Brainerd Jim Yates Preview

DESPITE MISCUES, YATES STILL IN PRO STOCK TITLE PURSUIT BRAINERD, Minn. -- Jim Yates has some words of advice for Warren Johnson. Not that the three-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion needs any such mentoring from a two-time champ,...

DESPITE MISCUES, YATES STILL IN PRO STOCK TITLE PURSUIT

BRAINERD, Minn. -- Jim Yates has some words of advice for Warren Johnson.

Not that the three-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion needs any such mentoring from a two-time champ, but Yates just wants to make sure Johnson doesn't get too comfortable with his expanding lead.

Besides, during the last two seasons, Yates became very familiar with that 'icky' feeling. That sudden overwhelming paranoia that exists when a driver with a huge lead begins to worry about those pesky mythical gremlins that are capable of producing first round losses, or even dreaded DNQ's.

Most of all, the Alexandria, Va. driver wants Johnson to know that despite a few miscues this season that he's still right there, within striking distance with eight races to go. Sure, he's 390 points out of first, but in drag racing, anything can happen.

"I've led the points race the last two years and been seven rounds ahead going into the last three races and been scared to death," Yates said. "You have to have momentum. You can be 10 rounds ahead and someone can catch you. A big lead is a very fragile thing if you get too confident and lose focus on your task at hand."

Yates' current task includes getting back to the Winner's Circle. He hasn't visited there since the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. He'll try to do that at the 17th annual VisionAire NorthStar Nationals, Aug. 20-23 at Brainerd International Raceway. The $1.5 million race is the 15th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

However, Yates is very realistic, too. Despite the jitters he encountered while leading the Winston standings the last two seasons, he also knows the tremendous confidence that is a product of holding the No. 1 spot. He knows that the experienced Johnson, a six time winner this season, isn't going to make many mistakes over the course of the final eight races.

"Trying to catch someone as strong as Warren is going to be a tough job," Yates said. "He's a great Pro Stock racer and does a good job, so trying to catch him is even harder than trying to stay ahead of him."

Yates says the biggest difference in this season and his two championship winning years has been the absence of a strong rallying point.

"I think every year you have to have a battle cry," Yates said. "Two years ago it was winning the championship from Warren. Last year it was winning the championship with Bob Ingles as the engine builder. This year, maybe we've lacked that battle cry."

Yates, who earned his first Pro Stock victory at Brainerd International Raceway in 1994, hopes a return to the Minnesota quarter-mile will be good medicine for a season that has produced three DNQ's and three first round losses.

"Overall I'd say it's been a pretty good year," said Yates, currently fourth in the Winston standings. "Obviously not qualifying at those races have kind of dealt us a bad hand in our pursuit of a third Winston championship. But we're still in the top-five and we're close. A couple of thousandths of a second here or there and maybe this season would be a whole different story."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson