CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A speech written by the late Robert Yates for his induction capped off the 2018 class’s enshrinement into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Yates — his words read by fellow NASCAR Hall of Fame member Dale Jarrett, who won his lone Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship driving for Robert Yates Racing — thanked people such as Bill France Jr., Edsel Ford (who inducted him), the people at the Holman Moody engine shop, Junior Johnson and the Allison family.
“The Allisons have been a big part of my life,” Yates said. “I won a championship with Bobby (Allison) in 1983 at DiGard (Racing), and then got to work with Davey (Allison), 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.”
He thanked Jarrett and crew chief Todd Parrot for the success they achieved and what he called “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,” he said.
Yates wrapped up by thanking his family, such as sister Martha Brady, who made Yates move in with her at Wake Forest to improve his academics.
“I was the only kid in my family that didn’t make straight A’s,” he said. “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.”
His other sister, Doris Roberts, convinced him to attend Wilson Technical College, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“So if it wasn’t for my two sisters, I don’t know where I’d be today,” he said.
While working for Junior Johnson, Yates took son Doug to the shop, where he’d “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,” he said. “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.”
After the ceremony, Doug Yates said that he hadn’t seen any of the speech prior to hearing it during his father’s induction, although he was offered the chance earlier that day.
He thanked his daughter Amy and his wife of 51 years Carolyn, then thanked God to conclude his speech.
“I never prayed to win a race. I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions,” Yates added “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.”
Robert Yates wrote this speech after his health took a turn for the worse. He died of liver cancer on October 2, 2017 at the age of 74.
His induction was the highlight of a class that enshrined Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Ken Squier.
Squier, who fought tooth and nail against the campaign to induct him, a pure broadcaster, into the hall, said he felt “like an odd duck in a flock of fancy geese.”
Always the master storyteller, Squier used his induction speech to spotlight the other inductees.
“Now, think about those nominations for 2018: A preacher’s son who built not only great engines but great teams of people, human beings who harmonized like a finely-tuned engine, the late and great Robert Yates,” he said. “And drivers like Hornaday, Ron Hornaday. It was Jean Shepherd who wrote, ‘If horse racing was the sport of kings, then auto racing was the sport of friends.’ Ron Hornaday represents that character of drivers that comes from every short track in America. He’s it.
“And there’s Ray Evernham, modified star, Wall Stadium, Belmar, New Jersey, who learned and listened every time, everywhere, and was to develop a race team that brought Dodge back to racing. Remember Homestead 2001? What a race.
“For some of us, there’s one story this year that I believe deserves special place in this or nearly any Hall of Fame. Red Byron represents the spirit and the passion of NASCAR racing. He was the common man doing uncommon deeds, which has been the history of this country, when the chips are down.”
Ray Evernham took his place in the hall.
“The Hendrick family became very special to me. I love and appreciate those that are here, and I miss the ones that we lost every day,” he said.
“Rick Hendrick, where do I begin. You saw more in me than I saw in myself. You believed in me. I was a young, unorthodox crew chief. You were the first person to stay on my side with my son in the hospital, Ray J. You stood by my side when I decided to take two tires at Charlotte. You didn’t really stand by my side, he kind of paced back and forth behind me, but he didn’t ask me to change my mind. He stood by me when I wanted to start my own team, and if he wasn’t terribly under the weather with the flu, as most of America is, he’d be standing by my side tonight. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve a friend like you, Rick, but thank you very much.”
Ron Hornaday was the first Camping World Truck Series driver inducted into the hall.
He famously allowed drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick to sleep on his couch early in their driving careers, a favor which Harvick later repaid in a Truck Series ride for Hornaday.
He also spent two sleepless nights pondering what he’d say.
“Everybody says, you know, just — first of all, I started two nights, can’t sleep, he said. “Sitting up here trying to think what you’re going to say to anybody, and it’s the toughest thing you’d ever say. And everybody would just say just be yourself, it’s easy. It’s the frigging Hall of Fame, guys.”