Commentary

Doug Yates forging his own way without Dad by his side

Forgive Doug Yates for feeling a little restless as NASCAR braces for 2008. For the first time in his life, he doesn't have dear ol' Dad calling the shots, writes Marty Smith.

Updated: January 9, 2008, 2:03 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The fathers-and-sons heritage in racing is deeply rooted, no matter the racing genre and regardless of whether father and son are competitors or merely fans.

[+] EnlargeTravis Kvapil
AP Photo/John RaouxTravis Kvapil hopes to add to the 28's legacy driving for Yates Racing in 2008.

Racing dads coax their boys into squirreling around underneath cars when they get too old and fat and lazy to do it themselves, and the next thing you know they've groomed a racer. Racing dad fans coax their boys into shuffling over to the fridge to grab another beer when they're too old and fat and lazy to do it themselves, and the next thing you know they've groomed a racing fan.

Fundamentally, sons just want to hang out with the ol' man.

Doug Yates felt that way Monday. For the first time in his life he was standing in the Daytona International Speedway garage area, staring at the clean slate of a new season, without his dad, Robert, the patriarch of the family racing business.

He is fidgety. Not alone, but lonely. There he stands, turning wrenches, smack in the center of a stark new reality: The Robert in Yates Racing is gone from the equation.

"Being down here without my dad is really weird -- first time ever," Yates said Tuesday morning during a lull in Sprint Cup Series testing. "I find myself wondering what he'd do and how he'd do things."

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But Doug is forging his own way. At one point Monday, he phoned home to chat with his mother, Carolyn. Robert, perplexed why nobody was calling him, got on the horn and made a call of his own to crew chief Todd Parrott.

"He misses being here," Doug chuckled. "But he knows he's had his day and it's time for guys like myself and Max to have our day."

Max is Max Jones, the former Roush Fenway general manager who now co-owns Yates Racing. Jones' past success at Roush and business savvy are key attributes in changing the Yates culture. The transition is well under way.

Yates aligned with Roush Fenway, and moved the whole place from Mooresville, N.C., to Roush's backyard in Concord, near Lowe's Motor Speedway. That has triggered some sentiment among other teams in the industry that Yates is, in essence, an extension of Roush Fenway, the sixth and seventh Cup teams for what is already the sport's biggest organization.

"I would say to those people that if you look at Doug and Max, and how hard they're working, they're putting their names and careers on the line and they're sweating," Doug Yates said.

"This is not a cakewalk. This is not Team 6 and 7 [for Roush Fenway]. This is our own financial input, our own sweat and our chance to make it. Anybody who thinks any different needs to look deeper."

Travis Kvapil, the driver of Yates' No. 28 Ford, said the alliance is readily apparent. Example: Kvapil said when Yates purchased a car from Roush recently -- one Matt Kenseth had driven during a Goodyear tire test -- Roush handed over the information notebook with it.

"They said, 'Here, it's yours,'" Kvapil said. "How about that?"

There's plenty of pressure, some of which stems from history. The legendary No. 28 is back, making a return to competition after a five-season hiatus. (And for the record it looked downright spooky sitting in the garage area at Daytona. Black with red numbers. Old school.)

And no one -- especially Doug Yates -- wants to damage its mystique.

The No. 28 has 31 wins under the Yates banner -- including Yates' favorite, the 1992 Daytona 500 -- with drivers Davey Allison, Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd.

"I'm really proud of that car," Yates said. "In some ways it's overwhelming because with all the history behind it. I always said when we brought that number back we wanted to do it the right way, so it adds pressure to make sure you work as hard as you can to [uphold that].

"It's a lot on my shoulders. But that's why you do this. You're here for the competition."

The wheel of the 28 now rests in Kvapil's hands. He understands the history, and appreciates Yates' confidence in him to uphold the lofty standard.

"For him to put me in that car -- man, it makes me proud," Kvapil said.

The stress doesn't end there. In fact, that's just the beginning. The true concern entering the season is every team's biggest issue: money.

"We're down here looking for a sponsor. That's a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. A lot," Yates said. "We're committed to doing this, and we're going to do it -- we've just got to get people to believe we're for real."

Yates said there is some interest. The key is finding a financial partner that believes in Yates Racing, not necessarily Yates as a Roush ally.

"We want people to understand, this is Yates Racing," Yates said. "We have an alliance with Roush Fenway, but this isn't Roush Fenway. This is Yates. This is two guys who have been successful at what they're doing and need people to believe in it. We believe in it."

Happy New Year, Marty:

With the '08 season upon us, I was wondering what you think of the competitive balance in NASCAR these days? With one organization winning half the races in '07, is that good for the sport?

I know we have more cars capable of winning on any given Sunday, but the amount of organizations seem to be going down. In '07 we had 16 drivers win but only seven organizations.

Rewind, say 15 years, and we're back in '92 with only 12 different winners but 12 different organizations winning races. Which is better for the sport?

-- 3-man, Laurel, Md.

NASCAR covets parity, Bambino -- it is certainly one of the main reasons they did away with the spoiler car and instituted the Car of Tomorrow. But did it work? Not yet.

Hendrick dominated COT races in 2007, winning nine of 16. That is certainly a testament to their foresight. While some teams lollygagged with the COT, thinking it wouldn't happen or that somehow NASCAR was bluffing, Hendrick jumped in head-first and prepared.

In the grand scheme it's probably not good for NASCAR for one team to display such dominance. Eighteen wins in 36 starts sure as sugar ain't parity. Theoretically, it is nice to spread the wealth, but I personally don't see anything wrong with dominance by a single organization, or even by one driver.

The sport didn't suffer when Jeff Gordon won 13 of 34 races in 1998. It only made Earnhardt fans hate him more, and tune in on TV and turn out at the racetrack to see what happened next.

Look at the New England Patriots now. How awesome is it to witness what they're doing? It's captivating. Personally, I want them to lose and I'm watching every snap to see if they will.

And in NASCAR, would you be less interested if, say, Tony Stewart goes out and wins a third of the races? I wouldn't.

Golf is the prime example. I'm not much of a golfer (yet), and consider myself a causal PGA fan. It's pretty simple: If Tiger ain't playin', I ain't watchin'. And if he's playing, I pretty much know he's going to win.

Dear Marty,

I really hate when a series sponsor changes and then they change the name of everything retroactively. Dale Earnhardt never won a Nextel Cup -- he won seven Winston Cups.

The latest is Harold Holly, former Nationwide Series champion crew chief, joining RWI for the upcoming season. As far as I know, there has never been a Nationwide Series race run, let alone a championship won. (Hmm ... nice rhyme). Does this bother anyone else, or is it just me?

-- Roger Pilcher, Hephzibah, Ga.

Drives me plumb batty, Roger, for one simple, fundamental reason -- a Nextel/Sprint Cup championship is an ENTIRELY different thing than a Winston Cup championship was. It's not merely semantics in that case.

Current title winners must prevail in a sprint. The former format was all about consistency.

Granted, I admit I'm old school and a bit close-minded on this topic. I wrote about my disdain for this very thing back at NASCAR.com, and a colleague made a very solid rebuttal -- Richard Petty won under multiple points formats and we've called him a seven-time Winston Cup champion our entire lives. Touché.

All said, I'm with you, Roger. Harold Holly hasn't won a whole lot of Nationwide Series races that I recall. He does have one helluva Busch Series resume, though.

Hey Marty,

Now that NASCAR is done with the Car Of Yesterday, and from here on forward will be using the COT, there's a lot of talk of teams selling the old cars to ARCA and NASCAR West teams. But that's 43 teams that have about 20 cars apiece. Will we be seeing them on eBay? Are they gonna have a huge used car blowout sale somewhere?

-- Jason, Appleton, Wis.

There is a blowout sale of sorts planned, Jason. On Jan. 19-20, the second annual Race Car & Sports Car Auction will be held at Cabarrus Arena and Events Center in Concord, N.C.

Former Cup cars, along with limited-edition sports cars, muscles cars, drag cars and collector cars, will be up for bid. According to event organizers, among the inventory up for bid is a 2005 Dodge driven by Rusty Wallace, one of Tony Stewart's 2005 Chevrolets and a 2002 Ricky Rudd Ford. Race team transporters, parts, engines, equipment and memorabilia will also be sold.

"We think it's a wonderful opportunity for thousands of racers to gain access to the same technology used by their favorite teams," said Dean Kruse, the co-creator of the event, in a news release. "Also, local racers will be able to sell their cars and equipment at the auction too. If you are even thinking of selling your race car or sports car, this is where the best buyers will be."

Marty,

I just read that Frank Beamer is going to be the grand marshal at Martinsville. You going to be all right? Will you be able to contain yourself?

-- Misty Stephens, Hillsville, Va.

It is feasible to presume, Misty, though I admit I do love the man. I've managed to contain myself in his presence at past events. Sort of. Coach Beamer comes to a lot of races -- and make no mistake, I seek him out every time. He doesn't know me from Adam, either. He's the man, but I figure you're aware of that given that you hail from his hometown.

Yes, I know what, and where, his hometown is.

One of the coolest moments of my career was when Coach Beamer joined Jimmie Johnson and me on our XM Radio show to talk Hokie Nation. Good thing it wasn't called the Marty Smith show. He'd have been like, "Who? I don't have time for that."

Speaking of time, that's my time for this week. Please spare me any Rock Chalk Jayhawk chants or Hokie Chokey jokes. I'm getting plenty in the garage area this week.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.