With his technical wizardry as a prime asset, Mr. Yates started Robert Yates Racing, with its own team, in 1988. Seizing on the chance to drive with Yates horsepower under his hood, Jarrett left Joe Gibbs Racing and signed with Mr. Yates’s team. He went on to win the 1996 and 2000 Daytona 500s and the 1999 Winston Cup title.
“Robert was the smartest car person I’ve ever known,” Jarrett said in a telephone interview. “He didn’t just know engines, which is what he was best known for. But he knew aerodynamics and he knew how to build a chassis, and he knew what to look for with tires as far as making them go faster. He understood everything about cars.”
As a team owner, Mr. Yates won 57 races, including the Daytona 500 three times.
James Robert Yates was born in Charlotte, N.C., on April 19, 1943, to the Rev. John Clyde Yates, a pastor at a Baptist church, and the former V. C. Cooke.
As an infant Mr. Yates had rheumatic fever, which slowed his development; he didn’t walk until he was 5. A hole in his heart limited his athletic activities, and a blow to his head caused when an older brother pushed him to the ground led to difficulties at school and a longtime problem with dizziness.
“I couldn’t hold my head upright,” he told The Charlotte Observer this year. “I’d try to go to school, but I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t make good grades from the day I started. My teachers would ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ”
But with his twin brother, Richard, Robert found a direction: working with engines. They traded in the 1947 Pontiac their father had given them for a ’57 Chevy, which they used to race around the streets of Charlotte.
“We knew that car forward and backward,” Mr. Yates told Cox News Service in 2000. “Every single function of a ’57 Chevrolet, we could about do it blindfolded.”
But Mr. Yates’s drag racing got him into trouble with the police, leading his father to take away his license. With his high school grades faltering, he went to live in Wake Forest, N.C., with a sister. While finishing school there, he was awakened to mathematics and how it could help him figure out how to get more horsepower out of engines.
After graduating with a two-year degree from what is now called Wilson Community College, about 47 miles southeast of Wake Forest, he worked on bulldozers for a tractor company.
“To me that was a glamorous job,” he told Power & Performance News. “I had always wanted to operate bulldozers and build roads and things like that.”
But his future lay not with lumbering, earth-moving machines; rather, it was with cars that zoom around ovals at 200 miles an hour.
A friend’s recommendation led him to a job at Holman Moody, a racecar and engine builder, which led to work in Junior Johnson’s shop and then to DiGard Racing, where Waltrip was a star driver.
Mr. Yates left racing and engine-building in 1986 to work on the development of ethanol synthetic fuel, but he returned soon after as team manager at Ranier-Lundy Racing
Two years later, he acquired Ranier-Lundy’s assets and started his own team, Robert Yates Racing.
Driving for Yates Racing, the popular Davey Allison won 11 Winston Cup races, including the Daytona 500, from 1991 to 1993. But he died when his helicopter crashed at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in July 1993.
After the death, Mr. Yates did not enter a car in the next race on the Nascar schedule. “Preparing a car for someone to drive at 200 m.p.h. is a serious responsibility,” he told a news conference. “I just don’t think that we can bury Davey and be ready to meet that responsibility.”
In 2003, Mr. Yates merged his engine shop with one owned by Jack Roush, a competitor; with both their racing teams driving Ford-branded cars, they felt it best to combine their efforts.
“They weren’t big fans of each other,” Doug Yates, Mr. Yates’s son, said in a video on the Roush Yates website. “There was some stress in the meeting, so we said we had this idea and he said, `I’ll listen.’ ”
Mr. Yates retired in 2007 but returned three years later to start another Nascar engine-building business.
In addition to his son, Mr. Yates is survived his twin brother; his wife, the former Carolyn Helms; his daughter, Amy Carrick; eight grandchildren; and his sisters, Rachel Wall, Martha Brady, Phyllis Harvel, Elaine Rogers and Doris Rogers.
Mr. Yates, who learned he had liver cancer last year, was voted into the Nascar Hall of Fame in Charlotte, class of 2018, in May.
“It’s really good to be here when you win,” Mr. Yates said when his election was announced. “It’s all about winning, right?”