Despite a severed tendon in his left thumb, Jim Yates continues to maintain a high degree of optimism as he prepares for the start of the 2000 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) season, the AutoZone Winternationals, Feb. 3-6 at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.
Yates, driver of the SplitFire/PEAK Pontiac Pro Stock car, suffered the injury in a freak accident while working on his racecar during last month's test session in Bradenton, Fla. Though the thumb was put in a cast following a 30-minute surgery, Yates has vowed to be ready for the Winternationals.
"I don't have any doubt that I will be racing when the season begins," said Yates, a two-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion. "Nothing can dampen my enthusiasm after the kind of test session we had last month. The good news is the injury is on the left hand, not my shifting hand. I have also made arrangements with Simpson (safety apparel maker) for a special driving glove to fit over my left hand.
In his new Don Ness-built chassis and the power of Bob Ingles' engine, Yates recorded speeds in excess of 201 mph several times during the December test session in Bradenton. His best was 201.66 mph, followed by a 201.59 and a 201.40. "We have been impressed with the quality of the new chassis," Yates said. "The car is very aerodynamic and worked really well during initial testing, but it's going to take a period of time to get used to the car. It does produce a lot of speed."
Along with a new car, Yates also has a new crew chief in Rickie Smith, a longtime Pro Stock racer and tuner. Smith, from King, N.C., drove in selected NHRA races last year, winning the national event in Houston in October. He placed in the NHRA top 10 four times in the 1990s, with a best of fifth place in 1996. He is also a five-time International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) national champion.
"We are very happy to have Rickie working for our team," said Yates, from his home in Alexandria, Va. "He's proved he can win as a driver and win as a crew chief. He's a tremendously resourceful individual who has a wealth of knowledge. He won five IHRA championships before I ever sat in a Pro Stock car.
"Rickie was a good seat-of-the-pants racer who has evolved with today's more technical sport," added Yates. "He has continued his educational process to the point where I'm impressed enough with him to know that I want him on our team. He will relieve me of almost all the manual labor I do at the tracks, which will give me more time to focus on driving and the fans."