Yates Story & ProStock Notebook (P/S)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE NHRA Communications YATES KEEPS PEDAL DOWN AS FOCUS SHIFTS TO 1997 TITLE DEFENSE POMONA, Calif. -- Jim Yates was celebrating his first NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship on a recent Sunday evening in Texas...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NHRA Communications

YATES KEEPS PEDAL DOWN AS FOCUS SHIFTS TO 1997 TITLE DEFENSE

POMONA, Calif. -- Jim Yates was celebrating his first NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship on a recent Sunday evening in Texas when a chilling thought rushed through his mind like an Arctic gust of wind.

"This is the goal you live your whole life to reach," Yates said. "I think the problem for us is we've reached our goal. Now we can't let down. We need to be hard on ourselves. If we do all that and race good next year, we'll be in contention for the title."

That formula sure worked this year.

Yates, from Alexandria, Va., dominated Pro Stock en route to clinching the NHRA Winston championship Oct. 13 at the Chief Auto Parts Nationals in Dallas. Yates sealed the title in fine style, earning his category-best eighth victory of the season in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird.

The season could come full circle for Yates at the 32nd annual, $1,416,000 Winston Select Finals, Oct. 24-27 at Pomona Raceway. He started his run toward the title with a victory at the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals in February at Pomona.

A victory at this event would provide more than just another trophy and a fatter wallet for Yates. It would fulfill his mission of placing an indelible stamp on this season as his own. He knows the great drivers in NHRA history have done more than win -- they've dominated.

So has Yates. He has won three consecutive races since mid- September and qualified No. 1 at two of the last four races. Yates started the season with three straight victories.

"We want to go out and set the pace, run hard and remind everybody that we were the dominant car in the beginning of the season," Yates said. "That's the big thing. We want to remind people that we are the dominant car."

WINSTON SELECT FINALS PRO STOCK NOTEBOOK

--Celebrate: While Jim Yates knows his full concentration will be needed to defend his NHRA Winston championship in 1997, it's time for a little celebrating now.

"What we have to be careful of is that we enjoy it," Yates said. "Since we've worked so hard, we have to appreciate the accomplishment. We're going to relax and enjoy it, especially over the next month.

"This is the greatest thing you can imagine."

--Breakthrough for Pontiac: Jim Yates is the first Pontiac driver to win an NHRA Winston Pro Stock championship.

--WJ looking at '97: With Jim Yates clinching the NHRA Winston championship at Dallas, Warren Johnson knew it was time to starting focusing on 1997 at the Chief Auto Parts Nationals. He debuted a new GM Performance Parts Pontiac Firebird with mixed results.

On his second run in qualifying, Johnson had a close encounter with the concrete guardrail as his car swerved violently at the finish line and brushed the wall. But he recovered on the next run to record a strong pass of 6.979 seconds at 197.45 mph, good for the No. 2 qualifying spot behind Yates.

"This is definitely a faster race car than our old one -- we ran the quickest e.t. in the last 330-feet that we've ever run in a Firebird,"Johnson said. "Now it's a matter of gaining experience with the car."

But trouble returned for Johnson against his son, Kurt, in the first round of eliminations. A broken rev limiter switch ended Warren Johnson's day, forcing him to roll through the starting lights while staging, an immediate disqualification.

"Unbelievable!" Johnson said. "A brand-new switch failed. I staged, floored the accelerator, and the engine went to 9,500 rpm. It's unbelievable that an $80 switch can go bad -- but I guess that's why things go wrong even on the space shuttle.

"This season we've broken a rotor, a driveshaft, a wheelie bar, and a rev limiter in the first round of eliminations. Those are four things I guarantee we won't break next year. Unfortunately there are about a half-million individual parts in a race car, which means we've still got 499,996 pieces to work on."

--Another convert: It's too early to say, but the next professional team-sports athlete to race Pro Stock could be Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Ed Belfour.

Belfour recently slipped behind the wheel of an Eagle Talon to earn his NHRA competition license. The car was powered by a 498 cubic- inch Dodge engine, the same size engine used in Pro Stock.

Belfour's runs, which netted a best of 8.18 seconds, 165.00 mph, were filmed by ESPN and will be used as part of an upcoming feature series called "Be a Player" that will highlight NHL stars and their off- ice activities. Sports Channel Chicago will also use footage of Belfour during its coverage of the upcoming NHL season.

"There's no bigger adrenaline rush than sitting behind the wheel of a race car and putting the pedal to the metal," said Belfour, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1991 and has appeared in three All-Star games. "My main focus right now is winning the Stanley Cup, but when my hockey career is over, I definitely plan on being involved in racing."

Keen-eyed hockey fans may have noticed the Mopar B-1 decal that adorns the back of Belfour's colorful goalie mask.

Former NBA standout Larry Nance and NBA power forward Tom Hammonds made their respective NHRA Pro Stock debuts this season. Former NFL quarterback Dan Pastorini raced Top Fuel during the mid-1980s.

--Sixes-bound: Jim Yates thinks his NHRA elapsed-time national record of 6.947 seconds set in September at Reading, Pa., won't fall at this event. But someone could come close.

"Pomona is a good track," Yates said. "It depends on how good the weather is. We could run 6.90's."

The track record is 6.997 seconds, set by Warren Johnson at the 1995 Winston Select Finals.

--Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 24, one of only two professional qualifying sessions held on a Thursday this season. Qualifying will continue with a session at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 25, and finish with sessions at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Final eliminations start at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 27. Sportsman competition starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 24.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Winston Select Finals. Call NHRA at (818) 914-4761 for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets throughout Southern California. To order through Ticketmaster, call (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000, (805) 583-8700 or (619) 220-TIXS. Ticketmaster online information can be obtained on the World Wide Web at http://www.ticketmaster.com.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 60 minutes of live final -round competition from the Winston Select Finals at 4:30 p.m. (PST) Oct. 27 . TNN will televise the Budweiser Classic live from 4-5 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 26.

--On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics, driver biographies, audio files and video clips. -30-

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Tom Hammonds , Dan Pastorini , Larry Nance