Robert Yates was one of four NASCAR team owners who participated in a question-and-answer session in the infield media center at Daytona International Speedway Friday morning. Yates, owner of the No. 38 and No. 88 Fusions, and the other owners ...
Robert Yates was one of four NASCAR team owners who participated in a question-and-answer session in the infield media center at Daytona International Speedway Friday morning. Yates, owner of the No. 38 and No. 88 Fusions, and the other owners discussed a number of topics, including expectations for this race and this season, the 30th anniversary of one of the most famous race endings in NASCAR history, and the sport's rules.
ROBERT YATES -- owner, No. 38 and No. 88 Fusions
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS SEASON? "We have plenty of room to improve from last year and I think we're on our way to doing that. I'm pretty excited. The cars are running good and handling good. We had one of them, the car kept its forward progress but the track had a different circle so we'll have to go to the back. I think we'll be good. I'm looking forward to it."
SUNDAY IS THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MEMORABLE FINISH INVOLVING DAVID PEARSON AND RICHARD PETTY. WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES FROM THAT DAY? "I had been working for Junior Johnson and left there, so in '76 I started an engine business and had, I think, the pole and the first two cars on the front row of the Daytona 500, but I still was like an engine guy. I was gassing one of the cars. But, I didn't have any credentials to go out and get in the fight. I thought there was going to be a pretty big fight out there. One thing about racing, if you have a bad day with your car you'd at least like to be in the fight, if there is one. But you've got to be legitimately in it, and I didn't have a team I could fight on. But I thought it was going to be a nice fight. It was a good show."
IN WAKE OF A RULING HERE THIS WEEK, COULD YOU ADDRESS WHAT DIRECTIVES YOU GIVE YOUR TEAMS IN RELEATION TO CHEATING OR PUSHING THE BOUNDRIES? HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT WHAT IS DONE IN THAT AREA? "I'm going to sit here and lie to you: I'd never cheated. Actually, I worked for a guy who, if you wanted to get him excited about racing, tell him you were going to cheat on something and he was all for it. Otherwise, he'd stay out and go coon hunting all night. Once there's a rule written, I feel as if it's stealing from you if you bend that. Certainly, restrictor plates were an issue where so many ways to beat it, and I've tried not to be the best inspector NASCAR has but to help them write rules that keep it fair. Back when they didn't pull the cylinder heads off and measure cubic inches -- the only way I could get them to take them off was to build a 500-cubic-inch motor so they'd finally take them off, beat this guy [Richard Petty] right here next to me. I just don't like it. You can tell when someone's cheating. Just watch 'em. Their hair's falling out, turning gray and they're not having near as a good a time. If you see me sweating, you know I'm cheating."
WHAT DO EXPECT ON SUNDAY, AFTER YESTERDAY'S GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES? "I think what his question is, what do we expect on Sunday, being gentlemen yesterday and whether that'll stay that way or not? It didn't pay as much yesterday. It'll probably be a little tougher on Sunday. From where I sit and what we've done, we were on the pole last year for 10 days and we didn't hold that position for five seconds when the race started. So we really came down here, especially with the 88 car, and worked on chassis and worked on handling, and then we ended up getting pretty good speed out of it too. I'm looking forward to this race, and this year. We really had not run good here since 2000, we've sat on poles but we haven't run good. I'm looking forward to it, but at the same time, everybody else had the same opportunity to come here and work on it.
"So, really, when you start racing, you find out who did more homework, but I think our team has done quite a bit of it. It's going to be a good race, but I tell you what, I came here back when Richard Petty was beginning to be the King, I guess, and it's good to see his cars run -- I want to run in front of him -- but it's good to see his cars running good."
IF YOU ARE AWARE OF ANOTHER ORGANIZATION IN THE GARAGE THAT IS PLAYING OUTSIDE OF NASCAR'S BOX, ARE YOU MORE LIKELY TO BRING IT TO NASCAR'S ATTENTION OR SEE WHETHER YOU CAN GET IT TO WORK FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION? "You've reminded me of something that used to bug me a little bit. Hopefully, Richard [Petty] won't get mad at me, but he had a brother that was on the inspection team, I believe that was true, and I used to think that he had the inside deal on what they were going to check that week, so we'd try and watch and see what they were checking, but be ready to change it in a hurry, because you sort of get like 'em, if it's a gray area, you just get like 'em. The best thing about NASCAR through the past few years, I call it the 20-foot rule or the stand-there-and-look-at-it rule, it's hard on so many things to not be able to see that close away. If we had garages like we used to have at Pocono, we could really cheat at Pocono, and we could run the car out and they wouldn't know what the fender looked like. They tore the garages down there. They inspect with stuff that you can see. I think the inspection process really doesn't allow a lot for that. But when you come up with a device that'll lower the body or do this or that, and they write a rule that says no devices to do that, then I think that's when you need to get off of that and find something else. But when you come up with a shock absorber and it's within the rules, more power to 'em, pat 'em on the back. Just go watch the cars and try to figure out for yourself. The technology we've learned with all these rule changes, whether it's restrictor-plate engines, it's actually the greatest physics class that anybody could ever be part of. The cheating is not all dumb things. They're pretty ingenious. Sort of pat 'em on the back, but once they're really stinking up the show or something it's about time for somebody to figure it out. NASCAR has pretty good policemen. They probably need to maybe once in a while jump and hire somebody from our side of the fence -- I'll put my name in the hat for that, I think I can spot a pretty good cheater. It is really good. It's not something that you sit back and say, 'Aw, that guy won the race because he's cheating.' This is a tough business, but we're also racing like brothers. We like to race each other. When Richard Childress wins a race, I'll go congratulate him, sincerely. If I think he's cheating, I won't go tell him that. So, he'll know if I think he's cheating. Anyway, it's been fun and hopefully continues that way. We used to have some fun with inspectors. It was sort of a joke. It wasn't malicious. It was just a lot of fun through the years. But once they did the inspection out in the open and didn't let somebody crawl up on the scales beside the car and looked the other way, they quit doing that the past few years and I think they're very fair and they're doing a good job."
ON THE CAR OF TOMORROW AND WHETHER IT'LL BE COST PROHIBITIVE. "I've complained about some of the things, but safety never. In fact, I think we should even do more in that department. I don't like the energy thing, but certainly the most important thing is we protect the fans, too, so we want to keep these cars, I guess, heavy enough to keep them on the ground and yet slow enough where they won't feel, even at a heavy vehicle. But what kept the cost in the cars down for years is you'd go buy a Banjo or Ronnie Hopkins or Mike Laughlin chassis, and that kept that price -- they lived in areas where labor is cheaper than it is, if a guy's able to change a tire in six seconds or two seconds or whatever they do it now and he also rolls up chassis you've got to pay him $150,000 a year to roll chassis so your chassis costs go out the roof.
"I could buy a chassis for $7,000 or $8,000 and I can make build them for like $35,000 or $40,000. We like to build 'em that way because they look pretty, but once they're on the race track, if they don't run good they don't look too pretty. So, really, if we can get back to a NASCAR chassis that's got three coordinate points to measure it off of, that are built for NASCAR inspection and then get a rear clip on it and a fuel cell involved with it and maybe the front frame horns at least so it can have a good measuring deal, and that will last us for years to come -- instead of doing it in two planes. Let's really go to the latest state-of-the-art way to build things. So I'm pushing that point. If we can run 80 percent of what we buy on a race track in a race we will double our use of what we buy. Right now, we probably didn't race 25 percent of what we built last year and that's just not good business. Safety first, and then cost next."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO FACE A SPONSOR AFTER GETTING CAUGHT ON A RULES INFRACTION? "We want to keep creations coming. I can think back for years now, I don't think anybody's beat the system. I haven't had one complaint about somebody beating us in a race because if the back of the car jacked up and they did it within the rules, more power to 'em. We've just go to work and try to figure that out. And if the left-front falls down and it's all within the rules, more power to 'em. Those aren't really cheating items. It's when there's a clear rule written that you don't do this or that, and I go to the gas pumps and the guy's getting four and a half miles to the gallon and we're getting seven, there's something wrong with that ratio. I know that's been cheating. But that's now been handled and you don't see that. I think before the race and certainly here for 10 days there's room to look at creations and catch 'em, but I think when you start racing the 500 there's not too many of those things, if any of 'em, even happen unless somebody's desperate doesn't really care. The only fines I had to pay were for a guy cussing and some axles that were left on the ground for two or three hours after we didn't even make the Talladega race. I think I have a pretty clean record myself."
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE POLICY OR RULE ENFORCED BY NASCAR, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "On that issue, four or five years ago, I was on panel in Detroit, with four different series, and they asked this same question and everybody had their complaints and they got to me and I was like, 'Really, the dress code is about the only thing I have a problem with.'"