Jim Yates Richmond Preview

Yates looking for balanced power on home track DINWIDDIE, Va. (April 27, 1999) -- Although Jim Yates hasn't been able to get his Splitfire/PEAK Pontiac Firebird into the final round in five races this season, he believes it's only a matter of...

Yates looking for balanced power on home track

DINWIDDIE, Va. (April 27, 1999) -- Although Jim Yates hasn't been able to get his Splitfire/PEAK Pontiac Firebird into the final round in five races this season, he believes it's only a matter of time and education.

The time part is a relatively simple matter: 18 Winston Series races remain. The education factor is an ongoing process because it focuses on the engine that provides the power and his race car chassis.

"The power curve is something we keep struggling to figure out," said Yates, the two-time NHRA Winston series champion. "If we get below a certain point, it just falls on its face. But it does show us glimpses of what it is capable of doing."

The best time for Yates to get a complete look at the picture would be the Pennzoil Nationals, Friday through Sunday, at Virginia Motorsports Park, near Richmond.

The reasons are many. Yates is from Alexandria, less than two hours up Interstate 95 from the track. His wife Toni and oldest son Jamie are team members, and there's the thing about not qualifying for this event last year.

Yates had a five-year qualifying string interrupted by mechanical problems at last year's event. He remembers how it felt. He knows what happened then and doesn't believe it will happen again.

"We didn't qualify at Richmond last year and it wasn't because we couldn't get down the track," he said. "It was because we had a horsepower problem. We've come a long way since then and we have been making some fairly consistent runs this year. Right now we're on a good run."

Yates is fourth in the standings with 287 points. Kurt Johnson leads the category with 484 points, followed by his dad, Warren, at 450. It was Warren who ended Yates' two-year reign in 1998. Troy Coughlin is third, just 11 points ahead of Yates.

Engine builder Bob Ingles provided a strong motor that has only been in the car for four races. Each event the team learns more about adapting the power to the chassis.

"The car runs with the lead pack," Yates commented. "Our problem is between the starting line and 60 feet. We are working hard to come up with a combination that gets us through that area. I think once we get through the first 60 feet, we'll be in good shape. The car will run the rest of the track all right."

Yates qualified fifth last weekend at the Texas Motorplex, near Dallas. He advanced to the second round before the car slowed and Rickie Smith upset him. Yates' best qualifying time was 6.957 seconds. He beat Tom Martino in the first round for the third time this season, running 6.969 seconds, second-quickest time in the round.

"The car fell on its face in the second round, and when it finally took off, we had too little too late," Yates explained. "I was working on my reaction times all weekend and they were consistently in the .460 and .450 range. I think you have to blame half that loss on reaction time and the other half on the race car's performance.

"We've found some things wrong with the chassis that we fixed that we feel will make our reaction times better. We also know why the car's performance fell off. If we can get everything working together, I think this Splitfire/PEAK Pontiac has the performance to win some races.

"Richmond is the kind of track that I think will work good with this motor the way it is," continued Yates. "We have a lot of family and friends coming to the race, so there will be a little added pressure, but we've always performed well when the pressure is on. We'll dig down and see what we can do."

Yates will be looking for low elapsed times during qualifying -- Friday at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at noon and 4 p.m. - before Sunday's eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Troy Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Tom Martino , Rickie Smith