Seattle: Yates running the Pro Stock show

KENT, Wash.- The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has hit the halfway point of the season and the Pro Stock category is in the same position as it was in February - extremely competitive. The door-slammers have given fans close races and 10 ...

KENT, Wash.- The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has hit the halfway point of the season and the Pro Stock category is in the same position as it was in February - extremely competitive.

The door-slammers have given fans close races and 10 different winners in the first 12 events of the season. Category points leader Jim Yates has not even won a race - yet.

Yates is doing everything he can to change that. Yates wants to put his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am in the Winner's Circle as soon as possible. The 15th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Northwest Nationals, July 26-28, at Pacific Raceways could be the race track for him to accomplish his goal. Gary Scelzi, Whit Bazemore and Mark Osborne are the defending winners of the $1.8 million race. It is the 14th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Going into Seattle, Yates has collected six No. 1 qualifying positions and has been to the semifinals six times. He is, however, coming off his first DNQ (did not qualify) of the season. He did not make the 16-car field in Denver last weekend.

"Last year we were the No. 1 qualifier at three of the last six races and that's when we started running two cars," Yates said. "This year we have been No. 1 at six races and I think a big part of that is running two cars. It gives us twice as many runs at a national event which gives us the opportunity to experiment a little bit, and then come back and adjust my car."

Being winless so far is something Yates has had to accept. It's a little easier, however, knowing he has the lead in the standings.

"We've been close (to winning) a couple of times and we were in the final round in a really close race with George Marnell at Pomona (Calif., in February)," Yates said. "I'm surprised that we haven't executed on a few opportunities, but in reality, when you look back, you have to accept it. Winning doesn't make a big difference when you look at the points standings, it is just one more round. But it would be nice to get that in the record book. It would make us feel a little better."

Yates may have the points lead now, but he knows what the Pro Stock category is capable of producing - plenty of challengers to his No. 1 position.

"There are so many cars close together that there's no room for error whatsoever," Yates said. "There isn't a team capable of having a perfect weekend, so you have to do a good job. It also seems that to win a race, you need to have one lucky round. As close as the cars are, if you lose any kind of advantage, whether it's lane choice or what have you, it's tough to win."

As history has shown, Yates knows how to win championships. He earned back-to-back Pro Stock championships in 1996-'97 and that has given him an insight on what it takes to win a title.

"You need a really fast car, a good light and you have to hope the guy next to you doesn't cut a .400 (perfect) light," Yates said. "Back in 1997 we won nine races on our way to the championship. We are not in that situation now (winning so many races), but we are not frustrated because of that.

"It's kind of like baseball. If you hit .275, you are a good hitter. If you hit .150, you're a bad hitter and if you hit .350, you're a great hitter. Right now in Pro Stock we are hitting .600 and that's pretty good. The bar has been raised and there are very few teams that are getting over it every weekend."

So what would Yates give the team if he was handing out a mid-season report card?

"I'd give us a solid 'B'," Yates said. "I think our Grand Am is a very consistent race car, probably the most consistent car out there. We can definitely improve on it. We've got great performance, but we need to improve on our consistency on (eliminations) day."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Gary Scelzi , George Marnell