Yates Upbeat As Team Prepares For Phoenix PHOENIX (Feb. 19, 1999) -- When Jim Yates was setting his 1999 goals, he adopted a cautious approach for the early portion of the season. "Before we went to the (season-opening) Winternationals (at...
Yates Upbeat As Team Prepares For Phoenix
PHOENIX (Feb. 19, 1999) -- When Jim Yates was setting his 1999 goals, he adopted a cautious approach for the early portion of the season.
"Before we went to the (season-opening) Winternationals (at Pomona, Calif.), we felt we could be among the top three or four Pro Stock cars," he said. "We came out of that race in fourth place after going to the semifinals."
Now, the Alexandria, Va.-based driver of the SplitFire/PEAK Pontiac Firebird wants to go up from there, beginning with the NHRA Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 26-28, at Firebird International Raceway. It's not a bad place to start. Yates has been a finalist in Phoenix the last three years, winning in 1996 & 1997 and finishing second a year ago.
"With the new things we were working on for the Winternationals, we feel happy to be able to run among the top three or four cars," said Yates. "Then, as we implement our improvements, we'd like to be able to step it up one position at a time."
Yates won 17 races and back-to-back Winston championships in 1996-97 and appeared headed in that same direction when he won the 1998 Winternationals and finished second at the next two races. However, he advanced to the finals just two more times and wound up fourth overall.
"One thing you learn from experience is that this is a long, long season and the Pomona race is only the beginning of the journey," he said "The Phoenix race is just the next step. Sometimes you can start the year like gangbusters - we did that last year - then fall on your face in the middle of the year. Or you can start off and plod along, bringing every aspect of your program together.
"Our plan," Yates continued, "is to take the first two or three races to get everything working together. Along the way, we hope to win as many rounds as we can."
Yates struggled with the car's setup at Pomona, coming in with a qualifying best of 6.955 seconds, which left him ninth overall. He was, however, very consistent during eliminations. He drove his SplitFire/PEAK Pontiac to a first-round win over Mark Pawuk with a 6.970 at 197.10 mph, then upset No. 1 qualifier and reigning champion Warren Johnson with a better reaction time and another 6.970 at 197.27 mph.
In his semifinal pairing against eventual race runner-up Troy Coughlin, Yates was clocked at 6.971 seconds, 197.02 mph while Coughlin used a better reaction time to his advantage and pulled off the win.
"As a driver, you have to get up for every run," Yates said. "If we'd just done a good job of execution, like we did in the first two rounds, there was a chance we could've beaten him, but we didn't. So it's off to Phoenix to try and correct our mistakes."
Yates will begin finding out just how well his combination works during qualifying Friday and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Then he'll try to keep his streak of Firebird Raceway final-round appearances alive during Sunday's eliminations.