in 1980, the late Dale Earnhardt? If Cale had suggested one of these, Waltrip’s history might not look quite like it does today.

I know, some of you just drifted off thinking what Dale Earnhardt would have been like in the early eighties driving for Junior Johnson. For the competition, one word comes to mind and that would be scary. Very, very scary.
Darrell Waltrip was a winner before that nudge from Cale, and he became a champion and a threat to win at any track, on any race day, much like his predecessor Cale did while working for Junior Johnson.
When race fans talk about the most feared cars or driver/owner combinations over the years, these two and their time with Junior Johnson always fills the conversation, so I asked Junior Johnson who was the best driver to get behind the wheel of his racecars, and Junior did not hesitate to reply, “I was!”

When Buzz McKim begins working to get cars together for the Room of Honor next January, we may see the first two team cars to adore that room during the same year, and that would be a great tribute to the championships won by Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, and to the man who made them possible, Junior Johnson.