Richmond Jim Yates determined in Pro Stock

DINWIDDIE, Va. - As nutty as it sounds, Jim Yates is pondering the one move that may help him break through for his first victory at his home track, Virginia Motorsports Park. He's contemplating changing his last name to Johnson. Since the track...

DINWIDDIE, Va. - As nutty as it sounds, Jim Yates is pondering the one move that may help him break through for his first victory at his home track, Virginia Motorsports Park.

He's contemplating changing his last name to Johnson. Since the track opened to the loud engine roars of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1995, every Pro Stock winner there has had one thing in common - the same last name.

There have been two different Pro Stock winners in five years at VMP. Both were Johnsons.

Warren Johnson put together an impressive streak from 1995-'98, dominating the event in his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird. Last season Allen Johnson drove his Amoco Dodge Avenger to an emotional victory, just weeks after he totaled a race car in a dramatic crash in Gainesville, Fla.

Yates, who has come on strong of late in his Splitfire/Peak Firebird, has earned 22 career victories, but none at the track closest to his Alexandria, Va. residence. His best finish at the quarter-mile track located approximately 30 miles south of Virginia's capital city of Richmond - is a runner-up effort in 1995.

While the logistics associated with a name change is a far-fetched stretch at best, Yates will plan on the second best strategy: Start a new trend. If his recent performance is any indication, that could be a possibility. At the most recent event in Houston, Yates qualified No. 1 and finished runner-up to current points leader Jeg Coughlin. Yates hopes to carry that momentum into the sixth annual Moto1.net NHRA Nationals, April 27-30, at Virginia Motorsports Park. The $1.7 million race is the sixth of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

With any luck, he could be celebrating a victory with family and friends.

"I feel good about the way the car and the team worked (at Houston)," Yates said. "Bob Ingles keeps building us good power and the car has been running awfully strong. It's just a matter of getting the breaks to fall our way." The 2000 season has been somewhat sluggish for the two-time NHRA Winston champion (1996-'97). Following an uncharacteristic first round loss at the Pomona, Calif. season-opener, Yates posted back-to-back second round losses at Phoenix and Gainesville, Fla. At Las Vegas, Yates was also a first round loser. The tide turned for his team in Houston, however, as Yates clocked low elapsed time for the event at 6.888 seconds, used a holeshot to defeat speedy Ron Krisher and had a horsepower advantage to get by Mark Pawuk in the semifinals. Armed with a new setup, the team expects more long weekends.

"We outran most of the cars we raced," Yates said. "I drove well, and it was just a matter of trying to get it all to come together. We have a whole new combination in the car right now and it seems to be responding fairly well. It's just a matter of going to Richmond and doing the same thing. We just have to run it under some different track conditions and see how it responds."

Since the first event, Yates has moved from ninth to fifth in the Winston point standings. He trails points leader Jeg Coughlin - a winner of four of five events this season - by 246.

"Our learning curve is pretty much straight up right now," Yates said. "We're gaining on it. We just have to remain consistent. When you go to the finals it shows you're gaining on a lot of people."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher , Allen Johnson