Cale Yarborough won the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan Int'l Speedway in 1969. (NASCAR Photo)
Cale Yarborough won the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan Int'l Speedway in 1969. (NASCAR Photo)

A Look Back At The First NASCAR Cup Race At MIS

Editor’s Note: The first NASCAR Cup Series race run at Michigan Int’l Speedway was the Motor State 500, which took place on June 15, 1969. Here’s the race report from the June 18, 1969 issue of National Speed Sport News.

JACKSON, Mich. — Cale Yarborough survived a hair-raising crash with fellow Mercury driver Lee Roy Yarbrough on the final lap to win Sunday’s Motor State 500 NASCAR stock car race at Michigan Int’l Speedway.

Cale and Lee Roy battled bumper to bumper from the 229th lap of the 250 lapper after a yellow flag bunched the field for the final sprint toward the checkered flag.

Cale said: “I was down in the groove as we went into the first turn. I don’t know exactly, but Lee Roy might have been a little too high or in the loose stuff and we came together. My car was pretty much out of control but I fought it back and got it back into control. It’s just one of those things in racing, but it’s too bad Lee Roy hit the wall.”

Lee Roy remarked: “I was passing him on the outside and his car hit mine. I slid up into the loose stuff and hit the wall. If I had to run the race over again I would do the same thing all over again. My car was faster than his and I had the momentum on the outside lane. We’ll be back here in August and we’ll see what happens then.”

June 18 1969 1Lee Roy’s car smashed into the outside retaining wall and he nursed it around the two-mile oval but failed to cross the finish line by about 300 yards.

The paid admission was announced at 46,000 and those who braved the early morning rain were rewarded with one of the wildest stock car races in recent history. Most of the time the first five or six cars raced within seconds of each other all afternoon.

The lead exchanged hands 37 times among nine drivers during the 500-miler. Yarborough led 39 laps but coming home first for the last one earned him $17,625. Lee Roy Yarbrough led for 136 laps.

It was Ford Motor Company’s seventh straight superspeedway victory this year. The race took three hours and 35 minutes to complete with an average speed of 139.254 mph.

Thirty-three laps were run under seven caution flags. Junior Johnson, Lee Roy’s crew chief remarked” “It was a typical finish between these two. They’re both chargers and went into the turn fast and somebody had to give. They didn’t and Cale won. Maybe it’ll be different next time.”

Cale and Lee Roy exchanged the lead three times in the last 10 miles of the race.

David Pearson in a Ford Torino, was second picking up $10,100. Richard Petty, also in a Ford, was third. Yarbrough was awarded fourth place.

Charlie Glotzbach returned to NASCAR racing, substituting for injured Buddy Baker in a Cotton Owens Dodge Charger. The Indiana driver finished fifth, a lap behind the leaders. Paul Goldsmith was sixth, also in a Dodge Charger.

Yarborough pitted 11 times with the Wood Brothers setting some kind of record with pit stops of 17, 18 and 19 seconds. Pearson, the second-place finisher, pitted 10 times.

Ironically, it was Lee Roy Yarbrough who was hitting speeds of over 160 mph during the final laps of the race.

Donnie and Bobby Allison, Yarborough and Yarbrough were the front runners at the beginning of the race. Later on, the competition developed into a personal duel between Yarborough and Yarbrough after about 250 miles.

The start of the event was delayed when Paul Goldsmith’s car left a trail of oil on the backstretch on the parade lap.

Lee Roy Yarbrough jumped into the lead at the green flag, shooting past polesitter Donnie Allison.

Allison’s qualifying speed was 160.135 mph. Yarborough was second fastest in time trials. Bobby Isaac qualified his Dodge for third position and was the pre-race favorite but he retired early with engine failure.

The first nine cars in the starting field of 38 were factory backed. The factory-sponsored Mercuries and Dodges held the front position throughout the event, racing and drafting.

Lee Roy Yarbrough was in front 12 different times as was Cale Yarborough. David Pearson led five times and Donnie Allison three. Goldsmith, Glotzbach, James Hylton and Bobby Allison, all Dodge drivers, and John Sears’ Ford each led once.

During most of the 500 miles, the difference between first and seventh was about 13 seconds. On several laps, there was one second separating the first four cars.

The event was the first NASCAR Grand National race on a superspeedway in the north.

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