Robert Yates won NASCAR Cup series championship as both an engine builder and owner. John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
Robert Yates won NASCAR Cup series championship as both an engine builder and owner. John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

ThatsRacin

Hall of Famer Robert Yates proved that professor wrong, and then some, as NASCAR icon

May 24, 2017 6:20 PM

One of Robert Yates’ professors back at Mars Hill was wrong, but he sure did something right by this future NASCAR Hall of Famer.

Yates was berated decades ago for paying more attention to engines than academia.

“He said, ‘Robert Yates will never amount to anything. He’s working on a tractor instead of studying,’ ” Yates recalled Wednesday, after being named one of five inductees to the 2018 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

As a race team owner, Robert Yates was involved with 57 wins in NASCAR’s top series and 48 poles. But he was much more than an owner ...

Yates was the top vote-getter, receiving 94 percent support from a board that included NASCAR officials, former and current drivers and media.

The other four, who will be inducted in January at the museum in uptown Charlotte:

▪ Red Byron, NASCAR’s first season champion in 1948.

▪ Ray Evernham, longtime crew chief with Rick Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon.

▪ Six-time trucks series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.

▪ Television and radio broadcaster Ken Squier.

▪ In addition, NASCAR vice chairman Jim France will receive the Landmark Award, for contributions to the sport.

As a race team owner, Yates was involved with 57 wins in NASCAR’s top series and 48 poles. But he was much more than an owner; starting out with Holman-Moody Racing in 1968, he made a reputation as a fine engine-builder for fellow Hall of Famer Junior Johnson.

Yates said modern NASCAR racers probably can’t relate to a time when everyone did a little of everything to make a team succeed.

I feel like I could get a jack and jump over the wall and be on the right side (of the race car.)

Robert Yates, 74, who has been battling liver cancer.

“Now it’s so specialized. I feel sorry for them. To be able to do all the things, and to invent some things, like gluing lug nuts – that was my idea and they still do it,” Yates recalled.

“We raced for the grandstands, and for a while we didn’t even know if (the fans) were there. What we worked for is to please the grandstands and ourselves, and to beat the other guy.

“This (honor) is about people you worked for, against and some you don’t know. When these (racing experts) vote for you, it’s a sincere vote.”

Yates, 74, has been battling liver cancer, but Wednesday’s announcement had him feeling like he could still be a member of a NASCAR pit crew.

“I feel like I could get a jack and jump over the wall and be on the right side” of the race car, Yates said. “I could jump pretty good back then. I can’t jump so high now. I don’t know if I’ll even sleep tonight, I feel so honored.”

Robert Yates’ family was hoping intensely he’d be chosen this year, but he had already considered the bright side if he wasn’t selected.

Yates’ family was hoping intensely he’d be chosen this year, but he had already considered the bright side if he wasn’t selected.

“I said, ‘I’m struggling with some stuff. But if I don’t get in, that’s a reason to work real hard so that I’ll be here next year to get in.’ That’s how I tried to look at it,” Yates said, tearing up.

Now he’s in, and this felt much like one of those 57 trips to victory lane.

“It’s really good to be here when you win,” Yates concluded. “It’s all about winning, right?”

Red Byron, seen here in 1948, was the first NASCAR Cup series champion, in 1949.
NASCAR Media NASCAR Media via Getty Images
Radio and television broadcaster Ken Squier, at center, in 1976, is the namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.
NASCAR Media NASCAR Media via Getty Images
Ron Hornaday Jr. is a four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.
JEFF SINER jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Three-time NASCAR Cup series championship crew chief Ray Evernham is one of the five members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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