Robert Yates Racing

McSwain talks to Ricky Rudd at Richmond in 2002. Photo: Getty Images.

Where Are They Now? Catching up with ‘Fatback’ McSwain

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Michael “Fatback” McSwain has spent his life as a man of principle.

That was true during his 16-season tenure in NASCAR, most notably as a Cup crew chief for several drivers, including Hall of Famers Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte, Hall nominee Ricky Rudd, and teams like Wood Brothers Racing, Robert Yates Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

McSwain was a mechanical wizard who also wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, even if it sometimes meant conflicts with NASCAR and his own drivers.

Nothing showed McSwain’s principles more than when he just one day up and walked away from NASCAR. There was no victory lap, no goodbye tour, nothing. He was just there one day, gone the next.

By choice.

As important as NASCAR was in his life, his family was more important.

“One day, (former crew chief) Jimmy Fennig came up to me at New Hampshire (Motor Speedway),” McSwain told NBC Sports. “We had had our first child, a daughter, and my wife was pregnant with our second child. Jimmy told me, ‘The sport has been good to both of us, but I want to give you some advice. My kids are graduating high school and I don’t even know any of their friend’s names.’ That sunk in with me.

“Then, my daughter had got to where she had just started talking and didn’t want me to go (on the road again). The sport has been good to all of us, but I realized that there’s no way I could do both the way I thought I needed to do it. That time, if you were a crew chief, it was a 24/7 job. I chose to walk away.”

He even states it on his Twitter page: “I left racing to be with my wife and kids.”

Given that he’s worked on cars all his life, McSwain decided to open an auto repair business post-NASCAR, named appropriately enough, Fatback’s Tire and Auto Repair in August 2008 in Dallas, North Carolina.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” McSwain said. “I had never been in a retail business. You have to treat people with kid gloves. Back then, you had to treat a driver, an owner and sponsors that way. Now you have to treat everybody that walks into those doors with kid gloves.”

McSwain admits he misses NASCAR “big time. I miss the people and the lifestyle, I enjoyed it. I worked my whole life to get there, but I was missing my kids more, so I felt I had to choose. I’m an all-in kind of guy so I didn’t think I had a choice, I had to choose one or the other.”

McSwain’s children are now 15, 13 and 10. As they grow, he admits he may entertain coming back to the sport at some point.

“I’m still pretty young, I’m only 53 years old,” he said. “So I’ve got time for one more shot.”

But he acknowledges that if he were to return, it would be a challenge.

“It’d be like starting over because everything has changed so much,” he said. “But maybe sometime in the next couple years, it’d be a good time (to return) because they’re changing cars again.

“My kids are old enough now where there’s still some things I don’t want to miss, but I don’t know if I would say no (to returning to NASCAR). It’d have to be the right situation, but it would be a challenge. I started out when I was young, worked my guts out to get there and then I walked away from it.”

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While selling and fixing tires and auto repairs make up the majority of his business these days, McSwain has gone back to racing somewhat, just not as a crew chief.

“There are several dirt tracks around here,” he said. “We have a trailer we take to the race tracks to service the tracks and teams on Saturday nights, supply tires and fuel and parts. It started out as a little fun thing to now where it’s turned into a big part of our business.”

Never one to be afraid to voice his opinion, McSwain says he’s considered writing a book about his NASCAR career, one that included 330 races as a Cup Series crew chief, with five wins, 59 top-five and 102 top-10 finishes and nine poles.

He has plenty of highlights he’d likely include. Right at the top would be his first career win as a crew chief for Robert Yates Racing in 2001 when Rudd took the checkered flag on June 17 at Pocono Raceway in the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford.

“We had won every practice, sat on the pole and won the race,” McSwain recalled. “We weren’t even supposed to be there and yet we did.

“The car was thrown out back at the 88 shop (teammate Dale Jarrett’s team) for scrap, I swear to God. But it had a certain characteristic that we liked about a chassis and the way it was built.

“It matched one of our other favorite cars, so we asked Robert (Yates) if we could have it and he said, ‘Yeah, they don’t want it anymore.’ We took it back to the shop, made a few changes to it and it won at Pocono and sat on the pole at Indy (the previous year). It was our money maker.”

Rudd would go on to win two races in 2001 and finish fourth in the standings.

“That was a storybook year for us,” McSwain said. “We ran good and kicked butt everywhere we went, but we weren’t supposed to.”

Another of McSwain’s favorite memories was when Morgan Shepherd finished third at Atlanta in 1997 with minimal sponsorship.

“I was the only guy who knew how to set up a car and who knew how to build shocks,” McSwain said with a chuckle.

Then there’s Martinsville Speedway, which was the biggest thorn in McSwain’s side during his career. He visited the .526-mile paperclip oval 19 times as a crew chief, with the best showings being two runner-up finishes with Labonte and another with Rudd.

“Martinsville was my curse, the race I never won,” he said. “I worked on or was crew chief on cars good enough to win there I can’t tell you how many times with Ricky and Bobby. We finished in the top five. I absolutely loved it but never won there.”

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McSwain’s first job in the sport was as a mechanic for Lake Speed in 1992. He left NASCAR after the 2007 season.

He’s attended four races since, the Daytona 500 from 2008-10 and one race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But McSwain hasn’t lost his opinion about the sport.

“NASCAR is a great sport but I hate to see it where it is,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll ever be where it was in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

Michael ‘Fatback’ McSwain in 2002 at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo By Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Although he doesn’t go to races any longer, McSwain still keeps up with the sport, usually through watching on TV.

He also remains in regular contact with several NASCAR notables including Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Mike Helton and the Wood Brothers:  “I love the Wood Brothers like family,” he said.

Even though he’s been gone from the sport for more than a decade, NASCAR fans have not forgotten McSwain. He still gets letters and emails, along with fans who regularly stop by his garage to take a photo with and get an autograph from him.

“It’s cool, man,” he said with emphasis. “A couple weeks ago I got a message from a guy in Wisconsin that included a trading card he wanted me to sign. I always try to send them back a note and tell them I appreciate it and hope God blesses them. It’s just humbling, man.

“One of the best parts of my job in NASCAR was signing autographs, hanging out and talking with the fans. I’d think about it and why would they want my autograph? I’m just a redneck from Latimore, North Carolina. I grew up in just a little farm town on 15 acres. I lived to race. I did it because I loved it. I’m just lucky, man.”

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Roush Fenway Racing honoring Robert Yates at Phoenix with special paint scheme

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Roush Fenway Racing will honor the late Robert Yates this weekend at Phoenix Raceway with a classic Robert Yates Racing paint scheme.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 17 Ford will be inspired by the Havoline sponsored No. 28 Ford Davey Allison won with at Phoenix in 1991 and 1992.

The logo of Robert Yates Racing, which won 57 Cup races and 48 pole positions, will be on the hood of the car.

Via: Roush Fenway Racing

Yates died on Oct. 2 at 74 after a battle with liver cancer. Yates, who won the 1999 Cup title with Dale Jarrett, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January.

In 2003, Yates and Jack Roush formed Roush Yates Engines, the exclusive provider of engines for Ford NASCAR teams.

“The entire NASCAR Community has lost a pillar of our sport with the passing of Robert Yates,” Roush said in a press release. “Robert was true to all he held dear – a fierce competitor, a dedicated and inspired leader and a passionate family man. For me he was the type of competitor that brought out the best in everyone around him and he was a wonderful partner and friend. I am very fortunate to have been able to team up with, and learn from, Robert Yates.”

Stenhouse, who has taken Roush-Yates engines to victory lane twice the year (Talladega, Daytona II), will look to give Ford its second Phoenix win since 2013. His best finish at the 1-mile track in nine starts is fourth last March. It’s his only finish better than 12th at the track.

“It’s really cool to be able to honor Robert with our car in Phoenix,” Stenhouse said in a press release. “He’s meant so much to NASCAR, and to have him ride along with us this weekend will be really special for everyone at the shop.”

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Former NASCAR champion car owner Robert Yates dies at 74

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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. 

MORE: Hall of Fame selection is special for father and son 

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.”

Robert Yates

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

Born: April 19, 1943

NASCAR Championships: 1983 (engine builder), 1999 (car owner)

Wins: 134 (engine builder and car owner)

Poles: 48

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.”

Bump & Run: Favorite throwback paint schemes for Southern 500

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1. What is the Throwback paint scheme you’re looking forward the most to see this weekend at Darlington Raceway?

(Images here)

Nate Ryan: Danica Patrick’s Ford Credit No. 10. It’s a true throwback that pays homage to a champion who always carried himself well in and out of the car. Though most fans probably associate Dale Jarrett with UPS, this is the primary sponsor that evokes the fondest memories of DJ’s career for me.

Dustin Long: Matt DiBenedetto’s car resembles Bobby Allison’s 1988 Miller High Life car, which was one of my favorite cars. Dylan Lupton’s Xfinity car, which resembles Jeff Gordon’s “Rainbow Warrior” paint scheme also looks sharp.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer‘s Carolina Ford Dealers scheme, which is what Mark Martin drove from 1988-91 in the Xfinity Series. It hits that very specific sweet spot of looking both incredibly tacky in a way only a late 80s/early 90s scheme could while looking awesome at the same time.

Jerry Bonkowski: Nothing looks cooler or more intimidating than a black car. And when it channels the fabled “Midnight” car Rusty Wallace used to drive in the mid-1990s, it’s all the more badass. That’s why I’m picking Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford as the scheme I’m looking forward to the most at Darlington.

2. What’s another underdog win in NASCAR that compares to Jeremy Clements’ victory at Road America?

Nate Ryan: It ranks as the biggest upset since David Gilliland’s 2006 victory at Kentucky Speedway. That win catapulted Gilliland into a Cup ride with Robert Yates Racing. Clements has paid his dues to be deserving of a similar shot with a decent team.

Dustin Long: David Gilliland’s 2006 Xfinity win at Kentucky Speedway in an unsponsored car for a team that went away after that season. 

Daniel McFadin: Greg Sacks winning the 1985 Firecracker 400. He made 263 Cup starts from 1983-2005 with only one full season (1994). In an unsponsored research-and-development car for DiGard, Sacks led 33 laps and beat Bill Elliott by 23.5 seconds for his only Cup victory.

Jerry Bonkowski: A.J. Allmendinger‘s 2013 win at Road America stands out to me. After missing a good chunk of 2012 serving a suspension for violating NASCAR’s Substance Abuse policy, Allmendinger earned his first career Xfinity win driving for Team Penske, which gave him a second chance. Ironically, Allmendinger would make just two Xfinity starts in 2013 for Team Penske, and won both of them (the other coming at Mid-Ohio).

3. There have been 11 different winners* since 2006 in the Southern 500. What kind of odds do you put at there being a 12th different winner this weekend?

Nate Ryan: About 10-1. There are four drivers who are serious threats, and each already has a victory this season — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick. Matt Kenseth has the best chance of the winless candidates.

Dustin Long: 75-1 that there will be a different winner than there has been since 2006. Darlington isn’t a track everyone has an even chance at. The winner will be someone who has won at Darlington since 2006.

Daniel McFadin: Seeing as how five of those 11 drivers are no longer competing in Cup or are retired, I think there are good odds. But Kyle Busch (2008) and Martin Truex Jr. (2016) should be favorites. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think it goes 12-for-12 Sunday, with the most likely suspects to win being those who are most in dire need of a win to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs: Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Erik Jones. And don’t count out Kurt Busch, who has never won at the Track Too Tough To Tame.

* Previous winners at Darlington

2006 — Greg Biffle

2007 — Jeff Gordon

2008 — Kyle Busch

2009 — Mark Martin

2010 — Denny Hamlin

2011 — Regan Smith

2012 — Jimmie Johnson

2013 — Matt Kenseth

2014 — Kevin Harvick

2015 — Carl Edwards

2016 — Martin Truex Jr.

Danica Patrick to have Robert Yates Racing throwback scheme in Southern 500

Photos: Dustin Long, NBC Sports
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Danica Patrick’s No. 10 Ford Fusion will honor 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Robert Yates with a special paint scheme for the 68th Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Sept. 3 at Darlington Raceway.

Patrick’s car will carry a paint scheme similar to the one that was on the car NASCAR Hall of Famer and NASCAR on NBC announcer Dale Jarrett drove to the 1999 NASCAR Cup championship for Robert Yates Racing.

“The throwback race at Darlington is such a cool event,” said Patrick, who will be competing in her sixth Southern 500. “I’m excited to run a true throwback scheme (and) that we’re able to honor Robert Yates and all he’s done for our sport.”

2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Robert Yates.

The scheme was revealed Monday during a press conference at Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, North Carolina. To further honor Yates, his name will appear above the driver’s side door in place of Patrick’s name.

Yates spent more than two decades in the sport before branching out on his own, forming Robert Yates Racing in the late 1980s.

The team expanded to a two-car operation in 1996 when Jarrett joined up, driving the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford.

In addition to winning the championship, RYR went on to capture 57 NASCAR Cup wins during its tenure. Three of those were victories in the Daytona 500, including 1996, Jarrett’s first race with the team.

“Getting to see this scheme run again will bring back many great memories,” Yates said. “I can’t thank everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing enough for honoring me and everyone that was on the team during those years.”

The throwback scheme will also have special significance to Patrick’s crew chief, Billy Scott.

“Robert Yates Racing gave me my first job in the NASCAR Cup Series, so to take our No. 10 Ford Fusion to Darlington in tribute of Robert and all that he’s accomplished makes me extremely proud,” Scott said.

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