“The money there is today… But I wouldn’t take anything for the part of it that I was in. It’s all business now. It was fun then. These boys today don’t know what they missed.” – Cale Yarborough
For long-time NASCAR fans and family members, looking back and seeing how much their sport has grown is sometimes bittersweet. No one knew 1979’s Great American Race, which mixed cameras and tire smoke with a couple of good ‘ole boys literally fighting it out for the win, would resonate with people in all walks of life; and no one could’ve predicted it would be the genesis of a billion dollar global empire. Despite those fireworks sparking interest in the sport, it wasn’t race day drama that built and maintained NASCAR’s fan base well into the next century. It was the refreshing realization that the sport’s participants were a group of extraordinarily talented people who were driven to shape raw metal into something faster, tougher and better than any of their peers. What they lacked in money, they made up in creativity. And none of them held anything back for the sake of teammates or resources; they either chased the green or didn’t come back next week. That passion to win at all costs is what makes old school NASCAR fans so nostalgic, and unfortunately it’s the same reason a lot of the one-of-a-kind cars that transformed Carolina country boys into national sports stars have been lost in the wrecks of time. This 1980 Oldsmobile 442, driven by Cale Yarborough and owned by Junior Johnson, is a turn-four fresh stock car chassis that led seven of the nine races it participated in and rarely finished out of the top ten. If you’re a seasoned NASCAR fan who’s always wanted an authentic Winston Cup race car to cap off your life-long obsession with speed, here it is!
Born and raised in Timmonsville, South Carolina, Cale Yarborough spent most of his adolescence as a semi-pro football player and Golden Gloves boxer; skills that no doubt came in handy during the aforementioned 1979 season opener. When he attended the 1951 Southern 500 as a spectator, he knew he’d found his calling and decided to turn down a blossoming football career to focus on a full-time racing schedule. After two decades of working hard and experiencing moderate success Cale became the first of only two drivers to net three back-to-back Sprint Cup championships, formally cementing his legacy as one of the sport’s biggest stars. In 1980, on the heels of his final title, “The Timmonsville Flash” campaigned this Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet Monte Carlo to perfect his domination of the sport by scoring 14 poles, winning six races and losing his fourth championship by a mere 19 points. And today, Cale is a Hall of Fame inductee who ranks sixth on NASCAR’s all time win list, has NASCAR’s ninth best all-time winning percentage, and was voted one of the sports 50 Greatest Drivers during its 50th anniversary celebration.
Of course, we all know a great driver never realizes his full potential unless he partners with a great owner. Enter First Class Hall of Famer Junior Johnson who, with a record setting 10 victories in the 1974 season, had officially transformed his already successful race team into one of NASCAR’s top powerhouses. Over the next several years Yarborough and Johnson would win 27% of the races they entered and enjoy unbelievable consistency that included four back-to-back wins in 1977 and top 5 finishes in the last 11 races of 1978. Despite that amazing chemistry, 1980 was this dynamic duo’s last season together as Cale decided to run a limited schedule for the rest of his career. And what was left of a legendary motorsports dominion would either be upgraded for Johnson’s next generation of winners or relegated to sun-scorched fields of Wilkes County, North Carolina.
I say “likely” because, every once in a while, a piece of that history manages to escape its ignoble fate and is left virtually untouched until someone realizes its significance decades later. In light of NASCAR’s mandate that all teams switch to cars with a 110 inch wheelbase, 1980 was the last season Junior Johnson & Associates ran large Oldsmobiles. This 442, never restored or disassembled in any way, was raced only nine times during that season; and thanks to Johnson’s extensive use of a newer Monte Carlo, was saved from both a career-ending encounter with a concrete barrier and benevolent duty in a backyard scrap yard. While nine races might not seem like a lot, there are a couple of things to take into consideration about the car’s abundant history. First and foremost, its chassis is branded as a 1978 model which means it no doubt saw track time during Yarborough’s ’78 and ‘79 seasons, and likely won numerous races during those years. And two, when you closely examine its performance for the races ran in this 1980 guise, the car proved to be an unquestionably dominant player. Qualifying consisted of four front row starts, two of those being pole positions and two being outside pole positions. And when it came to finishing, this 442 led laps in seven of its nine races, placed in the top 10 once, finished in the top 5 four times and racked up a win at the North Carolina Motor Speedway where it led 256 of the race’s 492 laps. All total this old school trophy winner has an average finish of 11th for its 1980 season; and if you factor out the one time it experienced mechanical failure, its average finish rises to 8th.
Speaking of tracks and performance, virtually every aspect of this Oldsmobile is accurate and authentic to how it rolled off Martinsville Speedway on September 28th 1980. Its exterior still maintains a correct combination of basecoat paint, era-correct decals and hand painted scripts. At the front of its body, prominent mesh grilles hang above a narrowed chrome bumper that’s fitted with sheetmetal ‘wings’. At the top of its body a NASCAR-mandated cowl, which still displays original duct tape, rides in front of an authentic window net that’s fabricated from drum brake parts. At the sides of its body, flared fenders frame Norris wheels that are fitted with old school Goodyear D2129 Blue Streak Stock Car Specials. And at the back of its body, a second chrome bumper hangs two more sheetmetal ‘wings’ under a small decklid spoiler. Take a look inside the red interior and you’ll see authentic Holly Farms side panels, a custom fabricated Cale Yarborough seat and floor pan, an authentic rubber-dipped steering wheel, an old school Jones ‘tattle tale’ tachometer and brackets to transfer weight to the car’s right side in the event of a road course race. Hoist the hood and you’ll find a small block Chevy powerplant, which likely hasn’t seen fire in some time, perched behind a heavy duty aluminum radiator and an original steering box. Unpin the decklid and you’ll find an authentic 22 gallon Gene White fuel cell sitting next to a military-engineered rock crusher oil filter. And if you throw the car up on a lift you’ll find a correct Borg Warner 4-speed, a correct nine inch rear end, authentic off-set A-frames, authentic 180 degree headers, a welded engine cross member and era-correct Gabriel shocks that are a product of a corporate sponsorship agreement. This old asphalt warrior is the very definition of a stock car time capsule, and when you see it in person you’ll be just as blown away as we were!
At RK Motors Charlotte we take pride in the fact that we’re gearheads selling special cars to other gearheads. But when this awesome piece of Appalachian Americana rolled through our showroom doors, most of us were baffled about both its construction and history. So, we decided to make a few phone calls and bring in a panel of experts to verify its authenticity. Championship crew chief Mike Beam, who worked extensively with Junior Johnson & Associates, inspected the car and performed tireless research that helped establish its history. Tim Roberts, head chassis builder at Banjo’s Performance Center during the car’s construction, confirmed its authenticity and uncovered its original chassis number. Jeff Hammond, championship crew chief who worked as a member of Yarborough’s pit crew, inspected the car and highlighted its many authentic details. Travis Carter, crew chief for Yarborough’s 1977 championship year, inspected the car top to bottom and dubbed it 100% authentic. And Tim Brewer, crew chief for Yarborough’s 1978 championship year, inspected the car and corroborated its authenticity. Folks, it simply doesn’t get more official than that, these experts are prominent NASCAR figures who have prevalent ties to both this team and the era in which this car raced.
From its hand-fabricated body to its vintage powertrain, this 1980 Oldsmobile literally embodies the tireless ingenuity that built NASCAR. With its storied past and unbelievable survivor status, it’s a completely authentic race winner that possesses immeasurable historical significance and an unbelievable amount of character. Don’t miss your opportunity to own an amazing piece of racing history!