Robert Yates returns for parting words Dover, Del. — Robert Yates, recently owner of the No. 38 and 88 Ford Fusions and a fixture in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series garage since the 1960s, made his first appearance at a race track on Friday since announcing his retirement a few weeks ago.
"A few weeks ago, I decided that it’s time for me to actually go find something that’s fun to do that I could do well, and pass the torch on to Doug [Yates, son]. I think that scenario is going to work out much better. I made that decision with the other people—and certainly they’re great people, but I just decided that I didn’t want to go back to work for them, and it’s a huge responsibility to tackle that. So, I apologized to them, they’re great people, but I just decided I had enough, and I just want to go try to enjoy a few years of my life.”
ON GIVING UP THE 88.
“The thing with Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., people don’t know, but Ralph Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Sr., his dad, they taught me a huge lesson in life. It would be a long story to explain that, but certainly they taught me that respect is earned, and not something that you can demand; you have to earn that. I didn’t quite understand it with Ralph, but after Dale came along—I had so many relationships and deals with those two guys, to see Ralph’s grandson and Dale’s son, he’s going to do a great job with the number. And some of my life really got started with Rick Hendrick, so I think they’ll do that number justice.
"It’s been a good number with the Gatorade car that I worked on, it’s been a good number for the Quality Care, and we’ve done pretty good with the UPS thing. I think these guys will take the 88 number to where it needs to be. It’s really not so much a number—we were going to do it anyway, but the fact that I could give back to the Earnhardts and be part of that family, for me, and some other people might not understand that, but for me I have a lot of reasons why I want to do that and I’m happy I could do it.”
WHAT ABOUT THE 28? WILL DOUG BRING IT BACK?
“You’ll have to talk to Doug. It’s so much better, and I learned that, I’ll tell you people this: The kids do so much better when it’s their decisions, when they have to tough through it. It’s just hard to pass the wisdom, it’s hard to pass on anything to your kids, but Doug Yates is pretty close on my heels to help build this the last 20 or so years. He’s not like a normal second-generation, silver-spoon kid, but he’s learning, he’s challenged, he wants to do this, and the best thing for me to do is let him make these decisions, whether it be the number or how he runs or what he does. So, it’s up to Doug. You’ll have to talk to Doug, because if I make the statements for him, he respects his dad enough that he’ll try to do that. It’s totally Doug’s decision. So, you’ll have to talk to Doug.”
WAS THE DECISION TO RETIRE A DIFFICULT ONE?
“I remember in high school, and kids, all they wanted to do was take their test and carry the mail and start retiring. I was like, ‘My goodness, I love what I do. I’ll never retire.’ And it was true. I didn’t love what I was doing, so I’d quit and go do something I could do.
"You call it retirement. I’ve given up this job because I can’t operate at the level that I was used to all those years, and I don’t want to go away mad, I could get a little bitter about it, but you know what? It’s the way that it is. The way that you do business now is certainly not the way that I did business, and I just don’t need to re-train myself for it.
"Actually, I feel like, of all the things that have come around that have really hit me hard, I really appreciate it. I went by the Sadlers and had lunch with them and talked to Herman and I said, ‘Hey, this is good for Robert. This is really good for Robert, so don’t feel bad about any other decisions.’ I’ll enjoy Kasey Kahne, the experience of getting him started—all these different kids. I really enjoy this sport and I want to be able to come around and I’m going to root for Doug Yates, and I’ll probably watch Rick Hendrick and the 88 number and I’ll feel proud about that. I think also that that deal, they both have a stake in something that’s good for each other. I won’t go into detail, I think everybody understands what I mean there. So, life is good.
"My life is good. Carolyn’s [wife] waited 40 years on me to spend time with her—if she doesn’t fire me from retirement right away. I’m going to do things that I enjoy, and I’m not sure what that’s going to be.”
DID YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO SIT DOWN WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., OR RICK HENDRICK AND HAVE A DEEP DISCUSSION ABOUT THE NUMBER CHANGE?
“Actually, it didn’t happen. I never did discuss with Rick, I never did discuss with Dale, but one of the girls said, ‘We would really like to have the 38,’ and I said, ‘Well, let me see what we can do here,’ and then I sort of worked on that and then I had one conversation with Dale Jr. and he said, ‘I don’t want the 38. I’m probably going to go with the 81.’ Then it came back around and it was like, ‘Yeah, I’d like to take the 88.’ So, I feel good. I want to see him race good. I think he will race good. I think he’s made a good decision. Bottom line, he’s made a decision, and he feels very confident in his ability, and so am I, in the way he’ll do that, and I think he’ll carry the 88 number well. And Doug has got something that he could do that I think is great, and we’ll go from there.”
ON COMPETING AGAINST RALPH EARNHARDT AND WHAT HE LEARNED.
“The thing the Earnhardts taught me, the things that I would tell people: Sometimes your toughest competition is your best teacher. It’s the best thing for you. I haven’t been around Little E, I spent two hours with him out at Sturgis, which is the first time I really talked to him, but really this is for Ralph and Dale Sr.”
YOU’VE TALKED IN THE PAST HOW TOUGH BEING AN OWNER WAS ON YOU.
“I don’t think people realize: I never got into this sport to be an owner. And I always said, I was just a responsible person and it fell on me, and I worked at it, but not as an owner. I worked as an engine builder, I worked as someone who worked on the cars, and I do not care about ever being anybody’s boss.
"I try to be good to people, but I’m not enjoying that contribution, and I will find something that I can do. My parents were hard on me about going to college. All of their other kids went to college. I went to college, I just didn’t get all the diplomas I should’ve gotten. I just decided I’m going to take a job I can do well at.
"I love the cars, I love the ’50s, I love the ’60s. I would love to be Doug’s age now, or half that age, but for a mechanic growing up and for just living life in the ’50s, the convertibles, all the things that went on in the ’50s and ’60s, a wonderful life, to be part of that and do really what you enjoy doing—and, by the way, on the side you made some money doing it, but it wasn’t really your first deal. As a car owner you have think too much about the budgets and all that, and I really don’t want to go to work for somebody else now. I’m pretty spoiled. If I was 50-percent owner with the Lanigan/Haas guys, I would have more responsibility that I really would want to handle. And I’ve gotten to a point where I’m going to find something that I can excel and enjoy on a daily basis, and that may be building engines, that may be setting up machine shops, it may be helping Doug. But I want out of the ownership position. I think it’s wonderful he can pick it up, to pass that on down, and the best way to give it to Doug is let him earn it. He wants to do that, and the best thing to do is—I give Doug nothing, but a hard time and a hard job, and I think he’ll do well at it. I’ll be rooting for him, but that’s where we are.”
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED IN THIS SPORT?
“I’d like to be remembered that I was fair. Trusted and fair. If I had to put anything on a tombstone—‘He wasn’t a good engine builder, he was just fair. He was fair with people.’”
ON THE NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN DEAL.
“Here’s exactly what happened. They came to see me, and say they wanted to do this deal, and I was ‘okay.’ And when I really started into it and they told me they were going to handle all the sponsorship relationships, putting them together, and they were going to handle all the engineering, and I was to make the other side—and I didn’t want their money until we had a deal that worked out, so there never was a transaction. There was never even the signing of a name, because I’ve lived 40 years in this business shaking your hand or either whipping your butt or getting whupped. That’s the way we did. Now, it’s all about how thick is the contract, and how many attorneys can be involved?
“I just didn’t want to work and I didn’t think that I could do the job that they expected me of, and I didn’t want to fail at that, and you know what? It was the perfect time for me to do this. And it didn’t really put Doug in a position. It didn’t do anything for Doug, but say if Doug buys half of the company, he’s got to spend more money, so it’s just better for Doug to do his own deal. Let’s have at it, because it’s Doug Yates’. I certainly think he’s learned a lot on the job, but it’s his job now.”
DOES HE EVER REMIND YOU OF YOURSELF, OR IS HE JUST A DIFFERENT GUY TO RUN THE COMPANY?
“He’s a way different guy. He’s extremely firm with people. He gets some of that from his mom. I think everybody that knows Carolyn and I—I’m about as wimpy as you get and she’s about as firm as you can get. But, yet, I think Doug has picked up some of my traits to be fair with people, but it’s very clear, when he talks to you, you get the message. Ernie Irvan said I could talk for 30 minutes and not say a thing. Doug Yates is just the opposite of that. He’s super-knowledgeable about the sport and it s great opportunity for he and his family. It’s great. It’s going to be good.”
IS THE CHAMPIONSHIP IN ’99 THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER?
“I thought winning the Daytona 500 in 1969 as an engine builder was the highlight of my life. But there’s just a lot of those. And you can’t get but 10 feet tall, so I’ve been 10 feet tall a lot of times. The championship certainly was there.”