Robert Yates, who rose from humble beginnings as one of nine children to become one of NASCAR’s most legendary figures and be selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, died Monday. He was 74.
Doug Yates announced on Twitter his father’s death on Twitter, saying: “My Dad and Hero … has passed and is with the Lord. Thanks for all the prayers and support.”
Robert Yates had fought liver cancer since October 2016.
Long considered one of the finest engine builders and individuals in the garage, Yates will forever be connected to many of the sport’s greatest drivers. He built engines that powered numerous Hall of Fame drivers to victories in addition to winning the sport’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, three times as a car owner.
“It seems a little odd that I’m sitting here as a member of the Hall of Fame and the only reason I am is because of that Yates family and what Robert Yates did as a car owner,” Dale Jarrett said on NBC Sports’ NASCAR America in 2016 when Yates was again named a nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“When I first went to Robert Yates Racing to drive in 1995, the first day I got there, Robert Yates was sweeping the floors, and so he did everything. But Robert Yates definitely needs to be a part of the Hall of Fame and sometime soon.”
Robert Yates was selected to the 2018 Class in May. He was selected on 94 percent of the ballots – the highest vote total since David Pearson was selected on the same percent of ballots in 2011 for the second class.
Yates retired from NASCAR at the end of the 2007 season, turning over ownership of Robert Yates Racing to his son. During his career, Robert Yates earned Daytona 500 victories with two different drivers, Jarrett and Davey Allison, as well as the 1999 series championship with Jarrett. Overall, Yates went to victory lane 57 times as a car owner.
In 1988, Yates started the team after purchasing Ranier-Lundy Racing. The team’s first win came a year later with Allison behind the wheel at Talladega Superspeedway. It was Allison who gave Yates his first Daytona 500. That same year, 1992, Allison won one of the most memorable All-Star Races in NASCAR history.
Doug Yates credits Allison as being the reason his father ever had a race team.
“My dad sold his house and put it all on the line, and that was all about Davey saying he was behind,” Doug said in 2011. “His thought was, don’t worry about me leaving you. We’re going to do this thing right and be successful together. That means a lot to us.”
In 1996, Yates expanded to a two-car operation with Jarrett and Ernie Irvan. Between 1996-99, the organization earned 21 wins, including the 1996 and ’99 Brickyard 400s. Jarrett captured Yates’ his first and only series championship as an owner in 1999.
Elliott Sadler joined the organization in 2003. A year later, he delivered Yates two race wins and a berth in the inaugural Chase for the Championship. Fittingly, it was Jarrett who earned Yates’ final win as a car owner in 2005 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The real genius of Yates, however, was under the hood. Yates started his career as an engine builder for Holman-Moody Racing in 1968. Soon, Yates was working for Junior Johnson and assembling engines for the likes of Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison. Yates powered Allison to the 1983 championship for DiGard Racing.
In 2003, Yates partnered with Jack Roush and Ford to form Roush Yates Engines. The company provides engines for teams in all three NASCAR national series.
Among Yates’ accolades as engine builder are victories in the 1969 and 1982 Daytona 500 and being the engine builder for Richard Petty’s 199 and 200th victories. In 2000, Yates was presented with the Bill France Award of Excellence. Yates had been a nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame since 2014.
“Robert Yates (who looks like Robert Redford) never appears to be in a hurry, never appears to get flustered, and is not the kind of guy who you’d think could get anything done, but he’s worked magic everywhere he’s gone in racing,” former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler wrote in his book Growing up NASCAR: Racing’s Most Outrageous Promoter Tells All. “Yates is the epitome of the generation of owners we have in NASCAR who started out as a crew chief. He’s in the same line as Bud Moore and Glen Wood.”
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Born: April 19, 1943
NASCAR Championships: 1983 (engine builder), 1999 (car owner)
Wins: 134 (engine builder and car owner)
Daytona 500 wins: 3 (1992, 1996, 2000)
Coca-Cola 600 wins: 2 (1991, 1996)
Contributing: Kelly Crandall and Dustin Long
Statement from Tony Stewart:
“Our sport lost one of the most inventive minds and kindest personalities in Robert Yates. I’m glad I got to know him and proud our race team was able to honor him this year at Darlington. He leaves a strong legacy that is carried on by his son, Doug, and all of their employees at Roush Yates Engines. While Robert will certainly be missed, he will always be remembered.”
Statement from Dave Pericak, Global Director, Ford Performance
“Robert Yates knew the value of hard work and earned everything he achieved in life. Not only was Robert a legendary engine builder and championship car owner, but he was a husband, father, grandfather and loyal Ford man who left an unmeasurable impact on those who knew him.
“He was a respected and valued member of the Ford family and co-founder of Roush Yates Engines, and while we’ll miss the wisdom he possessed for working on engines and race cars, we will miss his caring demeanor and friendship even more.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Robert’s wife, Carolyn, his two children, Doug and Amy, and his eight grandchildren.”
Statement from NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley:
“First and foremost, on behalf of everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we send our sincere condolences to Carolyn, Doug, Amy and the entire Yates family. Robert Yates was enormously successful as a winning and championship engine builder and car owner in his professional life in NASCAR, earning him a well-deserved selection as a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee in the Class of 2018. It was such a pleasure to experience the joy Robert, Carolyn and the entire Yates family felt upon his selection to the Hall of Fame this past May. He will forever be remembered for the incredible horsepower his powerful engines produced that were always feared by his competitors; for the championships with Hall of Famers David Pearson (1968, 1969), Bobby Allison (1983) and Dale Jarrett (1999) and numerous wins with a host of drivers including other fellow Hall of Famers Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen and Richard Petty and nominees Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd to name a few. But he will be remembered even more as a winning and championship caliber person. He was among the most respected and beloved members of the NASCAR community—gracious, humble, genuine and a true gentleman. He will be dearly missed, but his impact and legacy on NASCAR and the many fortunate enough to know him will live with us forever. Again, we offer our sincere condolences to the entire Yates family.”
Statement from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France
“Robert Yates excelled in multiple NASCAR disciplines, earning the respect of an entire industry and an everlasting place in the hearts and minds of the NASCAR fanbase. His excellence spanned decades, from the 1983 championship powered by his engines and the 1999 title captured by the cars he owned, both of which helped earn him a deserved spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018.
“And though he was a master at his craft, it was Robert’s passion and character that endeared him to every single person he encountered and will ensure that his memory will live on for generations. On behalf of my family and all of NASCAR, I extend heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of a NASCAR
Statement from Edsel B. Ford II, Member of the Board of Directors, Ford Motor Company
“We at Ford are collectively saddened to have learned the news of the passing of Robert Yates. Robert, by any measure, was a valued and respected member of our family. His many accomplishments included winning the NASCAR championship in 1999 and being selected for the class of 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame. I am proud to have been a part of both of those events but most meaningful to me was our friendship which spanned over 20 years.
“First and foremost an engine guy, Robert will be remembered as a person who helped build the sport with dedication and hard work. His legacy at NASCAR will be defined by his roles as an engine builder, championship team owner, co-founder of Roush Yates Engines and ultimately by the innovation that he brought to all of these endeavors and more. Much like my great grandfather, Henry Ford, Robert was a tinkerer. They both leave behind a legion of admirers and friends who benefited from their mentorship and their passion. We at Ford offer our sincere condolences to Robert’s wife Carolyn, his son Doug, daughter Amy and his eight grandchildren.”