If you grow up in California where there are no Hardee’s restaurants, and your favorite NASCAR driver raced a stock car and wore a fire suit plastered with the fast-food chain’s logos, you might begin to think that the stores served an even greater purpose than just serving up just hamburgers and fresh biscuits.
That’s how Jimmie Johnson led into this fantastic family vacation story that shows just how much tying Cale Yarborough at sixth place – with his 83rd win Sunday – on the NASCAR Cup Series all-time win list means to him.
I really thought when I walked in the door I was going to Cale Yarborough’s race shop.
“I never thought I would end up here in NASCAR as a kid racing in the dirt out in Southern California,” Johnson told reporters after Sunday’s overtime win at Dover International Speedway. “I was a big Cale Yarborough fan and I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother. We were driving across the country and we pulled up to a Hardee’s.
Never miss a local story.
“I had no idea it was a burger stand, and I really thought when I walked in the door I was going to Cale Yarborough’s race shop. It was very disappointing.
“I had a burger and left and then understood the world of sponsorship.”
Johnson still idolizes Yarborough. Sunday, the 11-time winner at Dover brought a tribute helmet to put on top of the No. 48 and a vintage No. 28 Yarborough Hardee’s cap to wear for selfies in Victory Lane.
Johnson told reporters that he idolized Yarborough for his fearlessness and because the driver reminded him of his own grandfather. And also because Yarborough won – a lot – which is what Johnson has been doing also.
Johnson and Yarborough, 78, are the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three consecutive Cup Series championships. Johnson has won seven total, tied with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most by a driver.
The win at Dover was Johnson’s third of the season, tops among drivers so far. With the next Cup Series win, Johnson will catch Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison on the all-time win list.
A Hardee’s primer
Hardee’s restaurants – the chain started in North Carolina – these days are almost (Big?) twins of those of its corporate sibling, Carl’s Jr., after a 1997 merger. Wilber Hardee started the chain in Greenville in 1960.
In the United States, Hardee’s restaurants are located primarily in the South and Midwest. Most Carl’s Jr. – Carl N. Karcher and his wife, Margaret, started it in Los Angeles in the ’40s – restaurants are in the West and Southwest.
Neither chain’s website makes any mention of restaurants ever being used as race shops.
Follow Mike Reader on Twitter.