Jim Yates interview

Jim Yates heads West with NHRA Pro Stock points lead. DENVER, July 1, 2002 - As the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour makes the halfway turn for the three-race western swing in Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Pontiac SC/T Ram Air Grand Am driver Jim ...

Jim Yates heads West with NHRA Pro Stock points lead.

DENVER, July 1, 2002 - As the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour makes the halfway turn for the three-race western swing in Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Pontiac SC/T Ram Air Grand Am driver Jim Yates sits atop the Pro Stock standings with a narrow lead over second-place Greg Anderson and third-place Warren Johnson. Five of Yates 23 career wins have occurred on the three-race Western swing and he's competed in a total of nine final rounds during this grueling stretch of the tour. Although Yates is yet to reach the winner's circle in 2002, his consistent on-track performance has resulted in 19 round wins (the most of any driver in the Pro Stock category), six No. 1 qualifying spots (including the last five races in a row) and an average raceday starting position of second.

Jim Yates will be testing the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac SC/T Grand Am this week at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., in preparation for the Mile-High Nationals on July 18 - 21. Yates is a two-time winner at Bandimere Speedway (1996-97) and was runner-up at the Mile-High Nationals in 1995.

What do you attribute your performance level to this season?

"Last year we were the No. 1 qualifier at three of the last six races and that's when we started running two cars. This year we've been No. 1 at six of the first 12 races. I think a big part of that is running two cars; having Jamie (Yates) in that second Grand Am and being able to tune off of that. It gives us twice as many runs at a national event which gives us the opportunity to experiment a little bit, and then come back and adjust my car. Bob Ingles has stayed home working on motors and finding us horsepower, and I think he's picked up our program power wise."

"In Pro Stock horsepower is king and we've got plenty of power under the hood. Plus this new '02 SC/T Ram Air Grand Am is definitely helping us. It's just the whole program coming together and we're not leaving any rock unturned. The second car is just one part of that, Bob Ingles staying home and working on motors is another part of that and this new SC/T Ram Air Grand Am is another part of it. It's an evolving situation and we want to continue to improve and move forward."

Why is the class so close?

"It's attributable to a number of things. Number one, the lanes are better. There aren't as many one-lane racetracks. Right now NHRA is doing a good job of getting the bumps out of the lanes so that they're equally good or bad. The other thing is that the cars are performing a lot closer together. We've got 16 cars that are between .02 and .04 of a second apart. That's the difference between No. 1 and No. 2 qualifier in Top Fuel. Now when you go to the starting line No. 1, you only have a .02 of a second advantage over No. 16. Even the best driver can vary .02 on the Christmas tree."

"You can put the same guy in both lanes and he would win one and lose the other. There is no definite advantage. The cars are so close together in performance, and the lanes are so similar that it's a toss-up on who's going to win the race. Even if you've got a really fast car and an average light, the guy with the slower car who has a good light could win the race. You need a really fast car, a good light and hope the guy next to you doesn't cut a .400. Back in 1997 we won 9 races on our way to the championship. It's not like that now, but we're not frustrated because of that."

"It's kind of like baseball. If you hit .275 you're a good hitter, if you hit .150 you're a bad hitter and if you hit .350 you're a great hitter. Right now in Pro Stock we're hitting .600 - that's pretty good. The bar has been raised and there are very few that are getting over it every weekend. It's great for the spectators and the sport, but pretty rough on the teams. It's like playing a full game of baseball and only getting one hit. That's the way it is, and if we were the only guys having that problem then we'd probably be a little frustrated, but right now it's hard to be frustrated when we're leading the points."

How would you evaluate the first half?

"I think as far as a grade I'd give us a solid 'B'. I think our SC/T Grand Am is a very consistent racecar, probably the most consistent racecar out there, but we can definitely improve on it. We've got great performance but we need to improve our consistency on race day."

Are you surprised you haven't won a race yet?

"We've been close a couple of times and were in the final round in a really close race with George Marnell at Pomona. I'm surprised we haven't executed on a few of opportunities, but in reality, when you look back, you have to accept it. Winning doesn't make a big difference when you look at the points standings, it's just one more round, but it would be nice to get that in the record book - it would make us feel a little better."

How important is a little luck on raceday?

"There are so many cars close together that there's no room for error whatsoever. There's no team that's capable of having a perfect weekend, so you have to do a good job, but it also seems that to win a race you need to have one lucky round. As close as the cars are, if you lose any kind of advantage, whether it's lane choice or what have you, it's tough to win."

How do you react to the competitiveness?

"Again, it's like baseball. There may be guys that hit a home run, and that's great, but you don't win baseball games on just home runs. You can also win them on base hits and we've got a lot of base hits. We hit a double or a triple almost every weekend. That's not frustrating. It would be frustrating to win a race one weekend, and not qualify for a race the following weekend, and there's a lot of that going on. So we're thankful and very satisfied that we've qualified at every race so far. We've qualified well and we're winning a fair amount of rounds every weekend, except for Bristol when we had a problem with the car. That's what is going to put us in position to win the championship this year if we get that far. It's all about points. We all go to each race wanting to win it, but a lot of cars are competing and you can't guarantee a win. But if you play your cards right, and you get enough round wins then you are in a position to compete for the championship."

Do you think you could go the whole year without winning a race and still win the championship?

"That's really two questions. I do think we're going to win races. I feel like we're going to win multiple races. On the other hand, I do feel that it is possible to win a championship and not win a race."

Are you pleased with Jamie's performance as crew chief?

"Jamie lacks a little bit of practical knowledge because he's only been doing this for the last 10 years compared to someone like Rickie Smith or Terry Adams. But Jamie learns fast and he's picked up a lot from those individuals. Jamie does have a tremendously good decision making process. It's a very analytical style with his engineering background, and he's been making good solid decisions based on the facts that are presented to him. I definitely have input on what's going on, but Jamie lives in the numbers and bounces them off me. I don't spend as much time looking for numbers but I have a good overview of what's going on."

"Sometimes if Jamie has his head buried in the books looking for what's wrong, I've got my head up looking at the car for what's wrong. It's a very complimentary relationship. My job is to drive the car, work with the sponsors, handle the autographs, stuff like that and then tune the car. I can see things because I'm not totally bogged down with it. Plus I've got that practical knowledge from years and years of driving. I can feel things inside the car that Jamie may not be able to see on the graph. We have a trusting relationship. If Jamie says we should do something then we give it a try."

There's also more to being crew chief then just numbers - there's a lot of organization and getting things done in 75 minutes between rounds.

"Absolutely. Especially when you're running two cars. There are a lot of parts in that trailer. The idea is to try and have them all in race-ready position any time you need them, and be able to go from one clutch to an alternative clutch and not miss a beat. Or switch engines or carburetors, and have all the parts lined up and categorized where you can go in, grab one, put it on the car and go out and make consistent runs. That's been a real plus for us this year."

How are you preparing for July and August?

"We had several motors rebuilt in preparation for St. Louis, and then after St. Louis we'll get our race motor rebuilt for the three-race swing - we're trying to get all of our ducks lined up in a row. We're using this period right now to get completely organized. Get all of our parts and rear ends fresh, get our clutches recoated, get all of our motors rebuilt. When we go test in Denver we'll need to have alternate gear ratios available. You've got to have fresh parts for that three-race swing."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , George Marnell , Terry Adams , Rickie Smith