CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Robert Yates didn’t get to deliver his NASCAR Hall of Fame acceptance speech, but the crowd Friday night got to hear his words.
Yates died in October from liver cancer, but he wrote his speech before his death. Dale Jarrett, who won the 1999 NASCAR Cup Series title driving for Yates, delivered the words by voicing over a video of highlights of the innovative engine builder and well-respected former team owner.
It was an emotional ending to the annual night that celebrates the history of the sport at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The ninth five-member class, selected last May, consisted of Yates, drivers Red Byron and Ron Hornaday Jr., driver-turned-crew chief Ray Evernham and broadcaster Ken Squier.
“[Yates] is exactly what this Hall of Fame is about — that type of person that started at the bottom, worked their way to the top and there has been nobody who has been as good as him in this business,” Jarrett said after the video was played.
Yates built the engines for 1983 NASCAR Cup champion Bobby Allison, and his Robert Yates Racing team won 57 races. In the voting last May, Yates was selected on 94 percent of the ballots, the most of any of the inductees. He was present at the announcement of the 2018 class and relished in remembering that he was told as a teenager that he wouldn’t amount to anything because he was always tinkering on cars.
“When I started in racing, this was not the goal,” Yates’ speech said Friday. “All I wanted to do throughout my career was win races. I would say, ‘I don’t race for the money. I race to win.’
“For me, that’s what it has always been about.”
Evernham, 60, won 47 races and three Cup titles with Jeff Gordon as a driver. He also won 13 races as a car owner as he helped launch Dodge’s return to the sport in 2001.
“You realize it really is all about the people and the relationships that you’ve made,” Evernham said afterward as he sat next to Gordon. “Because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies.
“The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people.”
Evernham and Yates are considered two of the most innovative owners and wrenchmen in NASCAR history. Many of those who continue to work in the sport learned their craft working in their shops or on their teams.
“This isn’t really about me,” the Yates speech said. “It’s about those who gave me the opportunity to do something I love.”
Byron helped create opportunities for stock-car racers. One of the people in the meeting that Bill France Sr. held to form NASCAR in 1948, Byron had been on the ballot all nine years and was the last of the original 25 nominees to be inducted. He captured the first title in what is now the NASCAR Cup Series in 1949, winning two of the eight races.
Hornaday won six NASCAR titles in his career — four in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and two in what is now the NASCAR West Series. He won 51 truck races, a record in that series, which often includes a mix of veterans and young development drivers.
He also talked about the opportunity:
“This is for every short track racer that ever had a dream, ever had a heart, ever believed in anything that you can believe in, this is it,” said Hornaday, who ruled the short tracks of California before racing nationally.
Squier is one of the most recognized motorsports broadcasters. He co-founded the Motor Racing Network in 1970, which is now the radio broadcasting arm for track operator International Speedway Corporation. Having worked telecasts for CBS and TBS, Squier coined the term “The Great American Race” for the Daytona 500.
“I’m feeling like an odd duck in a flock of fancy geese, let me tell you,” Squier said during his speech. “The heroes in this room earned their way through tenacity, courage, and their ability to accomplish something they believe worthwhile, vital — and now they’ve added a storyteller.”