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Grandfather, grandson share a passion for racing

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 6, 2019 at 8:15 PM

KINGSPORT — Kevin Canter doesn’t have to look far to see his toughest competitor most Friday nights at Kingsport Speedway.

While Canter has dominated the Mod 4 division for the past year and a half, one driver has consistently battled him. That driver is Hershell Robinette, his 75-year-old grandfather.

It shouldn’t be too surprising: Canter’s been tagging along with his grandpa to the racetrack since he was just 2 years old.

“It’s definitely an experience. I will be 28 in December and he’s been driving the class I drive 28 years,” said Canter, who pilots a black No. 3 with a Dale Earnhardt-tribute paint scheme. “It’s always exciting to get out there with him because he races me just like I’m another competitor and he doesn’t give me any slack.

“Most cars, it will take me a couple of laps to get around. Sometimes, he makes me work for it and it will take five, six laps to get around him.”

Plenty of famous siblings dot the stock car landscape, most recently NASCAR’s Busch brothers. There have been father-sons such as the Pettys and Earnhardts or, in the case of the drag-racing Forces, father-daughters. There’s even a husband-wife combination of Ricky and Jessica Payne in the Pure Street division at Kingsport, and another husband-wife tandem of Sam and Penny Hurd, though they race in different divisions.

But seeing a grandfather out there rubbing fenders with his grandchild is a rarity. For Robinette, these are times he wouldn’t trade for the world.

“It’s a privilege to race with Kevin. He’s been going to the track with me since he was 2 years old and he’s helped me along the way,” he said. “Here it is these years later, I’m still doing it and he’s here with me.”

The family bonds are extremely tight, and Canter credits his stepfather for having the opportunity to get out and have fun with his grandfather.

“I owe it all to my stepdad, Rocky Yates, who owned this car and won multiple championships,” Canter said. “He set me up for success when he put the wheel in my hand, although I’ve paid him a pretty penny for the car. We’ve raced three seasons and have three track championships. We’re 3-for-3 and looking at 4-for-4.”

Canter stays plenty busy with a mowing service plus taking care of 700 head of cattle. He recently bought his grandfather’s house in Abingdon after Robinette moved to Bristol.

Robinette, meanwhile, is retired but he’s not slowing down with the racing.

“It’s something to do, man,” he said. “I’m addicted to it and work on it all the time. My daughter, Pamela Yates, who is Kevin’s mom, also does a lot of the work on the cars. She can change carburetors or anything. She’s been coming to the track with Kevin, my granddaughter and now my great-granddaughter. It’s a family tradition.”

Canter and Robinette may race each other hard, but they pit side by side and work together. When Robinette was struggling with his black No. 9 Ford earlier in the season, he knew the perfect driver to diagnose the problems.

“A few weeks ago, he was having trouble with his car so he had me jump in it and see if we could get it going any better,” Canter said. “We picked up four-tenths (of a second). He’s been on the rails ever since.”

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