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CUP: Allison’s Daytona 500 Car On Block

Back in the day, nobody made more horsepower than Robert Yates and nobody worked harder at it, either.The son of a Baptist preacher, Yates cut his teeth giving the neighborhood cops fits as a kid street racing in Charlotte in the late 1950s, and then became one of NASCAR’s premier engine builders with Holman-Moody and Junior Johnson before forming his own race team in 1988.Asked if Yates was the most feared engine builder at restrictor-plate races, his former crew chief and current SPEED and Fox broadcaster Larry McReynolds just smiled.“Robert was the most feared guy, period,” said McReynolds. “Plate engines, restricted engines, unrestricted. Robert and his son, Doug, they were tenacious. They never, ever quit working.”McReynolds joined Robert Yates Racing in March 1991, helping lead Davey Allison to 11 race victories and three poles in one of the sport’s most iconic cars, the black No. 28 Texaco-Havoline Ford Thunderbird.To this day, Yates remains a huge influence on McReynolds. “I’ve been very fortunate to work for some great car owners,” said McReynolds. “You just don’t know how much Robert Yates impacted my life … attitude, outlook, perseverance. Kenny Bernstein taught me a lot about business and how to deal with people. Robert Yates taught me how to win races.”For his part, Yates has always been an unassuming workaholic, who loves to thrash on all things mechanical. That was true when he was an engine builder in NASCAR, and it’s true now, as he spends his time as a gentlemen farmer in Wilkes County, N.C., where he’s a neighbor to his former boss Junior Johnson.“I just love to be busy,” said Yates. “It’s like when I was building engines. When I got really organized, and I had four engines to assemble, I’d work until 2 in the morning and loved it.”This is a huge week coming up for Yates: On Saturday, he will be inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, along with Roger Penske, Rusty Wallace and Jack Roush.{pagebreak}The following week, Yates will fly to Arizona, where he keeps a winter home, for the annual Collector Car Event, which this year will include 39 hours of live television coverage on SPEED. At this year’s Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale event, one of the most famous cars in the RYR stables will be auctioned off.The car, a 1991 Ford Thunderbird, is known as “Buster,” following the Yates tradition of naming all its cars back in the day. Buster was built for the 1991 superspeedway races and sat on the pole for the ’91 Daytona 500, but Allison tangled with Dale Earnhardt and crashed in the race, as he did in the first of two races that year at Talladega Superspeedway.Allison and Buster rebounded to qualify second and finish third in the July Daytona race and earn a top-10 finish in the July Talladega race.When the ’92 season rolled around, RYR had two superspeedway cars, Buster and Calhoun. In those days of unrestricted testing, the team spent day after day at Talladega and Daytona in January, putting both cars through their respective paces.Finally, Red Farmer, a longtime friend of the Allison family and one of the charter members of the “Alabama gang,” shook down both cars a final time at Talladega, recommending that the team take Calhoun to Daytona that year.Calhoun qualified for the Daytona 500 and raced in the Budweiser Shootout, but was wrecked in the final practice session prior to the Gatorade Duels, forcing the team to pull Buster out as a back-up. “The joke back then, was ‘Give Calhoun the ball,’” said McReynolds. “But Calhoun didn’t want the ball.”So the team unloaded and prepped Buster, which Allison drove from the third row to victory in the Daytona 500. He also won the May 1992 Talladega race with Buster. The car scored top-10s in the next three restrictor-plate races before the being retired at the end of the ’93 season. Allison tragically perished following a helicopter crash in the Talladega infield in July 1993.But the car that Allison scored one of his biggest victories will now be auctioned off at this year’s Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale event. The car is scheduled to be sold during SPEED’s live coverage of the event on Saturday, Jan. 23. SPEED and SPEEDtv.com will have much more on this car and the auction’s next week live from Scottsdale.