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Yates Powers His Way Into Enshrinement

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 14 2010
Robert Yates will be honored on Saturday night. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Robert Yates was an engine builder extraordinaire. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

For nearly 40 years, the name Yates has been synonymous with excellence in NASCAR.

In the 1970s, Robert Yates was widely-regarded as one of the premier engine builders in stock car racing. During the following decade, Yates pursued a dream of becoming a NASCAR team owner.

Robert Yates Racing became a dominant force during the 1990s with drivers such as Dale Jarrett, Ernie Irvan and the late Davey Allison driving its fleet of Fords. Yates was rewarded with a NASCAR Cup championship in 1999.

Doug Yates, also recognized as one of the sport’s top engine builders, took over the helm of the organization at the conclusion of the 2007 season following his father’s retirement.

On Saturday evening, Robert Yates will be inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Concord, N.C.

Yates, admittedly not a media-savvy person, was surprised to learn of the recognition.

“I guess when they told me, I almost thought they were kidding me,” Yates told Ford Racing. “I thought I would be about the last person that they would ever vote for. I don’t know, I just always felt like I never said the right thing to (the media) and was never maybe their friendliest person to talk to, even though I didn’t intentionally want to be hard to deal with.

“I was just like, ‘Wow, are you serious?’ So I was definitely honored. I was busy working, trying to keep my mind away from racing because some days I really do almost cry about it. I miss it that much, and then some days I’m happy that I’m doing stuff. Only on those days that I’m busy doing new things is when I can get off of what I miss.”

Just over two years into his retirement from the sport, Yates says there’s little idle time in his daily regimen.

“I love to be busy,” he said. ”I love to be working. I love to be able to have something to think about, like what I’m gonna do tomorrow when I’m laying there and can’t sleep.

“I like to have a good plan. The other day I got home and I was dirty and greasy. I washed my clothes out in the laundry before (his wife) Carolyn got home to see how dirty I was because I was working in a machine shop grinding and cutting and doing things.

“The weather has been pretty cold lately, but last summer I was riding tractors and bulldozers. I love it. I just love to be busy. It’s like when I was building engines. When I got really organized, and I had four engines to assemble, I’d work until two in the morning and loved it.”

Yates’ time on tractors is primarily used to take care of chores on his farm in Wilkes County, North Carolina. One of his neighbors is former NASCAR driver/car owner Junior Johnson.

“I know (Junior) leases a lot of other land, but he’s right next door,” Yates said. ”Of course, one day I was out there cutting hay and I looked over there and there was Junior over there cutting hay. That was pretty cool.”

During the 1990s, Yates was a hands-on team owner who played a key role in making his No. 28 and 88 Fords a force to be reckoned with each weekend.

As time marched on, Yates was left with a diminished role within his organization.

But retirement has managed to re-energize the legendary engine builder/car owner.

“One thing I never really got to do was to actually run a bulldozer,” Yates said. “I worked on them, but I didn’t know much about farm life. So I’m getting myself more well-rounded and I certainly have a greater appreciation for farmers now.

“It’s hard work, but there’s nothing better than a good day’s hard work. It’s what I love doing.”

Yates says he often intentionally tries to stay busy on weekends to avoid watching NASCAR races on televisions. But one of his first calls late in the day on Sundays is to son Doug for an update on that day’s race.

“Do I miss racing?  Yes,” he said. ”I really miss the days when I could really contribute and figure things out. As time went on I lost my jobs.

“I couldn’t jump over the wall, jack the car, change the tire. Now what? Then as you go along you don’t really do anything and you go in the office, and I don’t like that.

“I enjoy the cars running good on the track, but you don’t really need a stopwatch because it’s all timed electronically. You don’t have any contribution, so I miss the good days and, certainly, I miss Indianapolis and the Daytona 500 and Charlotte.

“But to be voted into the NMPA Hall of Fame was a real surprise to me because I just didn’t think I was a guy anyone really wanted to talk to or even knew I was here. I’m honored. I wish I would have spent more time with (the media) and been nicer to them.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 14 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • greg smithey says:

    i live in rincon ga.–robert yates will always be the greatest engine builder car owner ever lived.i have read all books articles anything on robert yates i can find.if i was given one reasonable wish it would be to meet and spend a little time with robert yates.