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NASCAR Hall Of Fame Class of ’18 Unveiled

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 24 2017

Ron Hornaday Jr. has raced himself into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (File photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Robert Yates once had a Mars Hill College professor tell him he would never amount to anything because he spent his Sunday afternoon working on a farmer’s tractor instead of studying.

On Wednesday, Yates once again proved the professor wrong as he was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. One of five to be inducted in January 2018, Yates and his family were overcome with emotion as his name was announced by NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton. The top vote getter with 94 percent, it was the largest number of votes any nominee had received since three-time NASCAR premier series champion David Pearson was elected in the Hall of Fame’s second class. Pearson also received 94 percent.

“It’s good to be here,” said Yates, who’s battling liver cancer. “It’s really good to be here when you win. It’s all about winning, right? It was 40 of the best years for me. Right now I feel like I could take a jack and jump over the wall and I’d be on the (car’s) right side like I used to.”

Joining Yates for the 2018 induction are Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr.  For the second time in nine balloting sessions, the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Horsepower genius Robert Yates is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

voting panel had a tie emerge for the fifth spot. In a closed voting session at the Charlotte Convention Center, four-time truck series champion Hornaday and 1992 premier series champion Alan Kulwicki tied. In a re-vote between the two men, Hornaday emerged the winner with 38 percent of the vote.

Results for the NASCAR.com fan vote, in alphabetical order, were Davey Allison, Red Farmer, Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Yates.

NASCAR vice chairman/executive vice president Jim France was the recipient of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR.

Helton said he was “happy” with the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s ninth class.

“The five that we just announced I think contributed across the board in different ways, different styles of character and in different time frames,” Helton said.

“Robert (Yates) is just special. I kinda cut my teeth in this sport working with Robert from the opposite side of the table, but the admiration and respect that Robert earned in the garage area was very easy to recognize, easy from the sanctioning body. On a personal note, having worked with him through highs and lows, the character of Robert Yates becomes very clear and apparent. On a personal note, I was very glad to see him inducted.”

Doug Yates said the past couple of weeks had been “really tough” for his father, who’s on

Ray Evernham is a member of the Class of ’18.

his third round of immunotherapy, and his selection to the NASCAR Hall of Fame “was a dream come true.”

“Watching him sacrifice and do the things he did and love this sport so much and achieve the things he did, it just makes me really proud,” said the younger Yates, who followed in his father’s engine-building footsteps. “The timing is just perfect. Things happen for a reason. I think God has a plan. Now we can focus on January and being inducted. It’s an incredible day and such an honor.”

The 74-year-old Yates won championships in NASCAR’s premier series as an engine builder and an owner. Even though he began his career at Holman-Moody Racing in 1968, it was 1983 with DiGard Racing and Bobby Allison before he enjoyed his first championship as an engine builder. He focused solely on constructing powerful engines until 1989 when he bought Harry Rainer’s race team. From 1989-2007, Yates was one of the sport’s most successful team owners, claiming 57 victories, 48 poles and a championship in 1999 with Dale Jarrett as his driver.

“He had so much talent,” NASCAR Hall of Famer Leonard Wood said about Yates. “He designed the cylinder head that pulled over 700 horsepower back when they (Ford) were trying to come up with a better engine.

“He was one of our favorites. Roush-Yates builds our engines now.”

The elder Yates admitted his interest in racing kept him out of trouble.

“It pulled me out of so many places I shouldn’t have been,” Yates said. “It kept people out of trouble. I want other people to have the opportunity I had.”

Red Byron was the pride of Georgia racing back in his day. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Byron, who won NASCAR’s first two championships in as many different series, collected 74 percent of the vote. Helton said he didn’t know why it took Byron, who’s been on the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot for nine years, so long to be elected.

“We are going to have current champions and we’re going to have future champions, but we only have one first champion,” Helton said. “I think maybe with Raymond Parks (Byron’s car owner going in) last year it kinda paved the way.”

Byron was a testament to the tough men who returned home after World War II and an inspiration to many. After two hunks of metal sliced into his left thigh when his B-24 took antiaircraft fire during his 58th mission, Byron refused to allow military doctors to amputate his left leg. His leg withered and he eventually was sent home with a brace that attached to his hip, ran the length of his leg and was bolted to an orthopedic shoe. After returning to his family’s Colorado home, he developed his own physical fitness program and designed a hand-operated clutch that allowed him to once again drive race cars.

Not only did Byron win the first NASCAR-sanctioned race, he visited victory lane 11 times during the 1948 season to defeat Fonty Flock by 32.75 points for NASCAR’s inaugural championship. The next year Byron won NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock title, the precursor to today’s Monster Energy Cup Series.

Helton said he hoped Byron’s induction into the Hall of Fame would be an emotional boost to today’s veterans who have suffered debilitating injuries.

“I hope everything NASCAR does is a morale boost to our veterans because they deserve that every day we get up and take a breath,” Helton said. “Red Byron’s success on the race track is pretty impressive (due to his leg injury).”

A racer, innovator and leader, Evernham rose to fame as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports with the duo winning three championships in four years. They also produced a series-leading 47 victories in the 1990s, including two wins in the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. He also revolutionized pit stops by taking athletes from various disciplines, training and conditioning them rather than using people who worked in the race shop. In 2001, Evernham led Dodge’s return to NASCAR. His 13 victories as a team owner included NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott’s triumph in the 2002 Brickyard 400.  The former Modified driver also worked for ESPN as a race analyst before joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2014 as a consultant for its competition department.

Evernham said his emotions “overwhelmed” him when he learned he had been selected for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I’ve been at a loss for words since,” Evernham said. “I don’t know whether to cheer, to smile, to cry. I have never felt an overrun of emotions like this because it’s been a 40-year career. Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame is the biggest thing that can happen to you in your career when people recognize you for making a difference in the sport or for something that you’ve done. I keep thinking back to that kid in (Hazlet) Jersey who all he wanted to do was race. Now you’re telling me I’m going to be in the Hall of Fame with guys who have been my heroes for so many years. I’m honestly just blown away.”  

Squier is the only person to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame twice. His first inclusion came in 2012 when he and MRN’s Barney Hall were the inaugural recipients of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. Squier spearheaded television coverage of NASCAR after co-founding the Motor Racing Network in 1970. A Waterbury, Vt., native, Squier had been a candidate for the Landmark Award for four years and on the Hall of Fame ballot for two.

Perhaps best known for anchoring the broadcast of the 1979 Daytona 500, Squier’s voice welcomed millions of TV viewers to the first live, flag-to-flag coverage of “The Great American Race”, a moniker he coined.  From then, until 1997, Squier called races for CBS and TBS. He then shifted to the studio to host NASCAR broadcasts until 2000. Today, the 82-year-old Squier makes special appearances.

A Palmdale, Calif., native, Hornaday was one of the NASCAR truck series forefathers. The second-generation driver earned a record four championships in the series and 51 victories. He also possesses the truck series all-time records for top fives – 158 – and top 10s – 234. In 2009, Hornaday won five straight truck races, an accomplishment matched only three other times in NASCAR national series history.

Hornaday was discovered by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt during a NASCAR Winter Heat Series race on ESPN2. After moving to North Carolina, his house often became a temporary dwelling for other West Coast drivers following their stock car racing dreams, including Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

“It’s just amazing,” Hornaday said about his selection. “My wife should be standing here because she’s the trooper; she’s the one who did all this. When I was done racing because someone stole our tool box, she saved the $1,700 to buy the new tool box and helmet. Sacrifice from the whole family and this is pretty damn cool.”

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 24 2017
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