Greg Zyla 2013-10-31 13:51:03
Growing up under the watchful eye of his legendary engine building father, Doug Yates has developed into a rightful leader of his own, as he worked his way from race team engine builder to become the head of Roush Yates Engines. This month, we interview Doug Yates, principal of Roush Yates, Mooresville, North Carolina. With a record of success that is rarely matched in modern motorsports, Yates has been around race engines for as long as he can remember. This comes as no surprise, since he is the son of famed engine builder and race team owner Robert Yates. With a passion for stock car racing and making plenty of horsepower, Doug Yates not only carries on a deep-rooted, father-and-son heritage of winning, he continues to build a solid reputation in motorsports as both a respected businessman and marketing professional. Born and raised in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina, Yates graduated from North Carolina State University in 1990 with a degree in mechanical engineering. With his education in hand, coupled with a keen fascination with making horsepower, he soon became head engine builder at Robert Yates Racing. By 1999, Yates’s knowledge and responsibility culminated in one of his proudest on-track moments when, as head engine builder for team driver Dale Jarrett, the group combined for the overall NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) championship. This crowning achievement in Yates’s life didn’t lead to complacency, as the young engine master sought to improve the next year. In an effort to combine knowledge and technology, known adversaries Jack Roush and Robert Yates joined forces in 2004, which Yates explains in surprising detail on the following pages. In this new alliance, Yates took on a new role and was named CEO and president of Roush Yates Racing Engines. When Robert Yates retired as owner of Robert Yates Racing in 2007, Doug Yates assumed all responsibility for his father’s team, a powerhouse that won a remarkable 57 races and the 1999 championship. The team’s name became Yates Racing in 2008, and Yates officially had his own two-car team. With Ford power provided by Roush Yates Engines, Yates Racing quickly became a notable contender in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. In order to grow Roush Yates Engines, Yates started Roush Yates Performance Products in late 2008, which he also explains on the following pages. In 2009, Yates purchased His father’s half of Roush Yates Engines to become a co-owner in the company. Today, as CEO, he leads a team of over 200 employees who work out of four separate state-of-the-art facilities. In January 2010, Yates formed a partnership with Front Row Motorsports and Richard Petty Motorsports to field more Fords in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. Thirteen Sprint Cup teams run engines built by Roush Yates, including Roush Fenway Racing, Penske Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Woods Brothers Racing and Front Row Motorsports. Ford has always been Yates’s manufacturer of choice, and he is especially proud to be part of a team that developed the first purpose-built race engine designed by Ford, the “FR9.” PRI: Doug, let’s start with your father Robert’s legacy. When you talk about ‘horsepower makers’ for lack of better wording, Robert Yates was at the top of the game during his years of engine building and fielding race cars that could run up front. I’d like to know what your dad taught you through the years that you brought to the table and stressed to your employees as necessities for success. Yates: First and foremost, I’m so fortunate to have a role model like Robert Yates. When you’re growing up you don’t realize the effect on your life until you get older. The thing I learned from my dad was to lead by example. My dad was always the first guy to drive the truck, check the car, build the engine and bust down the tires if needed. He led by example and his work ethic was tops. I believe that’s the reason so many people were dedicated to him and his team. To this day, I try to lead by example. The rule in our shop is don’t ask anyone to do Something that you can do yourself, and always be engaged in the day-to-day activity. So, it’s lead by example and focus on our performance advantage, because my dad always said you’ll win by having an advantage. You need something better than the next team to win. PRI: How is it different today from the 1970s when you were hanging out at dad’s garage? Yates: When I look back at our industry in the 1970s, it hadn’t yet started to mature. In reality, it may not have been the most attractive place to be. Then, through the 1980s, things started to Change and get better. Then, it took off in the 1990s. Today, motorsports is a huge business and you have to always keep your eye on the business side. But for me, the most fun during the day is still going in the back and working on the dyno with the guys on our next engine. PRI: Since you mention going into the dyno room with the guys, your dad once told me the story of his very first dyno, which I’d love if you could touch on for our readers. Yates: Glad to. My dad and his thendriver Bobby Allison were coming home from a race, and they came up with the idea to hook up an airplane prop to their engines (to measure the power). At that time, there really weren’t many really good dynos of any sort around, and pretty much how the race car performed on the track was your dyno. Since they were always looking for horsepower gains and an advantage in the R&D department, they did it. I remember I was a teenager then—this was early 1982 and then into 1983, which is when they won The championship with Bobby. PRI: Do you remember how they ‘tested’ the horsepower? Yates: Oh yes, and it was a great way to accomplish it. When the engine spun the propeller faster and overcame resistance, it made a certain sound from the props and we knew it was a more powerful engine. They were able to tune engines using different props for different pitches (and tracks), and since I was there I actually helped them on this dyno. PRI: I guess we could call it antiquated nowadays for sure, but it worked. Yates: Back then you just didn’t have any tools or machinery like we have today. If there had been a PRI Trade Show in 1970, there wouldn’t be any Machinery Row like we know today. Back then you chased whatever flow bench you had for maximum airflow. Sometimes we got the ports too big. So back then, I remember dad and Bobby worked on acceleration more than anything else, and they made power where it was needed. That’s what the prop dyno did for them, as it allowed them to understand where the power needed to be and make an engine that really accelerated. They probably had smaller cylinder head ports than most back then, and it was because of that old prop dyno. It was their advantage back in 1982 and 1983. PRI: Machinery Row at this year’s PRI Trade Show will be a sight to see. There’s so much new going on, from dynos to CNC machines. Yates: And that’s a great point. It’s all here now. The best and most technologically advanced all under one roof in Indianapolis. But back in that special prop dyno time, the real pioneers in the industry had to create their own tools and machines, and they came up with the ideas and pieces that delivered what they needed. When I see Bobby Allison now, he still talks about that prop dyno and will never forget it. Actually, he wants to put it back together. PRI: How about the actual merger of your business with Jack Roush back in 2004? I remember your dad and Jack were bitter rivals at that time. Yates: Yes, they were. We were both Ford teams trying to beat each other every week, and actually wanted to beat Jack more than anyone else because you never want to disappoint your manufacturer. As you say, it was a bitter rivalry and everyone knew back then my dad and Jack didn’t have a lot of love for each other. PRI: We’ve all heard stories how big the rivalry was. Care to share one? Yates: It was so serious a rivalry that they went as far as to wreck each other one time leaving a race track in their passenger cars! (Laughter.) Talk about intense. PRI: I also remember things got more serious, business wise, when you won that 1999 championship with Dale Jarrett. Yates: Yes, it did. After we won, my dad and I opened up an engine company in 2000, and started building lots of team engines. They were all Fords, of course. Travis Carter and Jim Smith were already using our engines, so we decided we were going to build our ultimate engine shop. So, my dad and I found this 75,000-square-foot facility we’re in today, and started building the ultimate engine shop. That was my dream as a kid. I always wanted a world-class engine company—and that’s what my dream still is. I get up every morning and that’s my mission. Today, I have employees in lab coats and (modern) dynos everywhere, and all types of great equipment and nice people working for us on engines. PRI: How was the business before the merger with Jack Roush? Yates: Changing. By 2003, Kmart pulled out of racing and we lost some teams, then Dodge came back into the sport. Looking ahead, my dad and I got together and realized the business climate was changing, as we knew Toyota was coming in. We were fully aware that not all teams running Fords were going to continue running Fords with Dodge and Toyota in the game. The landscape was changing, and we had to make adjustments to make sure we succeeded. Dad and I felt that if we were going to get stronger, merging with Jack Roush was the best for everyone involved. PRI: And then? Yates: Jack had five Sprint Cup teams and many Nationwide Insurance and Camping World Truck teams, too. We heard he was about to make a move to this area because his shops were always in Michigan. So, in October at Atlanta, my dad and I decided it was time. My dad went up and tapped Jack on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to talk to you.’ So we all went to his motorhome, sat down And had a conversation. It turned out to be a really good conversation, and we came to an agreement immediately. The very next weekend, at Rockingham, Matt Kenseth went on to win the championship for Ford, and we then got into Jack’s plane and flew up to Michigan to figure out how everything would work. It turned out to be the easiest deal I think I’ve ever done. PRI: Mutual respect? Yates: Yes. We agreed we were going to do this for the right reasons. It was about the performance enhancements and it was the right thing for Ford, too. So we had a deal. And I want to emphasize that Jack Roush has been really good to me and our partnership has been Outstanding. He’s been a mentor to me and a second father figure. Jack is all racer, and a compassionate person, too. PRI: Did Ford nudge you both or was the merger something that you guys accomplished yourselves? Yates: Obviously, we did talk to Ford corporate as we always do on every big decision, and they were all for it. The reason was even though we were both running Fords, we weren’t really sharing any (horsepower or suspension) advantages. If we went to develop a new cylinder head or intake manifold, we would hide everything the best we could. So, we all knew we’d be all the better if we had one effort instead of two. PRI: How did it go initially? Yates: I remember that first winter being Roush Yates. We slept many a night here at the shop on the sofas, and all of the guys put blood, sweat and tears into our new effort. Some of the guys said we should just use Jack’s engines in our cars and our engines in Jack’s cars so they could learn about both, but Jack and I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ Right from the start we raced day one with our engines. PRI: Might as well stay on this great story. Tell us what happened when you went to Daytona in 2004 for the 500. Yates: It’s my favorite picture right here in the lobby. We sat on the front row for the Daytona 500 with Greg Biffle in Jack’s car and Elliott Sadler in dad’s car on the outside pole. It was our first outing together and it means the world to me to see two guys that never really had a lot of love for each other standing together getting their photo taken for the front row of the Daytona 500. I was so proud. PRI: Be it your father, Jack (Roush) or the duo now known as Roush Yates, restrictor plate racing has always been top flight in your R&D shops. Poles and wins are the norm, so please tell us how you feel about restrictor plate racing, and do you feel how NASCAR slows the cars down is easier with fuel injection, or perhaps, is there a better way to slow the cars? Yates: First and foremost, I really enjoy plate racing. As a participant and engine Builder, it has really pushed the engine development. You operate in such a tight box it ends up making us a lot smarter. I know some people don’t like it, but now it’s a better way (with fuel injection) to slow these cars down from when we had carburetors, as we can limit fuel and air with a smaller throttle body. Sure, there’s other ways to slow cars. PRI: How much horsepower does a plate engine produce versus a non-restrictor Cup engine? Yates: Right now, the average plate engine produces 450 horses versus 900 on non-plate engines. There may be other ways to reduce horsepower or slow cars down, but as an engine development team I feel plate racing is actually challenging the way it is set up now—and also rewarding, too. Every extra horsepower you make makes a big difference at Talladega and Daytona. PRI: Well, I would say David Ragan and David Gilliland of Front Row Motorsports would agree, right? (Author’s note: Ragan won the Talladega 500 this year being pushed by his teammate David Gilliland to a one-two finish by this smaller team with Roush Yates power.) Yates: Thanks much, Greg. I’m glad you brought this up. PRI: That was really exciting. It was almost as good as when the Wood Brothers won the Daytona 500 in 2011 with rookie Trevor Bayne. All with your and Jack’s expertise under the hood. Yates: And that’s the beauty of racing. If everyone knows who is going to win before the race starts, it’s not exciting. So, as you say, Leonard Wood of the Wood Brothers is one of my heroes in the sport, a mechanical genius. To see him and his family’s car win that race after such a drought, it was a tremendous day in NASCAR history. PRI: How many race engines does Roush Yates build a year? Yates: One of my long-term employees, who has been here since 1992, jokes with me a lot now about when we went from a one-car team to a two-car team. We got together and couldn’t figure out how we were going to take care of two cars. I remember he said, ‘I don’t know how in the world we’re going to build all of those engines.’ (Laughter.) That was just going from one car to two. To answer your question, by the time this PRI Show Issue comes out, we’ll have built over 750 Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World NASCAR engines for ourselves And our 30 race engine lease customers. That’s all done right here in this facility. It’s grown so much. PRI: You’ve also branched out on a new endeavor with your aftermarket Roush Yates Performance Products business. I see your print ads and YouTube ads all the time. How did that come about? Yates: Our team came up with the idea. We wanted to diversify the company and get into the aftermarket side of motorsports. I’ve found the aftermarket business is a lot of fun. We also sell a lot of our used racing parts and engines, too. PRI: I hear you’re promoting the aftermarket business very successfully with more than paid advertising. Yates: Correct. This year, we hosted the Hot Rod Magazine ‘Power Tour,’ and we had over 4000 people show up at our facility on a Friday afternoon. It was amazing, and allowed all the people to not only enjoy all the cars on the tour, but get a close-up look at our facility and what we have to offer for the car enthusiast that doesn’t have a race car. PRI: Perhaps the most difficult part of opening a new business is consumer branding, and the cost involved. However, when it came to the Yates and Roush names, consumer branding had Already been engraved in the minds of racing and hot rod enthusiasts. I would think the aftermarket move was not a surprise to most. Yates: Right. It was a natural progression from the racing end. In the last four years, cars with our engines have won over 300 races and 15 championships. We’ve made a lot of friends and learned a lot about the many markets we’re now dealing in, from dirt late models to off-road truck to drift cars. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know these new customers. And I’ll tell you this, just because you know how to build a Sprint Cup engine doesn’t necessarily mean a shop knows how to build a sprint car engine. It’s a different world, and we’ve learned along the way what works and what doesn’t…just like when dad started building his first Cup engines. PRI: What about the grassroots and street crowd? Yates: Americans love their cars, so we build a lot of grassroots engines, too. All in all, we’ve gone into numerous different markets pretty humble, and today we have a real strong program to offer. And whatever the future is for hot cars, we want to be part of it. Right now we send a lot of parts out of the country, especially in Australia. I want all of the readers of the Show Issue to know that Roush Yates is more than just NASCAR racing. We have a retail store in Mooresville, North Carolina, that people come to; we have two chassis dynos in the back, and lots more. We’ve been installing a lot of Jack Roush’s superchargers, too. I’d love for the people to come and visit us. PRI: If you could make one change in Sprint Cup rules, what would it be? Yates: That’s a tough question. I’d like to see a little more room to work on the engine, and be more creative. Unfortunately, the business formula doesn’t support my theory. So, I’d like to open up the engine development piece of the pie a little more. PRI: And to be a bit more specific? Yates: Open up the rpm capability of the engines. PRI: You’re talking rotating assemblies? Yates: Yes. There are certain rod and wrist-pin weight rules. And a valve weight rule, too. PRI: Is this rule done to eliminate the use of higher cost titanium or other super lightweight compounds? Yates: Pretty much. There were some very exotic materials being used on the pistons as well as the valves. Some were titanium aluminide for the valves. Granted, we’re still free to design some pieces, but there is still more room in the engine to work with, including ports, manifolds, headers and friction. We’ve got to remember, too, that back when I started building engines with my dad, we basically have the same engine that used to make 650 horsepower in 1990 to well over 900 today. Back then, we had no compression rule and no weight rules, but we’ve still made a lot of gains. Today it’s about materials and coatings and less friction. Some of these developments now go to the manufacturer and appear on our passenger cars. You’ll see more of this down the road, which will benefit passenger car performance. PRI: Anything new you can talk about As for the Roush Yates brand? Yates: Yes, and we’re going to announce it all right here at the 2013 PRI Trade Show. So to the people reading this interview right now that are attending the Trade Show, come on out and visit us when we announce that we’re going to be building our own Roush Yates products developed in-house. I think the industry is going to be quite excited with our announcements. PRI: Do you feel NASCAR Cup racing has become more technically advanced since we moved to electronic fuel injection, and are we attracting more “scientist type” employees? Yates: Absolutely. It has amazed me how many young engineering graduates want to be part of NASCAR now because of fuel injection. And, on the other side of the coin, how many didn’t want to be a part of it when we ran carburetors. This is very exciting for me because I feel better about what we’re doing for the sport and the fact that we’re attracting young new talent. It’s all about technology. We live in a high-tech world. Kudos to NASCAR for making the move, and I feel you’ll see even more advancements like this in the coming years. PRI: What are you most proud of? Yates: Like I said early on, as you get older things change. I have two things I’m most proud of. One, we’ve been fortunate to win big races, and winning the 1999 Championship with Dale Jarrett and my dad’s team is right up there. The older I get, the more I appreciate that. But what I’m most proud of overall is carrying on my dad’s legacy. For many years he was nervous about if I was going to make it and could I stand on my own. He wondered if he wasn’t here, would I be OK? I think that today he would say that it’s going to be OK. I can relate to my dad’s feelings because I’m a dad, too, and I have four children. But carrying on the Yates name in NASCAR and doing so in a positive manner is what I’m really proud of. PRI: Thanks much, Doug. Yates: You, too, Greg. I really enjoyed the talk with you and hope to see everyone at the PRI Show.
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