Yates contributions to NASCAR are diverse and significant. And lasting. (Photo: Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Robert Yates showed up at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that late afternoon last May genuinely not knowing if this would be the year – if that would be the day – he heard his name called as part of the official unveiling of the five-person 2017 Hall of Fame induction class.
Already months into his valiant fight against liver cancer, Yates walked into the Grand Hall and was immediately surrounded by longtime friends and greeted fondly by supporters and race fans, all who had gathered for the historical announcement.
Three times previously the NASCAR champion engine builder and team owner had been nominated for induction. So when his name was announced as part of the 2017 group of honorees, the room erupted in joy and tears.
“I believe that was the fourth year he was on the ballot so we weren’t sure how it would go, just praying he would get voted in to the Hall of Fame,’’ Yates son Doug recalled. “He was so happy. He gave up his life for this sport. That was his choice but that was what it takes to be great at something and he did that. And he wouldn’t tell you that, but I will.
“It was the most gratifying moment of his whole career.”
And that is saying a lot.
The man who had built so many strong engines, may have been weaker of body but the same spirit and contagious positive energy he brought to the race track permeated through the crowd that day – it was easy to see the special extra something that makes Yates a stock car legend.
Sadly, Yates died five months later on Oct. 2 at the age of 74. His family will take part in next Friday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony in honor of this very honorable man.
Yates contributions to NASCAR are diverse and significant. And lasting.
He started his career as an engine builder in the late 1960s under the tutelage of Waddell Wilson and ultimately fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson.
He was the chief engine builder for Hall of Famer Bobby Allison’s 1983 Cup championship team and built the engines that Hall of Famer Richard Petty drove to his final two victories – record 199th and 200th wins.
Following his time under the hood, Yates moved into a team