Robert Yates plans to hand team to son

Saturday, February 10th 2007, 4:49 pm
By: News On 6

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ If everything goes according to Robert Yates' plan, his NASCAR team will rebound from a gut-wrenching season and he will retire at the end of this year, handing the team over to son Doug.

This is Yates' 40th year in racing, and at age 63 he figures that's just about enough _ especially after last season, when he says he was so stressed out that he felt at times like he literally was going to die.

``I'd go home like Friday nights or something and say I wanted to check in, I'm going to die tonight,'' Yates said. ``And they're like, 'You're not going to die, there's nothing wrong with you.' I really felt that bad. And really, that's just how much this business works on you. I hated it. It made my body not function right.''

It wasn't too long ago that Robert Yates Racing was one of NASCAR's elite teams, especially at superspeedways such as Daytona International Speedway. The Yates team has won three Daytona 500s and the 1999 series championship.

But it fell apart last year as they failed to win a race for the first time since 1988. Things got so bad that Yates simply didn't feel like going to the race track any more.

``I didn't want to be here,'' Yates said. ``I felt like I didn't deserve to be here. I wanted to try to find some place to go. But yet, I love this sport.''

The ultimate blow came when longtime driver Dale Jarrett announced last year that he was leaving to drive for Michael Waltrip's Toyota team in 2007 _ and took his sponsor, UPS, with him. Yates acknowledged that Jarrett's departure still bothers him.

``It's distracting a little bit, and it will be, but the only thing that will put that down is if we can consistently beat them,'' Yates said. ``Sometimes, you have to get slapped at pretty hard to fire you up, and we're fired up.''

Yates skipped the Oct. 1 race at Kansas Speedway entirely, choosing instead to ride his motorcycle into the Smokey Mountains. But even then, he couldn't get away. He tried to find somewhere to eat but the restaurant had the race on the radio.

``It was two hours before the race started, but I didn't want to hear about it,'' Yates said. ``And they had the radio so loud, it's like, 'Man, how can I get out of here?'''

Yates said he became so stressed by his team's poor performance that he said his body began to stop functioning. He was ``a mess'' physically, but didn't believe his health problems were stress-related until his doctor prescribed ``green pills'' _ he isn't even sure what they were _ to help take the stress away.

``I started taking some of these green pills for a couple of days, it was like, 'Now OK, I know what I've got to do is I've got to make my body function,''' Yates said. ``I don't need the green pills.''

Yates said he's feeling much better this year _ especially after Yates drivers Ricky Rudd and David Gilliland were two of the three fastest drivers in the final practice session Saturday.

``It doesn't pay anything to win practice, but the Yates group was down last year,'' Rudd said. ``There's no question. ... To have anything really positive is a good thing. There's no guarantees this will win you the pole, but it's a start in the right direction.''

Yates said running well means feeling well.

``You ever see somebody walking around that was running good? They always walk taller,'' Yates said. ``That's just the way it is.''

Yates hopes that feeling lasts all season, so he can hand the business off to his son without feeling like he's putting him in a bad situation.

``You never want to quit something when you're having fun, and right now I'm having fun,'' Yates said. ``I just hope we can do that for another year, and that gives me 40 years in this deal, and maybe by that time I'll be smart enough to pass it off to the next generation and I can sit back and watch him.''

But Yates recognizes that it might not work out that way.

``If you see me going around holding my stomach and we're not running good, you'll probably figure out where I'm headed: Back to get the green pills,'' Yates said.