BROOKLYN, Mich. (May 5, 2008) — Just 40 days remain until the green flag drops on the LifeLock 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, kicking off the historic track’s 40th season in racing.
Michigan International Speedway boasts a proud history of hosting some of America's best racing action. The 18-degree banking and 73-foot wide sweeping turns have long been a driver favorite and have produced some of the most memorable races in motorsports history.
The racetrack hosted its first NASCAR event on June 15, 1969. Cale Yarborough (sic) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (sic) battled door-to-door for most of the final 150 laps of the Motor State 500. The lead changed hands officially 37 times that day, according to press reports, with some laps seeing as many as four lead changes on a single lap.
Thirty-eight drivers raced the two-mile track for 250 circuits that day — but the final lap is one race fans will never forget.
On the final lap, Cale hugged the groove while LeeRoy tried to pass his rival on the outside in Turn 1. They touched twice as they entered the turn, with LeeRoy’s car brushing the outside wall and Cale fighting to take his out of a half-spin.
“I had lost it for a moment and thought I was going to spin out in the infield,” Cale said after the race. “I saw LeeRoy’s car do a little wiggle and was afraid he was going to knock us both out of the race. I got control in time to keep going straight and managed to keep going.”
The pair recovered, drafted down the backstraight and hit the final turns. Cale said he was prepared for LeeRoy to try to take him in the final turn so he clung to the groove, a racetrack’s best line. LeeRoy slipped out of the draft so Cale hung on for what he thought would be a side-by-side dash to the finish.
“Suddenly, his car got in some loose stuff and wiggled,” Cale said of LeeRoy. “It hit the right side of my car and we both went out of control.”
LeeRoy spun and crashed just 300 yards from the finish, handing Cale Yarbrough the win. David Pearson and Richard Petty finished second and third, respectively.
LeeRoy had to settle for fourth.
After the race, Cale said it was the hardest, roughest race he’d ever driven.
“That was 500 miles of the toughest competition I’ve ever seen,” he said.
LeeRoy didn’t stick around. Newspaper reports said he disappeared in a helicopter shortly after the race. He appeared visibly shaken and his face streaked with tears.
Later, in a telephone interview with the Detroit News, LeeRoy Yarbrough said: “I would do the same thing if the race was run over again. I had passed Cale earlier to set him up. I knew I was faster than he was and when I had a chance to get by him on the outside I took it. … Sure, I could have sat tight and finished second, but every driver comes (to Michigan International Speedway) to win. This is what racing is all about. I know I was faster; I know I should have won the race. I’ll just have to do it better next time.”
LeeRoy Yarbrough never won at Michigan International Speedway; Cale Yarborough finished first eight times.
That first NASCAR race was just one of the great stories in MIS’ history. To celebrate 40 years of racing and look ahead to the next 40 years, MIS will highlight a different decade each week, celebrating past champions, great race moments and track history that put the Irish Hills track on the NASCAR racing map.
The speedway is also looking for race fans’ recollections of the speedway.
“With 40 days remaining, the excitement is really starting to build for our LifeLock 400 weekend and the start of our 40th anniversary season,” track President Roger Curtis said. “We have a lot of fun initiatives planned for the anniversary and hope race fans will take the opportunity to buy a seat for the race and start building their own memories at Michigan International Speedway.”
Other moments that will be highlighted over the next few weeks will range from David Pearson’s track record ninth Cup victory in 1978 to Bill Elliott’s fourth MIS victory in a row in 1986. From Cale Yarborough’s win in the first NASCAR race at MIS in 1969 to Kurt Busch’s victory in last year’s 3M Performance 400 and everything in between, it’s been a special 40 years with many great racing moments.
If race fans have a moment they’d like to share – on-track or off – send them to contacts@MISpeedway.com today. Yours could be featured on the speedway’s Web site. Please be sure to include photos and contact information where you can be reached.
The LifeLock 400 weekend, which will also feature the ARCA RE/MAX Series on June 13 and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Cool City Customs 200 on June 14, will kick off the speedway’s 40th season of racing in the Irish Hills in 2008. With only 40 days to go, tickets remain for the LifeLock 400. Many more memories are sure to be experienced.
To order tickets, pit passes, camping or hospitality packages, call the MIS Ticket Hotline at 800-354-1010 or visit MISpeedway.com.