Gainesville: Jim Yates preview

Yates' Impressive Pro Stock Performances Make Him Title Contender Virginia Driver Bounces Back after Forgettable 2004 Season GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The competitive landscape of NHRA's Pro Stock category has undergone quite a change since the first...

Yates' Impressive Pro Stock Performances Make Him Title Contender
Virginia Driver Bounces Back after Forgettable 2004 Season

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The competitive landscape of NHRA's Pro Stock category has undergone quite a change since the first time Jim Yates entered a race.

It was March 1989, when Yates, his wife Toni, and crew arrived at Gainesville Raceway for the 20th Gatornationals, hoping to make the starting lineup. They didn't then, or at two more NHRA events they entered that year, but it didn't deter them from following their dream.

This was about learning, about improving the car's performance and doing what was necessary to build a solid race team, one that could not only contend for, but win, championships. They used it as the foundation for what has become a very successful career in one of the sport's toughest classes.

Team Yates has come back to the Gatornationals every year since that unsuccessful debut. In 1990, Yates earned his first Pro Stock starting position, qualifying 10th. This time around, when the 37th Gatornationals unfolds, Jim and Toni will be in search of a win. Assisting will be their son Jamie, 27, who is the crew chief.

Yates has had success here, going to three straight final rounds -- winning back-to-back races in 1996-97 (the same years he reigned as Pro Stock champion) and finishing second in 1998.

"We are looking forward to racing at Gainesville again," said Yates. "We've done fairly well there over the years. We went to the semifinals there last year."

That, in itself, speaks of Yates' ability to perform well here. In what was an atypical season for the Occoquan, Va. driver, he struggled throughout 2004's 23 races. The team was always intent on qualifying and going rounds, but Jim and Jamie fought chassis and engine setups at every stop. The result was anything but Yates-like - five round wins, failing to qualify 10 times, placing 16th and ending a string of 10 consecutive top 10 finishes.

There was more than enough incentive to make certain a significant performance turnaround would occur in 2005.

And so it has, perhaps much sooner than Yates expected, but welcomed nonetheless.

Yates is driving a new Pontiac Grand Am, built by Jerry Haas and powered -- quite competitively -- by Steve Schmidt engines. Yates is fifth after the first two POWERade Series events, his highest point in points since the end of the 2002 campaign.

Not only did he earn his 29th low qualifying award at Pomona, Calif. last month, his 6.699-second, career-best run set the track record at the time. Yates' last No. 1 was at Reading, Pa., in Sept. 2002.

He won one round at Pomona and two rounds two weeks later at Phoenix (Feb. 25-27) after struggling during qualifying, when he was 14th. The team had issues with the chassis-horsepower combination, but solved them on race day.

Yates surprised Mike Edwards and the rest of the field with what became the quickest Pro Stock run of the weekend, 6.733 seconds. Yates had the best run of the second round (6.761) in stopping Greg Stanfield and the semifinals (6.775), but lost by five-thousandths of a second to Ron Krisher's 6.781.

"We've made some changes to the car and tune-up in the last week," said Yates. "We were excited by the way we ran at Phoenix. We felt we had the fastest car on race day and we wanted to keep on racing.

"We plan to spend three days testing at Bradenton (Fla.) before going to Gainesville. We want to work on clutch/motor combinations. This is a new chassis and we're still learning what it wants in certain situations. Steve Schmidt says he'll have some motors with more horsepower ready for us.

"We feel we can be (championship) contenders," continued Yates, "but just because you have a Haas car doesn't make you a contender. You have to show others you are a contender."

That's a point Yates plans to drive home . . . race after race.

-jyr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Greg Stanfield , Steve Schmidt , Jerry Haas , Mike Edwards