Editor’s note: NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 Inductee Robert Yates died Oct. 2, 2017, following a lengthy battle with liver cancer. Yates wrote his Hall of Fame speech before his passing, and portions of it were played on video during his Jan. 19 induction. The entirety of his speech is below and unedited.
When I started in racing this was not the goal. Now don’t get me wrong, you’re not getting this jacket off my back anytime soon, but what I mean is that all I wanted to do throughout my career was win races. I would always say, “I don’t race for the money. I race to win.” For me, that’s what it’s always been about, but to be included with Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Squier and Red Byron as part of this year’s induction class is a true honor.
So, I want to thank Winston Kelley and his staff at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and members of the voting committee for making this such a special time in my life.
I also want to thank Bill France Jr. He loaded me up with wisdom through the years and while some of our conversations were tough, he taught me things about this sport that were invaluable.
And Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company for all their support through the years. When you get to know people like Edsel, you realize that you’re always part of the Ford family and that means a lot.
There are a lot of other people I want to thank tonight because this isn’t really about me, it’s about those who pushed me in the right direction and gave me the opportunity to do something I love.
I’ll begin with Jay Kepley. He was my service station manager at Western Carolina Tractor and I was a 24-year-old heavy equipment mechanic. He heard that Holman Moody wanted to interview me for a position, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Then he told me, “Robert, if you don’t go and interview for that job, I’ll kick your butt.”
So, I went to Holman Moody and met Jack Sullivan, who was Fred Lorenzen’s crew chief and was in charge of the engine shop. He showed me around the shop and told me what I would be doing, so I took the job.
That turned out to be the best education I could ever ask for. I learned about engines and got the experience to work on things like the BOSS 429. We worked day and night, but if it wasn’t for people like Jack Sullivan, John Holman and Ralph Moody, I wouldn’t have developed the skills I needed to be successful.
We all know that Junior Johnson is a man of few words. I’ll never forget, we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway one day while I was still at Holman Moody and he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Robert, I’ve got to have you.” So, we worked out a deal where he basically allowed me to run my own shop, and nobody appreciated what I did during that time more than him, so Junior, thank you.
I got the chance to learn what it was like to run a race team in 1976 when I took over as general manager for DiGard Racing. I got to work with Hall of Famers like Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, and had 10 great years there.
I got out of the sport briefly to work on alternative fuels, but started my own engine shop in the mid-eighties. We were doing pretty good and then one day I got a phone call from Lee Morse at Ford. He said, “Waddell Wilson is leaving to go to Hendrick and Harry Ranier needs somebody. He wants you.” At the same time Rick Hendrick wanted me, so on the way to meet Harry I got a phone call from Gary Nelson, who was working for Rick at the time and knew what was going on. He told me not to make any decision with Harry because Rick wanted to talk with me.
So, I walk into the meeting with Harry and Robert Lundy and they wanted me to come and run their place. They said I could keep the engine shop, but I wanted to think it over. Then they said, “Look, we’re gonna offer you this one time. When you walk out the door it’s over.” So I decided to take the job. Rick, you’ve done all right since then, so I hope you forgive me.
But that decision ultimately led to the opportunity to buy the team two years later, and I’ll never forget the two men who helped me the most during that time.
When Harry told me he was going to have to sell, I spent a lot of time trying to find people who might be interested in buying it. Well, one day Davey Allison and I were sitting on the wall at Charlotte and I said, ‘Davey, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m looking for people to help, but haven’t had any luck.’ And Davey said, “Why don’t you buy it?”
So I had that thought going through my head and then a few days later I was at Richmond talking with Leonard Wood. I told him what was going on and that I wasn’t sure I could do it. He looked at me and said, “You may only get this chance one time. Don’t let it slip away. Do it or else you’ll regret it the rest of your life.” That had a huge effect on me and motivated me to find a way to make the deal, so Leonard, thank you.
I mentioned the Allisons and they have been a big part of my life. I won a championship with Bobby in 1983 at DiGard, and then got to work with Davey, who was always so positive. When I bought the team, I knew other people wanted to hire him, so we talked about it and he said to me, “Robert, ‘I’ll always work for you. You don’t ever have to worry about me.”
Davey was top-notch from the get-go. He was a fast learner and he and Bobby were like family. Losing Davey was painful. We shed a lot of tears and didn’t know how we would move on, but we did. There was a lot of uncertainty, but Texaco assured me they would stick with us. They were a great partner and I cherish that relationship to this day.
One person who played a big role at that time was Larry McReynolds. You need strong leaders in times of adversity and he was that guy for us. We hired Ernie Irvan and became championship contenders. Thank you Larry for all you did and for being the glue that kept us together.
As NASCAR started to move to more multi-car teams, Ford approached me about running the Quality Care car in 1995. The first thing I said is if you run second to Earnhardt, you’ve lost the race. You’ve got to beat Earnhardt. I never liked the idea of two cars. Dale Sr. and I always talked about how until they make two places for cars in Victory Lane, you only need one. So, I wasn’t fond of running a second team, but it worked out good.
We hired Dale Jarrett as the driver and cut the deal at the Raceway Grill outside Darlington Raceway. We shook hands right there and didn’t actually sign a contract for several months. Todd Parrott came on as crew chief and everything just clicked. We won the Daytona 500 in 1996 in our first race together and then won the championship in 1999. It was a special time in my life with a special group of people, so to you Dale, Todd and everyone who worked at Robert Yates Racing, or in our engine shop, you have my deepest appreciation.
We continued to win races, after our championship, in our Ford cars but our biggest contribution may have been introducing the Big Brown Truck. UPS joined us as a primary sponsor and they were just great people to work with, so I want to recognize and thank them as well.
After being retired from racing for five years, I was asked by NASCAR to help build the Spec Engine Program and ensure weekly racers have affordable and competitive engines. I put retirement on hold, dusted off my tools and equipment. Thank you NASCAR for partnering with me to make this a successful program and to my Robert Yates Racing Engines team for continuing to share my engine building passion.
I’m extremely blessed to have my assistant, Kristi Jones. She grew up NASCAR racing, has the ability to say NO when I need to hear it and provides legal savvy in all of the businesses. You mean a lot to me and our family.
This sport is nothing without the people in the grandstands, so thank you for your continued passion and support, and thank you for making NASCAR the great sport it is today.
To this point I’ve talked about some of the people who have made a difference in my career, but none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the people who made a difference in my life – my family.
I was born right here in Charlotte and was the youngest of nine children.
My brothers and sisters were all good students, but I didn’t care about going to school. I was the only kid in my family that didn’t make straight A’s.
That’s when my sister, Martha Brady, stepped in. I moved from Charlotte to Wake Forest and lived with her. She told me what classes I was going to take and when I got home from school she made me study. That was the first time I studied and made straight A’s. She was a foreign missionary doing home mission work on me, and it worked.
My sister, Doris Roberts, talked to me about going to Wilson Tech and that was the best two years of school I ever had. I loved physics and geometry. So if it wasn’t for my two sisters, I don’t know where I’d be today.
Another person I want to thank is my twin brother, Richard Yates. He’s been a big part of my life and I love him dearly.
My children, Doug and Amy, along with my grandkids – Lane, Christian, Olivia, Sophia, Ethan, Nicholas, Brody & Caroline.
When I was working for Junior I would take Doug to the shop sometimes. He was still in diapers, but the floor was clean, so I would put him down there and he would sort out nuts and bolts. I mean, he could sort them out and put them all in the right bin, so right then I knew he was destined for a career in racing. Little did I know that would include working side-by-side with him for 20 years. Doug, you’ve earned everything you’ve ever gotten in life, and I couldn’t be prouder of the man you are today. I love you.
I used to give Amy rides on my dirt bike when she was only two years old. She would sit in front of me and laugh and hold the handle bars and say, “Faster dad, faster.” And when I would come home every night for supper, she would crawl on my lap and I had to give her 30 minutes. Once I gave her 30 minutes, she was ready to go to bed. She’s a great mom to her four kids and the sweetest daughter a dad could ever ask for. Amy, you’re my baby doll and I love you.
Doug and Amy have given Carolyn and I eight wonderful grandkids. Your futures are bright and I love each of you dearly.
It’s been 51 years since I took a four-day leave from the Army and made the best decision of my life – I married Carolyn. I warned her that if we got married I’d be a mechanic, but she’s been by my side ever since and has supported me every step of the way. I worked all hours of the day and night, but she never called to say, ‘Get home.’ She let me work. She worked, too. She ran our souvenir business, but the most important work she did was raising Doug and Amy. Carolyn, I don’t know where the time has gone, but it seems like yesterday we were in a one-bedroom apartment trying to make ends meet. You’re the light of my life. You’ve always been there for me, particularly this past year your devotion reminded me of our vows “in sickness and in health”, and I love you.
Another person who has always been there for me is my creator. I never prayed to win a race, I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions. He’s always been there and never failed me. He didn’t always give me what I asked for, but He gave me more than I deserved.
So, once again, thank you for this great honor. Good night and God Bless.