Richmond: GM Racing preview

RICHMOND, Va., Oct. 2, 2007 - Pontiac's Jim Yates is hoping some midyear performance improvements in his Wiley X Eyewear GTO will be just what the doctor ordered to secure a 15th career top-10 finish. The veteran driver needs to get around a...

RICHMOND, Va., Oct. 2, 2007 - Pontiac's Jim Yates is hoping some midyear performance improvements in his Wiley X Eyewear GTO will be just what the doctor ordered to secure a 15th career top-10 finish. The veteran driver needs to get around a pair of pretty formidable opponents with only three races remaining on the NHRA schedule, and putting together a string of round wins at this weekend's 2nd annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals would go a long way in securing the desired outcome for the resident of nearby Occoquan, Va.

"Right now we're excited," said Yates. "We've come down to the end of the year, and we're in position to get a top-10 finish and maybe get a race win. It's the same excitement you get at the beginning of the season. It's so close that we feel like we can achieve it, and we're going to do our best at the next three races to get there.

"One of the exciting things for us is to be a player in the Countdown. Not that we are actually competing for the championship, but if we perform to our potential we can have a lot of fun, and make or break it for some of the racers in the Countdown. Being a spoiler is certainly a good reason to get out of bed and go to work everyday. It makes it kind of fun. They put these Countdown cars up on a pedestal, and we want to knock the legs off those pedestals and bring them back down to earth a little bit. The last six or seven races we've had a pretty strong showing. Bill Jenkins is working up there in Malvern, Pa., rebuilding engines and giving us a good strong horse to ride."

Since late June, the Wiley X Eyewear Pontiac has run markedly better than it did during the first half of the season and the results have put Yates in position for a strong finish to 2007. Currently 11th in the standings, Yates has advanced beyond the first round in five of his last six starts including a semifinal round run at Memphis and a No. 2 qualifying effort, his best of the year, at Indianapolis. That has moved him to within 10 points of 10th-place V. Gaines and to within 52 points of ninth-place Richie Stevens Jr.

"At the U.S. Nationals we were the No. 2 qualifier and had a performance advantage going into the second round," said Yates. "Then we go out and break a rear-end. It wasn't because of lack of attention on our part. We had the same exact thing happen at that racetrack 10 years ago, and since then we've been taking the rear-end out of the car every Saturday night to rebuild it before we race on Sunday. We did it again on the Sunday night before Indy eliminations but just had a freak failure.

"You have to be careful because something like that can take the wind out of your sails. You're running really good and have an opportunity to get into the semifinals at Indy. That's one step away from the finals with a really fast car. You have to be careful that a shot to the gut like that doesn't take away all of your energy. But it didn't. We went to Memphis and ran really well there. You know, you can't cry over spilt milk. What we have to do now is take a lesson from that and not let that prevent us from finishing in the top 10, something we've done in 14 of the last 16 race seasons."

In 377 career races spanning 19 seasons, the 54-year-old Yates has won two NHRA Pro Stock championships (1996-97), captured 25 national-event victories (all in a Pontiac), advanced to 58 final rounds, earned 29 No. 1 qualifying awards and won 409 eliminator rounds (.578). He's finished second in the NHRA points standings three times (1995, 2001-02), in the top five of the Pro Stock standings eight times and in the top 10 of the points standings 14 times. Among full-time active Pro Stock drivers, only Warren Johnson (who will earn his 27th top-10 finish this season), and Kurt Johnson (who will successfully nail down his 15th top 10 this year), have more top-10 finishes than the Wiley X Pontiac driver.

"In Pro Stock, it's not a matter of tenths or hundredths of a second, but thousandths of a second," said Yates. "Just that three or four thousandths of a second gets you lane choice. That gives you maybe a hundredth of an advantage in round one, and that's the difference between winning and losing rounds. Here lately those thousandths have been stacking up more in our favor, getting us in the top half and helping us. We're going into the toughest part of the season now with those cars in the Countdown trying to win a championship and the rest of us trying to win races. Everyone's racing tougher than ever and everyone's racing you hard.

"I think the biggest thing we've had here lately is more consistency and having the engines run a little better. We were having issues, keeping everything together, getting the motors to run right, getting the car to run right and then qualifying well enough to win some rounds. When you qualify in the bottom half and give up lane choice for the first round, that can be detrimental to your chances of going more than one or two rounds. Right now the engine program is making more power - Bill Jenkins and his group are doing a great job at getting more horsepower out of our engines and Jamie is doing a better job working with the car."

Although Yates has never won an NHRA Pro Stock event at Virginia Motorsports Park, he was runner-up to Warren Johnson in 1995 and Jeg Coughlin Jr. in 2000, and at last year's contest, Yates advanced to the semifinals before losing to Tom Martino.

"Richmond is absolutely a race we want to win, and when you want it as bad as we do sometimes that's what you need," said Yates. "In 2006 we won the Pontiac Performance Nationals in Columbus, a race backed by one of our major sponsors and when you can do that, you have to pinch yourself. At Richmond we're in the same boat because we'll have a tremendous number of fans coming down from the Washington, D.C., area and having that kind of crowd around to cheer you on, hopefully that will be the difference.

"The goal for us now is to win a race and finish in the top 10. All year long we've said that's attainable but we haven't got there yet. Every time we think we're going to get there something happens to stop it. We're very confident that we can finish in the top 10. We know that with the budget we're on that it's tough for us to compete for the championship, but we feel like we can compete for race wins and we'd like to get maybe one or two a year, and we want to be a top 10 car. That's well within our grasp at the present time. We just have to close strong and that's what we're focused on."

On Wednesday, Yates will join Alcohol Funny Car team owner/crew chief Jay Blake in a visit with American combat-wounded troops at the Mologne House which is a part of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. And in November, following the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona, Yates and fellow drivers Warren Johnson, Tommy Johnson Jr., Melanie Troxel and Cory McClenathan will return to Germany for their third USO-sponsored post-season visit with American troops stationed at the Kaiserslautern Military Community.

"I consider it a real privilege, just to be asked to go," said Yates. "It's been an awesome experience for me. After our first visit to Ramstein in 2005, I received a letter from a mother whose son we saw while we were in Germany thanking us for what we had done. That really meant a lot. You know, we race cars - we get to do something we love to do and it's fun. We've been very fortunate to have the opportunity to race nationally with the NHRA and it's nice to give something back to the troops that fight for our freedom."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Richie Stevens Jr. , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Cory McClenathan , Tom Martino , Melanie Troxel , Tommy Johnson Jr.