DENVER, Colo. (July 8, 1999) He waited a long time to pick up his 21st career NHRA victory, but now that he has it, Jim Yates hopes the next one won't take quite as long. His earliest opportunity will come at the Mile High Nationals at ...
DENVER, Colo. (July 8, 1999) He waited a long time to pick up his 21st career NHRA victory, but now that he has it, Jim Yates hopes the next one won't take quite as long. His earliest opportunity will come at the Mile High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway on July 15-18, the 12th race of the 22-event Winston Championship tour and the first leg of the arduous three-event Western swing. "Everybody works very hard and it makes it easier when you're winning races," Yates said. "We learned that for two years when we won 18 races during that time frame. So no matter how hard you worked, you were only a couple of weeks away from some recognition. "We've gone the last year and a half without winning and even though we've come very close, some people have basically counted us down and out. That has everyone working even harder and even though we recognize it on the team, others outside our camp may not see it. To go out and win in St. Louis with everyone working as hard as they are just gives the whole team that little extra pat on the back." Coming into this year's Mile-High Nationals, Yates arrives with the knowledge that he is no stranger to the Denver quarter-mile. In 1995 he was runner-up to Kurt Johnson but stormed back with consecutive victories in 1996-97 on his way to two NHRA Pro Stock championships. Following his win in St. Louis on June 27, the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird team traveled to Bandimere Speedway for some pre-event testing and to get a feel for the less dense atmospheric conditions. "We were pretty happy with the runs we made at Bandimere," Yates said. "We're still trying to get a feel for this new car, but what everyone has to realize is that when we go to Denver, everything changes. The air is so much lighter there that if you don't go early to get a feel for the place then you can really get lost with your setup and your engine tune-up. "We're starting to make some progress with the combination, we're moving up in the points standings, and we're qualifying at every race, so the time for celebrating is over. To run strong in Denver and possibly win would be a nice little stepping stone to the Western swing." During a Pro Stock career that has spanned 11 years, Yates has come a long way in a short amount of time. A graduate of the University of Maryland where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, Yates made his debut in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1989. Since then he has finished in the top 10 of the Winston standings seven times and in the top four of the points standings the last five years in a row. He is currently in third place with 644 points. Warren Johnson is first with 910 and Kurt Johnson is second with 731. "Bob Ingles (engine builder) has been busting his tail getting the motors to work right, and we've done a lot of work on it trying to get a combination that will work," Yates said. "It's been difficult but this Firebird has been a good car to put it in. I'm driving well and all of the ingredients are in place to make a run to the front. This team just sticks together and that's what we need to do to stay competitive."
Bruce Allen was another of a number of Pro Stock competitors who tested at Bandimere Speedway after the Sears Craftsman Nationals. The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pontiac Firebird made eight runs and was one of the quickest cars on the track during the two days that it tested there. "We ran real well and we were very happy with some of the things we accomplished," Allen said. "The test session gave us an opportunity to work on some things that we haven't had a (continued) Pontiac Racing - NHRA Denver 2-2-2-2
chance to focus on, and leaving there I would say that we are much better off. If nothing else, it shows us that the potential is there to run strong. Lately, we've had the type of car that can qualify in the middle of the pack, but that leaves us open to the vulnerability of not qualifying if we don't make a good pass on either the Friday night or Saturday morning session. We need to have enough horsepower to get down the racetrack so that even if we make one bad run, we still have enough in the racecar to make the field during the other three sessions. "Right now, we're trying to get our program back to where we have three or four engines we can pull from. That's what worked so well for us in 1997. We could put a motor in, tweak on it a little bit, get it up to where it needed to be and then put another motor in and start working on it. That way you can continue to make progress and move forward." Running strong and hoping to run even stronger, Mark Pawuk took advantage of the extra time off after the Sears Craftsman Nationals to prepare his Summit Racing Firebird for the Mile- High Nationals. "It's a unique situation where we use a completely different transmission, rear-end combination and engine tune up that at any other time of the year," Pawuk said. "After Denver, we basically throw it back in the warehouse and wait until the following year to use it again. There are some races we go to where the altitude is close to 5000 feet, but at Denver you start at 6000 feet and go up from there depending on the air and weather conditions. "We had a good test session. The Summit Racing Firebird made 10 runs down the racetrack and each time we were able to run anywhere from a 7.35 to a 7.42. You never know for sure what to expect until you finally get there, but we were happy with the way the car performed. Testing there early certainly doesn't hurt, and it may even give us somewhat of an advantage over teams that don't. At least we have the confidence of knowing that we can get this Pontiac down the track and can fall back onto some relatively current information if for some reason we do run into a problem." The 21st annual Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, Colo., on July 16-18, is the 12th race on the 22-event NHRA Winston Championship tour. Same-day television coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, July 18, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. First-round coverage of eliminations can be seen on July 18, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
Pontiac Racing Note - Five Pontiac Firebird drivers will celebrate birthdays in July. Warren Johnson on July 7 (56), Jim Yates on July 9 (46), Tom Martino on July 9 (41) and Bruce Allen on July 26 (49). Dale Creasy Jr. turns 40 on July 31.