The NASCAR Hall of Fame grew to 45 members Friday night as two drivers, a championship crew chief, a winning engine builder and a pioneer broadcaster were inducted in an emotional evening at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Joining the Hall, located adjacent to the convention center, were Robert Yates, Ray Evernham, Robert “Red” Byron, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr.
Yates built his reputation as an expert engine builder for teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, later moving into team ownership and running a successful operation with drivers Dale Jarrett, Ernie Irvan and Davey Allison. Yates died of liver cancer last October, months after learning he had been elected to the Hall on his fourth try.
Yates’ induction was the high point and emotional touchstone of the evening. Yates wrote his induction speech before he died, and Jarrett, also a member of the Hall, recorded it for Friday’s presentation. Members of the extended Yates family and others in the crowd cried during the speech.
“I would always say I don’t race for the money, I race to win,” Yates’ speech read. “For me, that’s what it’s always been about.”
Evernham owned a Dodge team in Cup racing but is remembered more for his work as a crew chief with champion driver Jeff Gordon, who will be almost a certain first-ballot Hall inductee next year. Evernham brought a fresh approach to pit stops, employing accomplished athletes in football and hockey to change the concept of the pit crewman.
Gordon and Evernham’s son, Ray J., introduced him. “I don’t know if I can get through this without crying,” Evernham said, smiling. “I know that’s usually Jeff’s gig.”
Evernham had particular praise for Gordon and Rick Hendrick, the driver and team owner who joined him in three Cup Series championship runs. “I was so honored and so blessed to be part of that team,” Evernham said.
Byron, who raced despite suffering a severe leg injury in World War II, won the first Cup Series championship in 1949. Representing Byron, who died in 1960, at the induction were Samual Byron, his grandson, and daughters Bette Byron and Beverly Byron Edwards.
Hornaday is the first Camping World Truck Series driver elected to the Hall. He won four championships in NASCAR’s No. 3 series, scoring 51 victories.
“For every short-track racer who ever had a dream, this is it,” Hornaday said after praising the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Kevin Harvick for offering him winning rides in the truck series.
Squier is considered one of motorsports’ leading broadcast voices. He did pioneering work in both radio and television and was the anchor of CBS’ landmark first flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 in 1979.
Inducted by Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, his home state, Squier said he felt like “an odd duck in a flock of fancy geese,” referring to the other inductees and the other Hall members in attendance. Squier was one of the founders of the Motor Racing Network, which broadcasts many NASCAR races, and worked behind the scenes to deepen the CBS television commitment to NASCAR.