Honoring a NASCAR Legend – Robert Yates

Lucy Atkinson

It was announced the other week that Robert Yates – successful team owner and genius engine builder – lost his battle with Liver cancer.

The 74-year-old was selected to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018. Yates was incredibly efficacious during his years working with NASCAR and his mechanical expertise was what led his cars to a mind-blowing 77 NASCAR premier series wins. Join CLICKON Motorsport as we honor this engineering, team-owning legend.

During his younger years, Yates discovered engines as a result of illness and injury. He was unable to play sports, and instead sought solace in the garage. Yates raced his own dragster in the 1950’s. His father, however, ended up taking his driving license off him because he was racing and failing grades.

Off the back of this, Yates moved away to live with his older sister. That’s when he discovered that maths opened up a new realm of possibilities when trying to make engines more powerful. This earned him a place on a mechanical engineering course at the Wilson Technical College.

He was so fast at breaking down and reassembling engines, that Holman-Moody – engine builders for NASCAR – hired him there and then. The year was 1967.

David Pearson – a legend who raced for Charlotte-based Holman-Moody Racing – explained Yates’s time within this role:

“Holman-Moody, they were basically the Ford engine factory and everyone there just did whatever the Ford people told them to do.

But there were a couple of guys who also did a little more than that and you knew you had one of their motors under the hood as soon as you jumped into the throttle.

Robert was one of those guys.” – David Pearson

Fast-forward to the mid 1980’s and Yates had become the general manager of Ranier-Lundy Racing. The team was on the edge of financial ruin. Yates bought and took over the team, before he rebranded it “Robert Yates Racing.” He had been convinced by Bobby Allison’s son, Davey, to do so. Davey then went on to drive for the team and unsurprisingly, they won immediately. In four and half seasons, they had collected an impressive 15 victories.

By 1992, Larry McReynolds had stepped in as crew chief and they won a further five races, plus the all new All-Star race.

These races were won despite Yates’s setbacks with a broken hand and a cracked rib. Unfortunately, they lost the Championship after arguably the most mind-blowingly chaotic season finale in stock car racing history ever. Reynolds remembers Yates’s involvement and dedication fondly:

“I’ve never seen a team owner so up in the middle of everything.

He can do that because he’s done all of the jobs there is to do.

And even when the sport was becoming overrun with computers and aerospace engineers, Robert could still go in that engine shop, look over those glasses of his, scribble down some notes… and the next weekend he’d have found five more horsepower in there somewhere.”- Larry McReynolds

The next season took a tragic turn when Davey Allison died in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway. Unsure about whether to shut the team down or not, the crew all came to the unanimous decision to continue competing, starting over on the following Monday after the funeral.

This was perhaps the biggest turning point in Yates’s career. With Ernie Irvan now on board as their new driver, the team won at Martinsville and Charlotte where Irvan led every single lap, bar six.

After five race wins and a near-death experience by Irvan, Jarrett took over the position until Irvan’s return in 1995 – expanding the team to two cars. The team wasted no time flexing their muscles and showing incredible strength.

The team won the Busch Clash at Daytona and the Daytona 500. They also won the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte and the Brickyard 400 at Michigan. They finished third in the points standings. It was 1999 when Yates finally scored his first Championship win as a NASCAR owner, with Jarrett as the driver. However, that’s not to say that this legend hadn’t won before, because his engines had undeniably been fast, furious and victorious.

2009 saw Yates leave the team ownership business as a result of the economic crash and continuously escalating costs. His heart still beat for NASCAR though and he loyally joined partners with an ex-rival, Jack Roush as an engine builder. Carrying on the legendary family name, Doug Yates now oversees Roush Yates Engines and is an engine builder, just like his prodigious father.

“That’s what I really can’t believe, is that my engines are still out there.

All these years later, you know, I’m old. But whenever I’m gone, to know that Doug is still at it.

To know that Yates name is still out there racing, and winning races, that’s more than a dream.

That’s all I ever wanted. Just be fast, man.” – Robert Yates

Fast is certainly what he created, with nimble hands and a phenomenal mind. The NASCAR world also agreed, when he received 94% of all votes that would induct him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was a humble man whose brilliance was rightfully recognized by NASCAR, and his name will live on despite the tragic loss of this engineering sensation.

Yates will go down in the history books and remain immortalized as a genius, thanks to his outstanding contribution to NASCAR and engineering. His dedication, hard work and brilliance was seen at every point of his fascinating life and he helped NASCAR become what it is today, thanks to his sharp mind and devotion to being freakishly fast.