LeeRoy Yarbrough

LeeRoy Yarbrough

17/9/1938 - 7/12/1984

LeeRoy Yarborough drove for the legendary car owner Junior Johnson and had quite a productive career as a driver as one of the best super speedway drivers in NASCAR history. His most successful season was in 1969 when he won seven races. During his career he won 14 Winston Cup Races.

LeeRoy Yarbrough was a Jacksonville, Fla., high school dropout who built his first race car, a '33 Ford street roadster, at the age of 16. His first time out in the roadster he won a feature at Jacksonville (Fla.) Speedway.

Julian Klein, Jacksonville race promoter, took the cocky, brash and quick to anger youngster in tow and during the next few years Lee Roy won more than a 100 Sportsman and Modified features. Klein finally grew tired of Yarbrough's temper and attitude and the pair parted company.

LeeRoy knocked around for a few years and then surfaced at Daytona International Speedway in 1962 and won his first "big" race on the famed high banks, the Modified-Sportsman 250 run every year as a prelim to the Daytona 500. He went on to win 37 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman races in '62.

He joined the Grand National ranks driving for Ray Fox with mediocre success, two short track wins in '64.

Finally the sky brightened in 1966 when he teamed with car owner Jon Thorne to win the National 500 at Charlotte, NC

LeeRoy tried the Indianapolis 500 in 1967 but the trip was less than successful. Driving the Jim Robbins car, he tangled with Cale Yarborough and Lloyd Ruby on the 87th lap and crashed hard into the outer wall and finished 27th.

However the sun continued to shine for our boy in NASCAR land and in Oct. of '67 the legendary Junior Johnson hired him to drive for Johnson's factory Ford team with Herb Nab as crew chief.

The next year, '68, was a learning year as Johnson and Nab learned to communicate and understand some of the strange quirks of Lee Roy's personality.

Then came the unbelievable successes of 1969, they dominated the superspeedways. There were only two tracks that they didn't score at least one win on. A victory in the Daytona 500 was followed by wins in the Rebel 400 at Darlington, Firecracker 400 at Daytona, Dixie 500 at Atlanta, and the Southern 500 for a clean sweep at Darlington.

In 1969 the inaugural race at Talladega wound up being boycotted by all the top teams and drivers due to concerns over tire failures at top speeds. They formed a group, the PDA - led by Richard Petty. They were having a meeting and a livid Bill France Sr. insisted he wanted to be part of it. The drivers told him it was OK, so long as he paid his membership fee. He did, his position was that the drivers could ease off and avoid the tire failures. During a heated discussion France told Yarbrough: "Look, Lee Roy, you're a pilot...it's like when the weather is bad - you take it easy..." Lee Roy Yarbrough replied: "No, Bill...when the weather's this bad, you don't even take off."

A hard crash, while testing tires at Texas World Speedway later in 1970 rattled Lee Roy's cage pretty badly and left him disoriented. In fact he couldn't remember fellow driver Cale Yarborough picking him up in Texas a few days later and flying him home. Then he couldn't remember flying on to Martinsville, or running in the race at Martinsville.

Three more trips to Indianapolis, 1969, '70 and '71, ended without success and the '71 trip was a total disaster. On May 8, 1971 Yarbrough was driving a Dan Gurney Eagle when he spun and crashed hard in turn one. Lee Roy spent the next few months, June thru November, in and out of the hospital with many different ailments and memory lapses.

His abscence from the 1971-72 season was explained as the result of him having contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from a camping trip.

LeeRoy tried a comeback in 1972 but on Sept. 24, at Marinsville, Va. he drove a race car for the last time, he crashed on the 109th lap.

He pretty much dropped out of sight for the next few years, but every once in a while there would be a brief mention about Lee Roy being back in the hospital for treatment of memory lapse and violent behavior again.

Then on February 13th, 1980 something snapped and Lee Roy savagely attacked his Mother, nearly choking her to death.

On the 7th of March 1980 he was declared incompetent to stand trial for the attempted murder of his mother and was committed to a Florida mental hospital. He was ultimately found innocent by reason of insanity.

His family said his whole personality changed after the head injury and he also began drinking heavily, aggravating the situation that much more, leading up to violent behavior.

His mother forgave him and said that she still loved her son, but "that wasn't him anymore."

He was essentially suffering from a premature Alzheimer's, and he was not aware of his previous life or accomplishments, though he might have been aware that he had been a racing driver.

Then on December 6th ,1984 Yarbrough had a violent seizure and fell striking his head. He was rushed to Jacksonville's University Hospital where he died the morning of December 7th. He died from a subdural hematoma.

Input from Jim Thurman

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