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ANDERS: Yates left a personal mark on 1990s

Obit Yates
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FILE - In this May 24, 2017, file photo, former team owner Robert Yates, left, is congratulated by Winston Kelley, right, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, after being named as a member of the class of 2018 during an announcement at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. Yates, a longtime NASCAR owner and engine builder, has died, his son Doug Yates said on Twitter Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. He was 74. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, October 8, 2017

It can be a little weird sometimes how much you’re unexpectedly affected by the death of someone you don’t even know.

That’s where I found myself Monday night when I heard former NASCAR team owner Robert Yates had died. His battle with cancer had been well publicized, but it wasn’t until he was gone that I realized some of my most formative memories of falling in love with racing had to do with him.

I got interested in NASCAR because of my dad. I’ve covered various aspects of that in previous columns, but it’s relevant this week because as a child, I knew nothing of the drivers and had no sense of being able to pick a favorite. So, I made the same decision I’m sure countless other children have made when latching on to something their parents followed.

Whichever driver was Dad’s favorite was going to be mine.

Dad was a Bill Elliott guy back in the 1980s, before I was born. At some point, Dad hitched his wagon to Davey Allison, who was driving for Robert Yates Racing at the time. I was only 3 when Allison was killed in a helicopter crash in 1993, but I have the foggiest memories of that being my dad’s guy.

True story: Dad still has a Texaco Havoline hat with Allison’s name and number on it that he dusted off and started wearing again earlier this year. That hat is nearly as old as I am, but it’s holding up just fine.

When Allison was killed, Dad decided to stick with Yates’ team and became an Ernie Irvan fan after Irvan replaced Allison in Yates’ No. 28 car. I had various toy cars and other memorabilia of that machine, but the one I remember the most vividly was a nightlight that had that car on it.

Irvan was nearly killed in a practice crash at Michigan in 1994, and was replaced in the No. 28 by Dale Jarrett. Dad rolled with the punches and became a Jarrett fan, and so did I. When Irvan returned and Robert Yates Racing became a two-car operation with Jarrett sliding over to the No. 88, it just meant Dad and I had two drivers that we would be happy to see win.

We remained predominantly Jarrett fans. When the book fair rolled through my elementary school around 1999 or so, I remember being so thrilled when they had a poster with Jarrett and his No. 88 car on it. Dad bought two, one for each of us.

When Jarrett won the Cup Series championship in 1999, we were both stoked. Dad and I both had a championship T-shirt, and he made one of my favorite purchases ever: matching pairs of bedroom shoes that were boxy versions of Jarrett’s car. They are still the single most ridiculous clothing item I’ve ever owned. I quickly outgrew mine, but I found Dad’s in storage about a year ago and quickly snatched them up, bringing them home where they sit in my closet.

As Jarrett’s days of being competitive dwindled in the early 2000s, Dad and I jumped ship to other drivers while still hoping Jarrett would run well. We were both pumped when Jarrett picked up a surprise win at Talladega in 2005. That was the 57th and final win for Robert Yates Racing, and, by tragic happenstance, occurred 12 years to the day before Yates would die last week.

Jarrett being my favorite driver is one of the purest memories I have of my childhood. When I was a reporter in Hickory, Jarrett’s hometown, I was fortunate enough to meet and interview him during an appearance at a golf tournament. He remains to this day one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the chance to chat with in a work setting.

But the memories I have of his championship, that nightlight, and those ridiculous slippers that I will never get rid of, are all owed to Robert Yates. Though his race team floundered in its later years before shutting down, he will be remembered as an integral part of NASCAR in the 1990s, when the sport exploded into a national juggernaut.

His teams and drivers also gave me some of my favorite childhood memories with my dad, and I’ll never be able to repay him for that.

PREDICTION

The Monster Energy Cup Series is at Charlotte to kick off Round 2 of the playoffs. This is the part where I say Martin Truex Jr., is the favorite, then try to pick someone else so as not to take the easy choice. With that said....PICK: Martin Truex Jr.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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