NASCAR Hall Of Fame Inducts Class Of ’18

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 20 2018

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

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

A class of five inductees, including dedicated engine-builder Robert Yates, was enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday night during ceremonies conducted in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center.

Yates, Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Ken Squier make up 2018’s ninth class of the HOF, now the permanent home to 45 members.

Yates excelled as an engine-builder and team-owner. He provided the engines that powered Bobby Allison to his 1983 NASCAR Cup championship in the No. 22 Buick and “King” Richard Petty to his landmark 200th win in the No. 43 Pontiac in 1984. Launching his own team _ Robert Yates Racing _ in 1988, he went on to win three Daytona 500s and the 1999 Cup championship with driver Dale Jarrett in the No. 88 Ford. Overall, Yates’ team claimed 57 victories.

Yates, who lost an extended fight against liver cancer last Oct. 2 at age 74, wrote his acceptance speech to be delivered posthumously. Highlight of the night was a video of Jarrett reading the words of his late team-owner, mentor and friend.

“I never prayed to win a race, I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions,” Yates wrote. “My Creator didn’t always give me what I asked for, but He gave me more than I deserved.” 

Yates was diagnosed with cancer in November 2016 and spent a year battling the disease. He was announced as a member of the 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 24, 2017.

Yates was born on April 19, 1943 and raised in Charlotte. He began working in the sport in 1968 with Holman-Moody Racing. He later worked for NASCAR icon Junior Johnson in 1971, building engines for Cup superstars Allison and Cale Yarborough, including the engines that powered Allison to his 1983 championship with DiGard Racing.

Yates launched his Cup team with rising star Davey Allison, a son of Bobby Allison. With Larry McReynolds leading the team, Davey Allison won the 1992 Daytona 500 in the No. 28 Ford. In 1996 Yates expanded his program to a two-car team, fielding cars for Ernie Irvan and Jarrett, son of Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett.

Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500 in 1996 and 2000 in addition to capturing the Cup Series championship in 1999. Yates stepped away from team ownership in 2007, handing the organization over to his son, Doug.

During his tenure as a team-owner, Yates’ entries were driven by Allison, Irvan, Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Elliott Sadler. The Yates name remains involved and highly visible in NASCAR as Doug Yates manages Roush Yates Engines, which manufacturers all engines utilized by Ford entries in the Cup Series.

Byron won the first NASCAR race at the Daytona Beach Road Course in 1948. That same year Byron went on to win NASCAR’s first season championship in the Modified division. The following season, Byron won NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock title _ precursor to today’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Byron achieved those feats despite having to drive with a special brace for his left leg, which he injured serving in the Air Force during World War II.

During the 1990s, crew chief Evernham paired with Jeff Gordon to rewrite the NASCAR record books. Evernham guided Gordon to three championships in four seasons (1995, ’97, ’98) in the No. 24 Chevrolet fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. The pair collected a series-high 47 wins in the 1990s, taking the checkered flag in two Daytona 500s (1997, ’99). A skilled innovator, Evernham’s DuPont “Rainbow Warriors” pit crew also revolutionized the modern pit stop. Evernham later won 13 times as owner and point-man for the return of Dodge to NASCAR in the 2000s.

“I stand here tonight before you very humble, very thankful, and very grateful to be a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Evernham said. “Martin Luther King said that if a man is called to be a street- sweeper, he should sweep the streets as Michaelangelo painted or as Beethoven composed music. He should sweep the street so well that the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘There goes a great street-sweeper.’ I read that quote a long time ago, and I realized the best way I could pay back everyone who believed in me was to work hard and be a good street-sweeper.”  

Hornaday statistically is the greatest driver in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history. The Californian boasts a record four Truck Series championships and won 51 races. He also tops series annals with 158 top-five finishes. In 2009, Hornaday won five straight races, a feat matched by only two other drivers in NASCAR national series history.

“This is for every short-track racer that ever had a dream, ever had a heart, ever believed in anything that you can believe in, this is it … the Hall of Fame,” Hornaday said.

Few broadcasters in any sport can weave words together like Squier. He is best known for calling the 1979 Daytona 500 on CBS, providing play-by-play for the first live, flag-to-flag coverage of “The Great American Race” _ a moniker he, in fact, coined. Following that event, Squier called races on CBS and TBS until 1997 before shifting to the studio as a host for NASCAR broadcasts until 2000. He also founded MRN Radio in 1970.

“In our sport, there are innovators, builders, advocates, challengers, heroes, and an announcer now and then, who all have a part to play,” Squier said. “This is always a thank-you time speech, so many to deal with. Some of us are inconceivably lucky to call these folks friends.  I think we all call them heroes.  And I’m feeling like an odd duck in a flock of fancy geese, let me tell you.”

Each inductee was accompanied by an inductor who officially welcomed them into the Hall: Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, for Red Byron; son Ray J. Evernham and Gordon for Evernham; Wayne Auton, former Truck Series managing director, for Hornaday; Vermont Governor Phil Scott for Squier and Edsel Ford, member of the board of directors of Ford Motor Company, for Yates.

Active and former drivers introduced each inductee: reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. for Byron; Ben Kennedy for Evernham; Kevin Harvick for Hornaday; Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Squier and Brad Keselowski for Yates.

In addition to the five inductees, Jim France was honored as fourth recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Chairman of the board for International Speedway Corporation, France began working in the industry as a teen-ager in 1959, learning the business from his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

Jim France founded the GRAND-AM Road Racing Series in 1999. In 2012, he brokered the merger of GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series, forming the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).

“No one deserves this award more than Jim France,” said France’s niece, ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy. “He is the epitome of what the Landmark Award represents.”

Prior to the induction ceremony, trailblazing motorsports journalist Norma “Dusty” Brandel was presented the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

Brandel became the first woman to report from the NASCAR garage area in 1972, when she covered her first race at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway. She reported on NASCAR for more than six decades for several newspapers, including the Hollywood Citizen-News, San Fernando Sun and Valley View, and Glendale News-Press.

A fixture in media centers nationwide, Brandel currently serves as president and executive director of the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 20 2018
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