Jim Yates -- Gatornationals Preview

Yates Feeling Good Following Successful Test Session GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 12, 1999) -- If practice makes perfect, Jim Yates could be headed for the Mac Tools Gatornationals winners’ circle. Yates is no stranger to winning at...

Yates Feeling Good Following Successful Test Session

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 12, 1999) -- If practice makes perfect, Jim Yates could be headed for the Mac Tools Gatornationals winners’ circle.

Yates is no stranger to winning at Gainesville Raceway, taking back-to-back Pro Stock victories in 1996-97 and finishing second a year ago. However, it has been more than a year since Yates has won on the NHRA Winston Series circuit.

That's one reason Yates took his SplitFire/PEAK Pontiac on "26 to 28" test runs during a three-day session at Darlington, S.C., recently. He wanted to be prepared for the March 19-21 Gatornationals.

The test results were positive for a team that was searching for the answer to one important question: What engine-clutch-carburetor combinations would make their new Bob Ingles engine competitive on race day?

"We were trying to find out just what the new engine liked," reported Toni Yates, Jim's wife and crew member. "We were real happy with the overall results. Most of our runs were in the 6.85 to 6.89-second range with speeds over 199 mph. We were very encouraged by the speed because we usually haven't been able to run a lot of speed."

Jim and Toni Yates and crew chief Rich Purdy made a commitment to run the new engine during the NHRA race in Phoenix (Feb. 28).

"That decision hurt our qualifying performance at Phoenix, but Jim did see the engine's potential," Toni said. "We had a new learning curve to figure out. We hadn't had a new engine since 1996, so we were headed in a new direction."

While Yates and Purdy were experimenting at Phoenix, Yates qualified eighth with a best of 6.993 seconds at 197.45 mph. That run came during the hottest part of Saturday qualifying and was the quickest of the fourth and final session. It was then that Yates got his first glimpse of the engine's potential.

On race day, Yates turned in a 6.969-second run (second quickest of the day) but came up short to Allen Johnson's 6.977. The difference was at the starting line. "I just didn't let the clutch out in time," Yates said. "The car ran just fine."

At Darlington, the SplitFire/PEAK team approached testing with the goal of learning something on each run. "We used the 'a-b-a' system," said Toni. "We make a change, run the car, then change that particular part we were working on and make another run. After that, we'd put the first part back on and run it once more.

"We weren't trying to run good numbers (elapsed times), we wanted consistency. We put in the clutch in the morning and didn't change it all day. We're very excited about the results.

"We have a good combination for the Gainesville race track and we have a lot more power than we had last year."

Yates began the season by advancing to the Winternationals semifinals. He comes to Gainesville tied for sixth in points with 105. Kurt Johnson is the leader with 194.

At last year's Gatornationals, Yates lowered the national Pro Stock elapsed time record to 6.877 seconds during eliminations and marched into his third straight final round – he won the Winternationals and was second at Phoenix – before meeting Warren Johnson for the title. Johnson not only won, but did so with a 6.873-second clocking, claiming the elapsed time record and collecting a $25,000 bonus from MBNA.

"We had problems with our race car chassis early in the year," said Jim Yates, "and we only discovered it after Gainesville. We are much better prepared this year."

Jim Yates At A Glance

1999 Pro Stock Record Standing: 6th, 105 points Best Finish: Semifinal, Pomona Round Record: 2W -2L Quickest ET: 6.955, Pomona Fastest Speed: 198.09 mph, Phoenix

Career Pro Stock Record First Season: 1989 Best Season Finish: 1st -- 1996 and 1997 Wins: 20 (fifth in all-time Pro Stock victories) Runners-up: 21 Last Win: Feb. 1, 1998, Pomona Last Final: Oct. 25, 1998, Dallas No. 1 Qualifier: 16 times Last No. 1 Qualifier: 1998, Brainerd Quickest E.T.: 6.877 sec., 1998, Gainesville Fastest Speed: 199.46 mph, 1998, Gainesville

Personal Age: 45 Birthdate: July 9, 1953 Residence: Alexandria, Va. Family: Wife: Toni Children: Jamie (4/28/77) Melissa (8/5/80) Jon (3/31/83)

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Allen Johnson