Yates Seeks Third Straight Win at Gatornationals

YATES SEEKS THIRD STRAIGHT WIN AT GATORNATIONALS GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One year ago Jim Yates had a lot to prove when he showed up at Gainesville Raceway. At the time, many were betting that Yates' recent split with engine builder...

YATES SEEKS THIRD STRAIGHT WIN AT GATORNATIONALS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One year ago Jim Yates had a lot to prove when he showed up at Gainesville Raceway. At the time, many were betting that Yates' recent split with engine builder Richard Maskin would mean an end to his stronghold on the Pro Stock division.

That prediction wasn't even close.

Yates dominated the event that day in Florida, putting together four impressive six-second runs in his Pontiac Firebird to claim a second straight victory at the swamp. He went on to record one of the most incredible seasons in NHRA Pro Stock history, recording nine victories in 12 final rounds to claim a second NHRA Winston championship.

"Our major goal last season was to show everyone that we could overcome the turmoil and persevere in our championship drive," Yates said. "We know there were a lot of people who said we couldn't make it happen after Phoenix and the breakup of our team. We all pulled together and did exactly what it takes to get the job done."

The team's momentum hasn't slowed. Yates has already recorded one win in two final rounds to lead the Winston points chase in 1998. As he prepares for the third event of the 22-race, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series season, the 29th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 5-8, his focus is clear: A third-straight Mac Tools Gatornationals win would put him one step closer to his ultimate goal -- a third-straight NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship.

"We can't sit on our laurels," Yates said. "We're going to aggressively pursue the championship again this year. We're not going to get into a defensive mode."

Yates wants to be considered in the company of other great Gatornationals winners who managed to add multiple NHRA Winston championships to their resumes. When his career is over he wants his name to be included on the same list with the likes of Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd and Warren Johnson.

"Everyone connected with this team knows our goal," Yates said. "A third straight championship would put us in a different league. We want to put ourselves in that elite category."

* Back on winning track: Warren Johnson's win over Jim Yates at the ATSCO Nationals ended many seasons of frustration for the Georgia driver at the fabled Arizona drag strip. Johnson, a winner at every other NHRA facility on the Winston Drag Racing Series schedule, had always found gremlins at Firebird International Raceway.

Fortunately for the three-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion, he won't have that problem at Gainesville Raceway. Johnson has won six of seven final rounds and owns both ends of the track performance record (6.927 seconds at 199.91 mph) at the Florida quarter-mile. The combination of his success there and his new GM Goodwrench Firebird, which he calls the best race car he's ever owned, may mean trouble for his opponents.

"As far as being able to tune this Pontiac to track conditions and seeing a change after you make the tune up, this car is very good," Johnson said. "We've had to refocus as a team this season, so overall, I think we're going to have the best year we've had in a long time. Hopefully it will result in a Winston championship."

MAC TOOLS GATORNATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION

* Schedule: Pro qualifying sessions will be held at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on March 6 and March 7. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 8. Federal-Mogul qualifying will begin at 8 a.m. on March 5. Gates open each day at 7 a.m.

* Tickets: Tickets are available for the Mac Tools Gatornationals. Call NHRA Ticketing at (800) 884-6472 for ticket information. Tickets can also be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets.

* On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of highlights and final-round competition from the Mac Tools Gatornationals at 5 p.m. (ET) March 8. TNN will televise one hour of first-round coverage during "NHRA Today" at noon (ET) March 8.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Bob Glidden