After years of scrapping, Robert Yates is at the top of the Winston Cup heap. Following his acquisition of the former Ranier Racing team in 1987, he seemed to be on a path to the championship with young driver Davey Allison. Tragically, the quest for a championship was diverted with the untimely death of Allison.
Through several difficulties during the intervening years, Yates teams were always a threat, but the final link to the championship came with the hiring of Dale Jarrett. The chemistry was completed with the addition of Todd Parrott as crew chief, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Robert Yates racing reigns as the king of NASCAR and will represent Winston Cup as its champion for the year 2000.
Circle Track: In 11 years marked by pain, glory, tragedy, and death as a Winston Cup car owner, how do you feel about Robert Yates Racing finally winning the coveted championship?Robert Yates: It's hard to believe. I've had to pinch myself. I'm truly excited and happy for the guys and for myself.
CT: Did you think a championship, pulled off convincingly by Dale Jarrett and your #88 Ford Quality Care-backed team, led by Todd Parrott, would ever happen?Yates: Yes, the #88 team has shown champion-ship style from the first day the car was unloaded at Daytona in 1996 and won the (then) Busch Clash and the Daytona 500. We just had to get all the little things fixed.
CT: What was one of the first thoughts that raced through your mind when your dream became reality?Yates: That I had made it as a car owner and businessman in racing.
CT: What's been most gratifying to you about the achievement?Yates: Being able to share my wisdom, knowledge, and 30 years experience with a lot younger guys, and be able to win.
CT: The #88 title team has amazed with 18 wins and a first, second, and two thirds in points in just four seasons. Why has the team been so good from the beginning?Yates: When we cherry-picked people to make up this team, we got the best cherries.
CT: Has the #88 team far exceeded your expectations?Yates: Double my expectations.
CT: Do you see any reason why #88 can't repeat in 2000?Yates: With the good leadership we have, and if we keep moving ahead, I think we can.
CT: Did you have any reservations about keeping Jarrett after his one-win season in your #28 Ford in 1995?Yates: Yes, I did. I wasn't sure whether the team would accept him with enthusiasm.
CT: How do you measure Jarrett as a driver now?Yates: He's a winner, a champion, a heads-up driver, and a good guy. The way he used his ability and his equipment to win the title was awesome. And he's proved that good guys can win races and championships.
CT: How about Todd Parrott, a rookie crew chief four years ago?Yates: He learned a lot from his dad (Buddy Parrott of Roush Racing), exudes confidence, and does an exceptional job.
CT: Why did you hire five members of Jeff Gordon's over-the-wall pit crew to service Jarrett's car in 2000?Yates: Because we've learned the past three years what we need to do to win a championship. We can't sit still. We have to keep moving ahead. We need more specialized teams to handle the lengthy schedule.
CT: Did any of the #88 crewmen get mad?Yates: Yes, probably as hurt as I was when I was a pit crewman and was told I couldn't jack the car anymore. They're very competitive. But they understand why I did it.
CT: Big-buck owners can afford specialized pit crews for hire, but is the practice fair and ethical?Yates: That's a good question. At first, I resisted this practice, but I've accepted it as a way of life. The pit crew came to us, not vice versa. Sometimes I'd think we shouldn't be driving up the cost of the sport and should keep it affordable. But if you don't do it, you get passed by quickly by those who do.
CT: At one time, members of specialized, or professional, crews were commanding up to $1,000 per race per man. What's the ante now?Yates: We don't put our pay stubs on the bulletin board, but numbers do get out in the garage. I think $500-600, certainly $1,000, is way out of proportion to what a full-time member of a team is paid. I am happy with the financial arrangement with the new pit crewmen.
CT: What do you think of NASCAR talking about breaking up specialized pit crews by limiting the number of crewmen a team can have at the track, but taking no action?Yates: At first, I lobbied for limiting the number of people. Then I found out that (NASCAR president) Bill France didn't care ... I don't think NASCAR will ever attempt to regulate specialized pit crews because they add a new dimension to the sport.
CT: Your original #28 Texaco Havoline team hasn't been a title contender since Ernie Irvan was near-fatally injured in 1994. Has #88 detracted from #28 or what?Yates: No. The #88 has capitalized and built on experience and has shown me that we have the necessary technology within our walls. That hasn't been the case with the #28. When we get the right players, we're going to have two cars running up front. We're looking forward to the new season because we're concentrating heavily on improving the #28 car with Ricky Rudd.
CT: Why did you opt for a rookie, Kenny Irwin, to drive #28 the past two seasons, then release him?Yates: I felt that the sport had been good enough to me that I should give a young driver an opportunity. It didn't work. We didn't perform. Kenny may be as talented as Tony Stewart, but we didn't give him the chance to show it.
CT: Considering that most blue-chip rookies don't win for three years or more, did Irwin get a fair chance?Yates: Yes, he did. There are some things that happened, which Kenny and I know about, that got us off on the wrong foot. We couldn't get coordinated and back in the right step. But down the road, I think he will appreciate us bringing him into the sport and the experience he got.
CT: Why did you hire Rudd, a 22-year veteran, to replace Irwin in 2000?Yates: Because this team urgently needed an experienced driver. Ricky's a proven winner. After he became available, there was no one else on the list.
CT: You said this is not the first time Rudd has driven for you.Yates: I was team manager and engine specialist at DiGard Racing and take a lot of credit for hiring Ricky in 1981. Bill Gardner was the first owner to sign his drivers and his team leaders to a contract. I think Ricky signed for eight years at 25 percent of the race earnings. To watch Ricky mature over the years and come back to work with us excites me.
CT: What do you expect from Rudd and the #28 team, led by relatively unknown crew chief Michael McSwain, the first season?Yates: We've hired six members from Ricky's former team and added three or four more from within the sport for the #28 team. This team has talent and can draw on the racing experience of the #88 team. Give Ricky zero failures, and I think he'll he knocking on the championship door, if not winning. Michael was Ricky's crew chief, and they get along well.
CT: Who are the teams to beat in 2000?Yates: Joe Gibbs has put together two awesome teams (with Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart) and a great program. They're major threats to the championship. Also on the threat list are Roush Racing's Mark Martin and Jeff Burton ... And I wouldn't count out the Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress teams. It's going to be very interesting.
CT: Is the new 2000 Taurus going to be as good as the '99?Yates: There should be some improvement. We sure hope it measures up to the Pontiacs and the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Time will tell.
CT: What's the difference between the two Fords?Yates: The new street Taurus has more room in the trunk, so the decklid is higher than the '99. The rear window is rectangular, not oval. And there are front- and rear-end changes. The car should have more downforce and less drag.
CT: What's your reaction to the beef, largely from Chevrolet teams, that the Pontiac has an advantage on the flat tracks?Yates: I don't want to whine about it, but I think it's evident the Grand Prix has a definite advantage. We know from wind tunnel tests and physical dimensions that the Pontiac creates more positive traction (than the other two brands). You can drive it deeper into the corners and get back on the gas quicker. That really shows up on flat tracks, such as Phoenix and Homestead. Also, the nine wins by Pontiac in 1999 show that the teams are much better.
CT: Having purchased Rudd's shop on six acres in Lakeside Park near Mooresville, North Carolina, will #28, and eventually both teams, be based there?Yates: The #28 team is already there, and there's a strong possibility the #88 team will follow. I don't know when, but probably not before we win another championship. (laughs)
CT: What's the biggest headache about being an owner?Yates: Making the financial package work. That is, providing everything we need and most of what we want with a positive bottom line.
CT: Why do you think the single-car owner/driver is becoming extinct in Winston Cup?Yates: A successful single-car team is not out of the question if money and knowledge are no object. With a two-car operation, the biggest gain is knowledge, especially if both cars run up front. You learn twice as much. Also, operating two teams is more economically feasible and efficient.
CT: Do you favor franchising in Winston Cup so teams will have a much greater value than market price?Yates: If I put on my car owner's hat, yes. If I put myself in the position of a mechanic or an engine builder, I say no. Open competition is devastating to those who don't make the races, but I think it's very healthy. I can get in the mode of hoping that NASCAR will franchise the teams, make Robert Yates Racing more secure, and I can promise sponsors that our car will always be in the race. I can't guarantee that now. However, NASCAR fears that franchising would tempt some drivers and teams to stroke and owners to cut salaries. That would hurt competition and strap people who work in racing.
CT: What's a ballpark figure on the cost of operating Winston Cup teams such as yours?Yates: We need $10 million per team. I've been through more than that on each team the past two or three years. The #28 primary sponsorship was $4.9 million in 1998, but Texaco Havoline has re-signed and increased that substantially. A team can operate on $5 million per season, but you can't invest in technology, lots of testing, or raise salaries.
CT: What do you think of NASCAR's new television agreement with NBC and Fox networks, effective in 2001?Yates: It will bring our sport to a new level. And I hope we will get our share of that 25 percent of new TV money in the purse. I've already hired 10 new people. Now I need the money to pay them.
CT: What do you consider the limit on Winston Cup races in a season?Yates: Thirty-four races are plenty.
CT: What's the biggest issue facing NASCAR?Yates: How to award Winston Cup dates fairly.
CT: Can NASCAR sustain its unprecedented growth?Yates: Yes, if NASCAR carries on the wisdom of founder Big Bill France, doesn't allow wealth and greed to control the sport, and remains a benevolent dictator.
CT: When you became a car owner in 1988, is it true that you mortgaged your home to scrape up the money to buy the late Harry Rainer's team?Yates: I didn't mortgage my home-I sold it, practically everything else I had, and moved into an apartment. I hadn't lived in an apartment for 20 years.
CT: Didn't you also lose a large sum of money in the form of equipment when you left DiGard in 1986 after about 10 years as manager and chief engine builder?Yates: I was 50 percent owner of DiGard Engine Development for 10 years. I had accumulated a lot of equipment and had the best engine shop around. Because I didn't pay attention, my equipment was hocked out from under me to satisfy loans totaling more than $1 million. A lawsuit wouldn't have gained me anything, so I walked away. From experience, that won't happen again.
CT: Considering, at this writing, that your teams have grossed about $30 million in Winston Cup prize money, exclusive of '99 postseason awards, haven't you recovered nicely?Yates: Is that how much it is? As the Bible says, my returns are any fold.
CT: But success has not spoiled you?Yates: I think when I was born the son of my wonderful mom and dad, I was wealthy. Money is a means of redistributing things. I was lucky to be born in a good family that helped me understand at an early age what this life's about. It's not necessarily about how many marbles you get-it's how you get them.
CT: You were highly successful with the late Davey Allison driving #28, losing the '92 championship in the final race at Atlanta. You were so devastated by Allison's '93 death in the crash of the helicopter he was piloting, did you consider getting out of racing?Yates: No, but that tragedy put me on my knees. My world stopped. I had to get up, and when I did, I needed a job to support my family. I knew, from the experience of going through his brother Clifford's death in 1992, that Davey wanted us to carry on. It wasn't a mistake that we had made.
CT: What were the last words you spoke to Davey?Yates: "Davey, don't fly your helicopter without having your instructor with you."
CT: Then, Ernie Irvan, who appeared on his way to the championship, was nearly killed in a crash at Michigan. How have you coped with this uncommon sorrow and grief?Yates: With a lot of faith. Ernie's recovery and return to the winner's circle was a huge lift. The greatest day of my life, in terms of the situation, was in 1997 when he won at Michigan Speedway, the scene of his near-fatal accident. Ernie's accident (during practice) was in one of my race cars, and that was extremely difficult to deal with. An owner's greatest fear is hurting a driver. That fear is compounded if equipment fails. But I'm confident that wasn't the case. At the time, Goodyear and Hoosier were involved in a tire war. I think we abused one of the tires, and it went flat.
CT: Did you ask, "Why me?" Yates: No, I asked myself if I could recover from everything that had happened. People asked me, "Why you?" I opposed the tire war and became real vocal about safety. I'm not a bit ashamed of that.
CT: Is winning the championship something of a reward for all the heartaches?Yates: It certainly covers up some of the toughest times.
CT: Given that your engines are second to none, do you still help build them, or has your role at Robert Yates Racing changed?Yates: My son, Doug, is the engine chief and has set a pace I couldn't begin to keep up with. I enjoy it when Doug asks me to take a look at something. I love to work on engines and wish I had more time.
CT: Have Winston Cup engines changed much over the years?Yates: Not over the past decade. We've had the same Ford cylinder heads and a very similar engine since 1991. But we've taken them from 600 to 800 horsepower during that period.
CT: How many employees does Robert Yates Racing have?Yates: 115.
CT: As a car owner, you have 42 victories. Do you know how many winning cars your engines have powered in your 31-year career, which began at Holman and Moody in 1968?Yates: It's a guess, but I'd say more than 130.
CT: How many Daytona 500s have your engines won?Yates: Four: 1969 (LeeRoy Yarbrough), 1982 (Bobby Allison), 1992 (Davey Allison), and 1996 (Dale Jarrett).
CT: Assuming that winning the championship is your biggest thrill in racing, what are a couple other fond memories?Yates: Winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the Southern 500. Every win is special, though.
CT: Why are you a very sensitive, caring, and generously giving person?Yates: Charity goes along with faith and hope.
CT: You were born in Charlotte, the ninth and youngest child of a prominent Baptist minister and 19 minutes after twin brother Richard, RYR's business manager. Why have you said you were the black sheep of the six girls and three boys?Yates: Well, because I was. I was rebellious, different, and terrible in school. I didn't have the same learning capabilities, the focus, or the attention span as the others. They made the honor roll, and my teachers wondered where I came from. I just didn't get it the first time. So I stood out in the flock.
CT: Is it true that your father, Rev. John Clyde Yates, supported nine children on $25 per week? Yates: Not exactly. When his first child was born, he was attending seminary and making $25 per week. Eventually, he got up to $7,200, good money at the time.
CT: What was your first car?Yates: A '57 Chevy.
CT: You weren't exactly a model preacher's son as a teenager. How did your lust for speed and a preoccupation with things mechanical get you in trouble?Yates: I got numerous tickets, and at one time, I think there was one particular cop assigned to me.
CT: Having drag-raced at a Charlotte track, why didn't you pursue a driving career? Yates: I worked second- and third-shift jobs after school to support my drag-racing habit. And I wouldn't have felt comfortable going to racetracks because it was out of line with what my father preached. I had a lot of respect for my dad and didn't want to embarrass him or my family. I wasn't mean-I just loved cars and speed, to work on a car and then go see how fast it would run. Also, because of an ear canal problem, I would have had trouble turning left.
CT: What formal training, other than high school, do you have?Yates: A two-year degree in transportation technology from Wilson (North Carolina) Technical Institute, and one year each at Mars Hill (North Carolina) College and at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.
CT: What did a professor at Mars Hill say about you?Yates: The professor had seen me on the side of a hill installing a clutch in a tractor instead of studying for his exam. He told the entire class that I never would amount to anything because I wanted to be a mechanic. I was so embarrassed, I couldn't muster the strength to walk out of the class, but I vowed to prove him wrong.
CT: You and your wife Carolyn were married in 1966. Hasn't she stood by her man?Yates: Absolutely. The most wonderful part of winning the championship is that I still have the same wife. She has dealt with a lot over the years.
CT: In addition to a son, Doug, you have a daughter, Amy, 28. What's she doing?Yates: She has a master's degree in nutrition and has been working in a hospital in Phoenix. Before this gets into print, she should be serving an internship at a hospital somewhere in the Carolinas. She wanted to be a doctor, but she changed her mind after taking several courses.
CT: Has your long racing career been worth everything you've been through?Yates: Yes, extremely enjoyable.
CT: You're 56-what do you hope to accomplish in the future?Yates: Well, I used to think 50 was old. Now I think 56 is quite young. I want to be involved with the physics, technology, chassis, and engines of automobiles.
Robert Yates: 1999's Indisputable King of SpeedTo win a crown for anything, you gotta do something significant. In the case of winning the 1999 Winston Cup title crown, that's exactly what car owner Robert Yates has done. Robert Yates Racing and its team members amassed a record in 1999 that quite literally blew the rest of the field away, and in doing so, became 1999's indisputable King of Speed. As evidence of that, check out the stats for #88 Dale Jarrett in 1999.
|Wins ||2nd ||3rd ||4th ||5th ||6th-10th |
|4 ||6 ||4 ||5 ||5 ||5 |
This record is astonishing when you consider that of 34 races, the Yates-powered #88 finished in the top ten 29 times in 1999. That's a powerful statement of power!
All of this, of course, does not happen by mischance-indeed, Robert Yates has been a horsepower master for some time. And if not for some tragic events along the way (Davey Allison's death and Ernie Irvan's horrific crash at Michigan), it can be argued that Yates was on track for more than one championship.
Yates' mastery of power began well before he purchased the former Ranier Racing in 1989. However, his renown was more evident as his racing organization came into full flower. In the years since he bought the team, he has amassed a rather substantial record of accomplishments. From 1989 to 1998, Yates cars left a impressive mark on the record books-they finished in the top 10 a whopping 202 times. Take a look at the teams statistics from 1989 to 1999, and you will see the facts tell an impressive story.
|Year ||Wins ||2nd ||3rd ||4th ||5th ||6th-10th |
|'89 ||2 ||1 ||0 ||2 ||2 ||6 |
|'90 ||2 ||0 ||1 ||0 ||2 ||5 |
|'91 ||5 ||4 ||2 ||1 ||0 ||4 |
|'92 ||5 ||1 ||1 ||5 ||3 ||2 |
|'93 ||3 ||3 ||2 ||3 ||1 ||2 |
|'94* ||3 ||6 ||2 ||1 ||2 ||3 |
|'95 ||1 ||1 ||2 ||1 ||4 ||7 |
|'96 ||6 ||9 ||4 ||8 ||2 ||8 |
|'97 ||8 ||6 ||4 ||3 ||4 ||11 |
|'98 ||3 ||5 ||6 ||2 ||4 ||6 |
|Totals ||38 ||36 ||24 ||26 ||24 ||54 |
*Second car was added to the Yates stable.
With records like these, it's easily understood how Robert Yates has become NASCAR's newest Winston Cup championship team owner and 1999's indisputable king of power.