Pomona: Jim Yates preview

Jim Yates wants to parlay hard work and consistent efforts into 2003 NHRA Pro Stock Title. POMONA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2003) -- Jim Yates yearns for the day he can thrust his index finger into the air and proclaim, unequivocally, that he is "No.

Jim Yates wants to parlay hard work and consistent efforts into 2003 NHRA Pro Stock Title.

POMONA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2003) -- Jim Yates yearns for the day he can thrust his index finger into the air and proclaim, unequivocally, that he is "No. 1."

To fulfill that desire, Yates and the crew of his new SplitFire/PEAK Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stock entry worked diligently over the last three months, making run after run down racetracks in Bradenton, Fla., Las Vegas and Houston. They gathered vital data revealing, among other things, how the car's chassis reacts to a myriad of weather and track conditions, what role shock absorbers play in various combinations, and how different carburetor jets alter the performance.

"We collected a lot of computer data on those runs, storing as much background information as we can," Yates said of his exhaustive - and sometimes exhausting - winter schedule.

And now it's time to put those theories to practical application. The NHRA's 23-race POWERade Series championship is about to begin. "We want to win the championship," stated Yates, as the K&N Filters Winternationals - the traditional season opener - looms at Pomona Raceway, Feb. 6-9.

Yates, of course, isn't the only Pro Stock driver packing those lofty ambitions into the long campaign. The category has many legitimate title contenders and there's no doubt that what has been NHRA's most competitive class will be just that again in 2003. Round wins and races have been determined by margins of one-thousandth of a second on a regular basis. Starting line reaction times are as important to winning as horsepower and clutch combinations.

So why does this 49-year-old from Alexandria, Va. devote this much time and energy to making his Grand Am the best car in NHRA's Pro Stock field? For one, he is a professional driver; it's his job. But it goes much deeper than that. Yates shares a strong passion for the competitive nature of the sport.

The will to win and excel drives him in much the same way his Bob Ingles-prepared engine propels the car. And this is a family affair, with Toni Yates, Jim's wife, and sons Jamie - the crew chief - and Jon working for the same goal. Newcomer Donnie Gardner joins Mike Gaydos are the other team members.

Yates has been chasing Pro Stock championships since 1990, his first full season on the circuit. And he's a captured two, winning back-to-back titles in 1996 & 1997. He won eight times in 1996 and nine more times in 1997, his two benchmark campaigns. The desire to return to that performance level is what pushes Yates and his crew to test and test.

"We have a new car this year and we want to have it figured out before the season begins," he said. "We are doing as much testing as we can. Theoretically, our new car and our old one should have basically the same characteristics, but each chassis has its own personality, and we wanted to find the combinations this car likes. All we need is a little improvement."

Yates, who finished second at last year's Winternationals, was in contention for the POWERade championship throughout much of the 23-race schedule. He plucked his 24th victory at Reading, Pa., had runner-up finishes at Pomona and Indianapolis, earned seven No. 1 starting positions and was the point leader for much of the season until Jeg Coughlin Jr. won eight of the final 12 events. It all added up to a second straight No. 2 finish for Yates.

"Jeg was running real strong during the last half of the year," Yates noted. "We didn't fall down; he stepped up...but we didn't do well at the last three or four races, either.

"The cornerstone of our challenge this year will be consistency," he continued. "We expect a real dogfight for the championship. Bob (Ingles) has a new motor that looks promising. We have been in contention down to the last two races in the last two years, and we'd like to be in that position again in November. We need to win rounds of racing to accomplish our goals. We will be ready to go at Pomona. Round wins in February are as important as round wins in November (during the season-ending Auto Club Finals)."

Yates, who has two Winternationals wins (1996-97), was runner-up last year and in 1992. The addition of the computer-savvy Gardner gives the SplitFire/PEAK crew more resources in its title chase.

"Donnie will analyze the computer data and help Jamie tune the car," Yates said. "We will be doing some things we've never done before at the racetrack. Donnie also will work on the car and the engine. We believe we have improved our entire team effort."

And, in the long run, Yates hopes, it is enough to take him one step higher in the standings.

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