By now, you’re no doubt aware that Robert Yates – one of the original, best and last legendary engine builders in NASCAR history – succumbed to liver cancer on Monday, Oct. 2. The sport and the industry lost a creative mind who influenced and impacted many generations of race fans and participants.
Following his passing, Roush Yates Engines sent us a nice writeup about Robert’s legacy, and according to his son Doug Yates, his dad was one of the best engine builders in North Carolina – which meant he was one of the best in the country. Few would argue.
Robert started his career working for Holman Moody, building engines for Ford NASCAR teams, and from there went to work as and engine builder for racing legend Junior Johnson. Robert had one of the most impressive NASCAR résumés you’ll find in the sport. As an engine builder, he had 77 race wins; as a team owner, he collected 57 more checkered flags. His teams won the Daytona 500 five times and collected a Cup Series championship. The list of drivers who have benefitted from his expertise includes legendary names like Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Dale Jarrett, and more.
In 2017, he was elected to join the 2018 class at the NASCAR Hall of Fame – an honor many feel was long overdue. Obviously, a true NASCAR legend, but Doug Yates says – just like Charlie Miller in our cover story this month does – he was just a dad who built engines.
“To spend time with my dad, I would go back to the shop with him at night,” Doug recalls. “He would come home to eat dinner and go back to the shop. I would go down there and hang out with him, and do whatever project he would give to me, sorting nuts and bolts or whatever. He would work literally all night long. Lots of times I would spend the night there on the cot and hang out with him. Those are some of my first memories of spending time with my dad and around engines.”
In 1984, the summer before his senior year, his dad opened his own engine shop, and Doug joined the family business.
“For three months, we worked seven days straight,” Doug says. “Normal hours were 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Saturdays from 7:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m., and Sundays from after church until dark.”
I met Robert Yates a few times during my tenure as editor of NASCAR Tech and each time I was awed by his quiet confidence (and impressive moustache). At one event held in the race shop of the #88 UPS Ford Taurus, there was a full-sized UPS parcel delivery van outfitted with a Ford FR9 race engine on display (also one of our Engine of the Week features online). Of course it was just a tongue-in-cheek approach to showing how Yates power could make UPS deliveries even faster, but as I stood there gawking, I noticed Robert Yates standing next to me doing the same. “Looks pretty good in there, doesn’t it?” he asked me.
On another occasion, during the 2012 International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS) in Indianapolis, Robert helped build a NASCAR-approved spec engine on the show floor to be raffled off to support Sunnen’s charity efforts. I don’t remember who won the engine, but I do remember that before Robert drew the winning ticket, he basically invited everyone in attendance to his house that weekend for a barbecue. He then realized what he had done and said he’d better tell his wife first.
John Carollo shares his memories of Robert Yates on Page 6 of this issue, and if you knew him, you undoubtedly have memories of your own. The industry – and the world – will miss him. ν