Sunday’s race is at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.
Dale Jarrett cried beforehand while preparing. Edsel Ford II cried during, as did countless attendees at Friday night’s annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.
They cried not just about the induction of legendary team owner and engine building genius Robert Yates, but also the touching and profound words Yates left as his legacy.
Knowing that his long battle with cancer could potentially take him from us before the induction – which it ultimately did on October 2, more than three months ago – Robert Yates left the NASCAR world with an emotional gift: some of his final words.
Before he passed away at the age of 74, Yates hand-picked fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to read those words, a task that was both a great honor but also very emotional for Jarrett, who won a NASCAR Cup championship and Daytona 500 while driving for Yates.
“It was an honor for the Yates family to ask me to do that and to be a part,” said Jarrett, now a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports. “It was a very difficult thing to do. (It took) a number of reads before I could get through it, as you could imagine.
“This was someone that we could have spent the entire two hours talking about how special of a man and hard worker Robert Yates was. He’s exactly what this Hall of Fame is about, that type of person that started at the bottom, worked his way to the top, and there’s nobody that’s been as good as him ever in this business.”
Jarrett said he wished it would have been Yates who was inducted into the Hall in 2014 so he could enjoy the moment, rather than Jarrett.
“Speaking strictly from a personal standpoint, I look at this, that I wish he could have been the one going in in 2014. It would have only been fitting that he was in here in the Hall of Fame before I was, and we could have heard that speech from his mouth and in his words.
“But I was honored to do that, and when I look at it and think about it, a lot of us drivers were fortunate to drive for Robert and Doug Yates and the Yates family and what they’ve meant to me. But in my case, he took an average driver that had a huge heart and a huge desire to win and made me think that I could do extraordinary things.
“I’m appreciative of that and the opportunity that he gave me to win races and a championship, and a special night for the Yates family.”
Here’s Robert Yates’ full, touching induction acceptance speech, in his own words, that were read Friday by Dale Jarrett:
“When I started in racing, this was not the goal. 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 part of this year’s induction class is a true honor.
‘There are a lot of other people I want to thank because this isn’t really about me; it’s about those who gave me the opportunity to do something I love.
“I 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. When you get to know people like Edsel, you realize that you’re always part of the Ford family, and that means a lot.
“Working in the Holman Moody engine shop turned out to be the best education I could ever ask for. 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.
“Junior Johnson is a man of few words, but I’ll never forget, we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway one day, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Robert, I’ve got to have you.’ 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 learned what it was like to run a race team in 1976, when I took over as general manager for DiGard Racing. I worked with Hall of Famers like Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison and had 10 great years there.
“The Allisons 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 Harry Ranier Racing, 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.’
“Losing Davey was painful. We shed a lot of tears and didn’t know how we would move on, but we did. As NASCAR started to move to more multi-car teams, Ford approached me about running the Quality Care car in 1995.
“I never liked the idea of two cars. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and I always talked about how, until they made 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 well.
“We hired Dale Jarrett on a handshake deal done at the Raceway Grill in Darlington. We didn’t sign a contract until several months later.
“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.
“I’m also extremely blessed to have my assistant Kristi Jones. She’s meant so much to me and our family.
“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.
“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 that was the first time I studied and made straight A’s.
“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.
“When I was working for Junior Johnson, I would take Doug to the shop. 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. He could sort them out and put them all in the right bin.
“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, 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 handlebars and say, “Faster, Dad, faster.” 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. 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.
“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.
“I never prayed to win a race. I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions. My creator didn’t always give me what I asked for, but he gave me more than I deserved.
“I thank you for this great honor. Good night, and God bless.”
Ray Evernham has been successful in virtually everything he’s done in his life.
That includes an amateur boxer, race car driver, 3-time NASCAR Cup championship crew chief, Cup team owner, TV and radio personality, racetrack owner, businessman and so much more.
But nothing will ever personify and speak to Evernham’s career success like Friday night’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It’s without question the pinnacle of his career, celebrating a man who has done so much in the sport – as well as for the sport.
“You dream about it and you work hard to get there, and the whole time you’re doing it you never really think that you could ever make a mark in a sport that would get you at this level,” Evernham told reporters after his induction.
“I can tell you it still really blows me away. To stand up on top of that stage there and look at the banner and look at the people sitting there in front of me and when I turned around people were on their feet and clapping, it was like very surreal.
“It was just like being in a movie. I thought, ‘Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ But I can tell you it’s the greatest moment of my career.”
Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ … It’s the greatest moment of my career.” — Ray Evernham
Evernham was presented for induction into the Hall by Jeff Gordon. When asked how much of a role he played in Evernham’s career, Gordon was gracious in his reply.
“I think (Evernham) played a larger role in my career,” Gordon said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of this.
“What he’s meant to me with my driving career and as a friend because of all we’ve gone through – I mean, we’ve seen one another go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, on the track or off the track.
“And when you go through that and you have the kind of relationship that we had, the business relationship that then turned into the friendship, when you see somebody honored like Ray was tonight, which is so deserving – this guy sacrificed – I think that’s why I love seeing people.
“Listen, don’t get me wrong; I love seeing the drivers. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, all of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But to me, the drivers already get a lot of rewards or accolades or written up, but guys like Ray, even though he got his fair share, but it was never enough for the effort, the sacrifices and the things that he did to make that car, the team and me really shine the way that it did.”
While Gordon and Evernham teamed together for the first time in Gordon’s NASCAR Cup debut, the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, something magical happened when they first got together two years earlier in a 1990 test.
“I knew it immediately, we just clicked,” Evernham said of Gordon. “I liked him a lot and he liked me. We spoke the same language. He was a kid, might have been 19.
“I had seen the best drivers in the world. I knew talent. What I saw him do that day at Charlotte with the car that we had that wasn’t that special, I believe it was a Buck Baker school car we went and tested with, and he was quick, I think second quick overall that day to Davey Allison.
“He did some pretty amazing things, and the way that he spoke to me and the way that he described what the car was doing and what he needed in the car, I thought to myself, this guy is way too young. That’s not experience; that’s pure talent and that’s ability.”
“It was the same for me,” Gordon said. “It clicked right away. … I came home from that test, and I just said, ‘You’re not going to believe this guy.’ He had a clipboard. He’s writing down every word that I say, and he’s like, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this, we’re going to put this spring in.’
“I was like, ‘What’s that going to do?’ I didn’t know anything about springs or shocks. I was racing dirt sprint cars and midgets. He said, ‘Well, it should do this,’ and I’d go in the corner, and it did it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is a genius.’ So we clicked immediately.”
Evernham, now 60, admits that his induction had him choked up.
“It’s been emotional to me,” he said. “I mean, certainly you look at this as a cap-off on your career, and you look back, as I said – I meant it when I said I’ve seen some of the toughest, most articulate guys we know stand on that stage and be emotional.
“Tonight it’s very special to me because Ray J (Evernam’s son) was up there, Jeff was up there and Ben Kennedy, again, because his dad Bruce and I were close, to have all three of them up on the stage. When I walked up there, I said, I hope I can get through it without crying, but that’s normally Jeff’s deal. But I get it.
“It’s a tremendous, tremendous honor, and when you start to … when you realize that it really is all about the people and the relationships that you’ve made, because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies, man.
“When you win at the Cup level, you get to enjoy it for four days, and then there’s 39 more guys trying to knock you off that pedestal. They’re not going to let you have fun. Friday morning, it’s back to square one.
“The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people. … That’s what’s really special about the Hall of Fame, because this is forever.”
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The call came “out of the blue” in November.
The name “Horny” flashed on Wayne Auton’s phone.
The nickname belonged to Ron Hornaday Jr., four-time Camping World Truck Series champion and one of Auton’s closet friends.
Earlier in the year, the former Truck Series director and current manager of the Xfinity Series had been the one to call Hornaday and let Hornaday know he was one of the nominees for the 2018 class in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“Hey, buddy, I need you to do something for me,” Hornaday said. “I want you to induct me into the Hall of Fame.”
Auton needed a moment.
“Ron, did you just say what I thought you said?” He eventually responded.
“Damn man, you need to let somebody in your family do that.”
“No, you are my family.”
Auton began crying.
For two days Hornaday couldn’t sleep.
The 59-year-old native of Palmdale, California, fretted over the speech he’d give Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center as the first Truck Series champion to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“This is really the crown jewel of everything he’s done,” Hornaday’s wife, Lindy Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He was scared he was going to forget somebody and I said, ‘Everybody knows you and they know that you’re thankful to everybody. So don’t thank anybody specifically. Just thank them all.'”
Friday morning, Hornaday woke up without a speech set in stone.
“I got up at 9 o’clock this morning and it was like *makes gagging noises*,” Hornaday said. “I walked away, took a deep breath, come back and I couldn’t do it again. And I said to hell with it. When I started seeing my friends and family, something will come to me instead of trying to read this speech off that prompter. I got back to the room and I’ve never had an anger deal, I don’t know what it’s called in your stomach, but my stomach was turning over so bad. I was regurgitating air for about four hours. I finally fell asleep for a little while. My wife wanted to go to lunch. I sent her with all the family to lunch. I finally thought about thinking about what this really means and still didn’t know what it meant until I started seeing friends, family, peers, the Hall of Famers. They really just got me into a different mood. I did that one sober. Usually I get a couple of beers in me before I speak.
“Everybody’s telling me, ‘be yourself, take your time.’ How can you do that? It’s the freakin’ Hall of Fame!”
Those are the same words Hornaday bellowed at the beginning of his unscripted speech, with both arms raised high.
“That was the best part about the whole thing,” Hornaday said. “Had to break the ice, just to get somebody to giggle. And I knew I could get on a roll.”
Hornaday said he only forgot to mention Chevrolet, the manufacturer he earned all 55 of his NASCAR wins with.
During the two days Hornaday fretted over his speech, Auton was with him.
The two first encountered each other in 1995, the inaugural season of the Truck Series.
“He was there at every one of my wins,” Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He’s the one that gave me the words of wisdom, he’s the one that pulled me down and closed doors and told me what I had done wrong on the race track. He’s the one that chewed my butt out, he’s the one that when he got all done and said I’d chew his butt out. We got all done and said and we’d get a beer together.”
For 18 years, the two were “friends, enemies and warriors,” said Auton.
“Whether he won, whether he lost … when we were inside the gate we had a job to do,” Auton said. “When we walked outside the gate we were very good friends. We had to have a beer together. Cold beverage. We knew each other’s family like they were our own.”
Leading up to the ceremony, the two pestered each other about what the other would say when the time came.
“I said, ‘Ron, I just hope I don’t pee in my pants,'” Auton said.
“When he was up there speaking, I seen him shaking pretty good,” Hornaday said. “I’m glad I got back to him and made him as nervous as I was.”
Standing on the auditorium floor afterward, Auton described the moment as “the biggest honor” he could ask for.
“I’ll never top that.”
When they left the stage, it took them awhile to get back to their seats.
Auton said they stopped to have a cold Coors Light.
A Toyota Racing Development executive says that the manufacturer would accept a spec engine in the Camping World Truck Series, noting how valuable that series is for the development of drivers.
David Wilson, president of TRD, made the comments Friday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
NASCAR tested a spec engine for the Truck series multiple times last year and it is expected to be optional this season.
Wilson admits the spec engine idea has raised concerns among manufacturers.
“It is a little bit of a sensitive issue with all the manufactures,’’ Wilson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Arguably the biggest single piece of (intellectual property) in any car or truck is the engine, so certainly that’s important to us.
“By the same token we understand the bigger picture. We have been working with NASCAR, all the (manufacturers) have been working with NASCAR to make sure that we keep this series going because here’s the bottom line — while our motivation to run in Trucks has changed over the years, it remains an absolute critical step in how we as an industry develop drivers.
“The leap from ARCA or K&N or Super Late Models straight to Xfinity, that’s too big of a leap. You need a step and that Truck Series is a very important step. You look the drivers that have come through just in our camp — Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez — that experience in the Truck garage has been absolutely critical in preparing them to be successful in Xfinity and ultimately in Cup. We’re going to continue to take a big picture approach with the Truck Series and work with our friends at NASCAR. If there are some spec engines that have to be under a Tundra hood, so be it, we’ll be OK.’’
Last year’s Xfinity champion and rookie of the year, William Byron, ran a full season in Trucks in 2016. Erik Jones, the 2016 Xfinity rookie of the year, ran 17 Truck races before his Xfinity debut. Daniel Suarez, the 2017 Xfinity rookie of the year, had run only one Truck race before his Xfinity rookie season but he also ran 13 Truck races while competing in Xfinity that first year.
Those young drivers also illustrate Toyota’s emphasis on new talent. But with only five seats — four with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Furniture Row Racing — with Cup teams partnered with TRD, Toyota is having a hard time finding spots for all its drivers.
Wilson said the manufacturer remains committed to developing drivers.
“It’s a commitment that Toyota has made to NASCAR and to motorsports,’’ he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We enjoy a tremendous amount of value. NASCAR is simply a phenomenal place for us to race. This is part of our payback.
“We feel like we have the social responsibility to give back to the series. We know we’ll lose as many of these young guys and gals as we’ll be able to keep because we simply won’t have enough seats for them. That’s just simple math. It’s already been proven out by William Byron (who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports in Trucks before moving to Chevrolet in Xfinity and now Cup). We’ll be racing against William, who used to be in a Toyota.
“Bottom line this sport still benefits. As I’ve said before, getting to know these young kids and getting to know their parents at a young age and as they’re coming up in the sport, I believe that will pay dividends. These kids can have a career that spans decades. Who’s to say that we won’t cross paths again? By us building that relationship early on, showing them who we are … the responsibly we have to their well-being, I think it’s a sound investment.’’