Jim Yates Aims Grand Am At A Third NHRA Title PHOENIX, Feb. 19, 2002 - Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stock driver Jim Yates opened the 2002 NHRA campaign with a runner-up finish at the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. It's a nice start to a long season...
Jim Yates Aims Grand Am At A Third NHRA Title
PHOENIX, Feb. 19, 2002 - Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stock driver Jim Yates opened the 2002 NHRA campaign with a runner-up finish at the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. It's a nice start to a long season that Yates hopes will end with a third series title in November. But in a category that becomes more and more competitive each year, he realizes it will take more than a lone runner-up finish to reach his championship aspirations.
Two weeks ago, in a Winternationals final-round battle of Grand Ams, the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac pilot narrowly missed out on his first victory since last May, losing to George Marnell at the finish stripe by a margin of .0009 seconds. Heading into the series' second event at Firebird International Raceway, the 48-year-old Virginian has every reason to be encouraged. Two of Yates' 23-career victories have come at Phoenix (1996-97) and he was also runner-up at Firebird Raceway in 1998. Last year, Yates qualified his Pontiac in the No. 5 spot and advanced to round three before losing to Brad Jeter.
What sort of preparations did you make for the 2002 season? "We worked primarily on trying to get our Pontiac Grand Am faster. We spent some time on the chassis, and Bob (Ingles) has been thrashing pretty hard on the motors all winter, which is one of the major parts of the program. Probably one of the biggest things we did differently was focus a lot more on the driver. With the parity in Pro Stock this year, driving the car and cutting good reaction times will be crucial. Also, with the issues we had last year with my heart, I've started spending more time working out and eating a good diet. If you want to win you have to have everything running on all eight cylinders."
How do you control your heart rate behind the wheel of a Pontiac Grand Am that travels a quarter-mile in less than 6.8 seconds? "You don't. It's an adrenaline rush beyond compare. You learn to ride the high and enjoy it. You think you're under control, but when you get to the finish line you're out of breath. I think it's just a matter of anticipating what's coming next. The key to driving these cars is being calm - just sit there and go along with the ride. If you get too aggressive driving a car that is this fast, it will get away from you. You drive one of these like you would drive a passenger car on ice. Just try to get it to go where you want it to go and convince it that that's what it has to do. I know I don't breathe a lot before I stage, and you wouldn't think you'd have to breathe a lot in seven seconds, but it just seems like when you get down there, especially on Sunday, you can hardly talk. Your hands are shaking - it's just wild. It's an adrenaline high and Pontiac excitement at its best."
Your confidence in Jamie (Yates) as crew chief. "I was real excited about how things went in Pomona. Jamie is doing a great job. He spent a lot of time working under Rickie Smith and a long time with Terry Adams. I think he's learned a lot and it's evident in how he's tuning the car. He's making good decisions and the whole team is really working well together. It makes a difference when everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal."
How often will you race two cars? "To be truthful, we'll need a little more help to race both cars. We had Bob Ingles, and my other son Jonathan, plus a temporary guy helping us in Pomona and we were just barely able to squeak by. If we're going to want to race both cars consistently, I think we're going to have to add another man to the team. We just don't have enough bodies to race two cars consistently right now."
What gains have you made in the engine program over the winter? "We qualified No. 1 at Pomona at the end of 2001, and then we came back this year and qualified No. 2 at Pomona but we were the fastest car there on Sunday. It just took us a little longer to get it calmed down. The motor is just so much more responsive. It's got a lot more torque and response off the gear changes, and it was giving us a little bit of a problem on the starting line but it's got great potential. It's a good problem to have when you've got too much power or more than you can handle at any particular time. Now we're looking to work on the chassis to get it tuned in and Bob is working primarily on trying to refine the GM DRCE engine. We've had it for four years and it comes around a little more each year. I think more gains are yet to come."
Looking back at your health problems last year in Memphis, when did you know something was wrong? "I'd just had a complete physical about three months before Memphis and everything came out fine - I didn't really have any symptoms. I was racing Warren (Johnson) on Friday afternoon, had a little discomfort in my chest, and was surprised by it but I couldn't quite figure out what was going on. When I got out of the car it was gone, so I just thought it was my HANS device putting a little pressure on my chest. We came back and made our run on Saturday, and when I strapped into the car the same thing happened. It was like a cramp in my chest and I just thought it was the HANS device again. I made the run and set low e.t. and top speed of the race. When I got to the finish line I got out of the car, and my arms were real sore and hard to lift - I knew right then that something was going on. We went back to the pits, and the NHRA doctors came over to check me out, put an EKG on me and thought there might be a slight noise in one of my valves that could be a sign of a heart attack. So I was rushed to the hospital and that was it. It was basically a severe pain in my chest, it wasn't an actual heart attack. I guess you would call it a severe angina where your heart is lacking oxygen after an artery closes up really small. Thank God it was letting some blood through or I probably would've died. The blood coming through was restricted, and it caused the heart to have a little bit of a pain in it like you would in a leg if you had run too far or something like that."
What did you learn from the experience? "I think the key is to pay attention to your body. Listen to what your body is telling you. Get a check-up and watch what you eat. A lot of doctors also recommend that men in their late 40s take an aspirin everyday. I had been doing that and then I kind of got off of it. Be sure to get a check-up, and if you do feel any kind of pain, go to the doctor. I bounced back pretty quick because it wasn't that severe. I got the medical attention I needed quickly and I was paying attention to my body. I was very fortunate."
How has it changed you? "You know it's hard to admit that something happened. You want to say that it was no big deal. But when you really stop and look at it, I probably came within 50-thousandths of an inch of dying or having a heart that wouldn't function as well as it used too. Under the circumstances I thank God that I'm alive and as healthy as I am today. Then with what happened on September 11th and all the other things that go on out there, you realize that life is very fragile and you need to live each day like it's your last."
With the race schedule beginning to heat up, where do you hope to be at the season's halfway point? "We're really truly excited with the performance of our Grand Am, but we have to take it one race at a time and not let down at all. Right now it looks like we worked pretty hard over the winter and it also looks as if we're one of the fastest cars. After that, it comes down to driving and tuning - that's what Pro Stock is all about. You can have all the power in the world, but you have to be able to tune the car and get it down the track on Sunday. I thought we looked really good in Pomona but we have to continue to execute one race at a time. If we do that I think we can be close to the top, and then maybe we can run for the title at the end. Judging from the way the season started it looks like we may exceed the number of winners we had last year."
What's new for the race team in '02? The addition of Rich Purdy on the crew and making Jamie crew chief. I think it was evident to everyone in the stands how well we ran. That's not just a function of the horsepower under the hood, that's a function of how this team is working together to get our Pontiac down the racetrack. That was the first trial by fire for this team, and I think Jamie did a good job leading them, and Rich and Al (Lindsey) did a good job tuning the car. We have three motors that are just as good as the one we had in the car at Pomona, and with a team that can tune it we should be able to make some progress this year."
What's it going to take to win the championship? "I think you're going to have to stay consistent and stay focused. You're going to have to make gains all year long. Last year we picked up five horsepower twice during the year. I think if Bob Ingles can find us three to five more horsepower between now and Englishtown, and another five between then and Indy, that will allow us to keep pace ahead of the group. I think we're going to have to continue to develop and improve our engine combination. If we have the same amount of horsepower in Indy that we have today, we're not going to be able to win. In order to be in a position to win the championship we need to keep improving the horsepower of the DRCE engine throughout the entire year, continue to execute well and not make big mistakes."