POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 2, 2001) - It wasn't difficult enough that Jim Yates had to face challenges from Warren Johnson, Jeg Coughlin, Mike Edwards, Ron Krisher, Kurt Johnson, Mark Pawuk, Greg Anderson and all the other Pro Stock drivers who stood ...
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 2, 2001) - It wasn't difficult enough that Jim Yates had to face challenges from Warren Johnson, Jeg Coughlin, Mike Edwards, Ron Krisher, Kurt Johnson, Mark Pawuk, Greg Anderson and all the other Pro Stock drivers who stood between him and his goal of winning the NHRA Pro Stock championship.
No, Yates had to deal with his own mortality along the way, too. And, much to his relief, he won that most-important battle.
As for the Pro Stock title, that will be decided Sunday, Nov. 11, at Pomona Raceway on the last day of the Auto Club Finals and the 2001 season.
During the first 19 races, Yates and his SplitFire/PEAK Pontiac Grand Am won once, finished second four times and experienced two brief stays in the No. 1 position before settling into the runner-up slot. Yates was 80 points behind Warren Johnson in what has typically become a very competitive Pro Stock field. Yates had just run the quickest elapsed time of the weekend at Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park on Saturday (Sept. 22) when he felt ill.
Two days later, he underwent a coronary angioplasty. On Sept. 28, he was back in his racecar during qualifying at Joliet, Ill. And neither Yates' heart nor his competitive desire has missed a beat since. He was No. 3 qualifier at Joliet, No. 5 at Reading, Pa. (Oct. 7), second at Dallas (Oct. 21) and first again at Las Vegas (Oct. 28).
Now that he's had another week of rest, Yates can look back on this ordeal and be very enthusiastic about having a slim chance of swiping the title trophy right out of Johnson's hands this weekend. It won't be easy, but there is that glimmer of hope.
Johnson has a 103-point lead (1504-1401) - amazing itself because Johnson only gained 23 points on Yates in the four races since his angioplasty - with 118 points available.
"We want to go to Pomona and win the race, that's what we want to do," said Yates. "We're going into the race with a positive attitude. If we miss the championship by five points or win it by five points, it's all good. We're excited. We've had a tough year and we've come back and battled hard. If we'd just been able to keep the driver out of the hospital we'd be doing really good.
"It's a blessing the way things are right now. I feel I could climb the highest mountain."
That's not the way Yates felt in Memphis.
"Last weekend I looked back at what had happened and thought, 'I can't believe we made it through it.' As close as I came to having serious problems and as much as I went through with the operation, recovery, medicine and the way the races were scheduled, it's almost like a dream we made it. That gives you confidence in your ability to overcome adversity. If we got through the last six weeks, we can get through anything.
"The doctors had me on a blood pressure medicine to keep my blood pressure down, but all that did was make it too low," Yates continued. "I was overmedicated, but I haven't been on anything now for three weeks. When you're not 100 percent healthy and running in NHRA Pro Stock where you have to be 100 percent every day, you can't get by on 99 percent."
Yates' primary support group throughout his medical problems included his wife Toni, sons Jamie and Jonathan, daughter Melissa and the SplitFire/PEAK Grand Am crew.
They will be the ones cheering the loudest, whether or not Yates wins the Pro Stock championship. Fortunately he now can say 'wait until next year' and mean it.