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Retro: Legend of 'Jaws' began at 1977 Southern 500

January 20, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Yarborough, Waltrip wrecked while racing for the lead, and a nickname was born

Darrell Waltrip wants to set the record straight: he did not wreck Cale Yarborough while racing for the lead in the 1977 Southern 500.

"I actually wrecked D.K. Ulrich, who in turn wrecked Cale," Waltrip said.

"Cale just threw that out there. And I don't think he or I really thought about it sticking, you know?"


"It's not really important, because in the end, Cale got wrecked. But I was watching it the other day, and now that I've looked at it and thought about it, I didn't wreck Cale. I wrecked D.K. Ulrich."

It was an incident that not only took both Waltrip and Yarborough out of contention for the win, but ignited one of NASCAR's greatest rivalries -- and provided one of the sport's most memorable nicknames.

And on Friday night in Charlotte, Waltrip, Yarborough and Glen Wood -- who owned the car David Pearson eventually drove to a second consecutive Southern 500 victory -- will all be inducted into NASCAR's Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2012.

After that race, Yarborough was mad enough to spit nails -- and when asked about the incident, uttered what longtime Charlotte Observer writer Tom Higgins listed as one of his favorite NASCAR quotes: "Jaws! Jaws! That talky Jaws! That's what happened."

It's a moniker that has stuck with the talkative Waltrip ever since.

"Where the Jaws thing came from, was that was about when the movie came out," Waltrip said. "Cale just threw that out there. And I don't think he or I really thought about it sticking, you know?

"But I have to say [former Charlotte Motor Speedway president] Humpy Wheeler probably promoted more for the legend of Jaws than Cale did. Because if you recall, we went to Charlotte and Humpy puts that chicken down the mouth of the shark and drives around the race track on the parade lap with a chicken hanging out of the shark's mouth."

It wasn't as if the Waltrip-Yarborough rivalry needed additional promotion. Waltrip said the animosity even trickled down to the crew chiefs on the two opposing Chevrolet teams: Herb Nab, who wrenched Yarborough's No. 11, and "Suitcase" Jake Elder, who worked on Waltrip's No. 88.

"They were big, big rivals," Waltrip said. "They were buddies. They played cards together and hung around together a lot. But, man, it was always about who had the best car and who had the best setup. On Sunday, all of that went out the window and it was all about who could beat who. It wasn't so much about just me and Cale. It was Herb and Jake as well. It ran all the way through their team and all the way through ours.

Class of 2012

Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Inman, Richie Evans and Glen Wood honored with enshrinement.

"Cale was a little aggressive and he'd beat around on our car. We didn't have a lot of money and we didn't have a lot of extra cars. So it would really tick Jake off that Cale would get up there and start beating around on the car and bend the fender or knock the bumper off of it or something. He and Herb were always arguing about that, so it spilled over to Cale and I."

And that all came to a head during the Labor Day weekend at Darlington in 1977. Waltrip and Yarborough had swapped the lead several times during the afternoon -- and with 150 miles to go, it appeared the race was coming down to a two-car duel.

The way Waltrip remembers it, he and Yarborough came off Turn 2 at Darlington nearly side-by-side after Yarborough had passed him for the lead on Lap 227. But they were about to encounter lapped traffic in the form of Ulrich.

"We were having a heck of a race," Waltrip said. "[Cale] loves winning the Southern 500, and at that time, I hadn't won it yet although I had come close. And really, I was ticked off because when we come up on D.K., I was mad because D.K. wouldn't get out of the way.

"He moved down in front of me and blocked me. And I was just about ready to pass Cale. So I hit him on purpose, but I never thought about wrecking him. I was just trying to nerf him and let him know he was in the way. I got into him just a little bit, and I'll be darned if it didn't get him loose and knocked him into Cale. And then we both wrecked."

Yarborough eventually wound up fifth, five laps behind. Waltrip finished sixth after losing seven laps in the pits. Yarborough went on to capture the season championship, but it seemed from that point, the rivalry between the two only intensified.

"At the time, Cale had the best car and I was trying to make it with what I had," Waltrip said. "With Cale, it never got ugly. Because he was such a hard driver and so tenacious, you just knew he was the benchmark. If you were going to win a race, you usually had to beat Cale to do it. And that was part of the whole deal."

Given the benefit of 35 years of retrospection, Waltrip realizes now that the rivalries he had -- and the emotions created from moments like the 1977 Southern 500 -- are what helped grow the sport to another level. And it's part of the reason why Waltrip and Yarborough are preparing to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"It's funny when you look back on things like that -- whether it's me and Bobby Allison, me and Cale, me and Dale [Earnhardt], me and Richard [Petty] -- at the time, it was like the worst thing that ever happened and you were real angry about it, and you wanted to get in a fight and knock the guy's block off," Waltrip said.

"But as time goes by, you look back on it and say, 'That was some good racing right there, boys, I tell you that.' In the end, when it's all done, you give each other credit for being pretty good at what you were doing."