St. Louis: Jim Yates set to defend title

MADISON, Ill. - Jim Yates has been down this road before. In fact, it was last season when he and his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird crew was working feverishly to score a victory during the first half of the season, but just couldn't find the...

MADISON, Ill. - Jim Yates has been down this road before.

In fact, it was last season when he and his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird crew was working feverishly to score a victory during the first half of the season, but just couldn't find the right combination.

Yates' luck changed, however, when he hit the quarter-mile track under the bright lights near St. Louis. A victory in that event gave the Alexandria, Va. driver momentum heading into the final 11 races, enough to secure a fourth place finish in the final Winston point standings.

Yates, a 22-time winner with two NHRA Winston championships, says he enjoys the thrill and excitement that nighttime racing brings. He'll certainly be pumped for three nights of 200-MPH action at the fourth annual Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 22-24, at Gateway International Raceway. Yates defeated Allen Johnson for the Pro Stock crown there last year and hopes to defend his title at the $1.9 million race, the 12th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"I've done a lot of night racing in my career and I really enjoy it," Yates said. "When you're under the lights I think it really helps the driver to focus a little more. "

In 1997, Yates was runner-up to Warren Johnson at the event, and in '98 he lost to eventual winner Kurt Johnson in the semifinals.

"We've got a good combination for that track," Yates said. "It's a track that gives you a lot of traction and it's really smooth. It rules out a lot of the variables, especially at night when you don't have to factor in the heat from the sun. It should be a very competitive race."

Yates has been in sort of slump lately, posting back-to-back first round losses at Dallas and Chicago. However, he's also posted consecutive runner-up finishes, at Houston and Richmond, Va., so he knows his team has the capability to win.

"Here lately we've had some problems adapting to the changing weather conditions," said Yates. "It'll be hot and humid at one moment and then less than 12 hours later it'll be really cool. We've made some changes to the car for St. Louis and I think we'll be back on track. We'll have our full summer package in the car by that time and we expect our performance to pick up." He'll need to pick up the pace with first time winners like V. Gaines and Ron Krisher making statements.

"I think having guys like V. and Ron win races it shows the parity in the class," Yates said. "We've got a lot of fast cars and anybody that qualifies in the top 16 can win the race. I think when different guys win the fans enjoy it. This category isn't about four guys. There's a ton of quality racers out here."

Like runaway points leader Jeg Coughlin, a six-time winner this season in his Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass. Coughlin defeated Yates in both of his final round appearances this season. Yates would like to even the score at Gateway.

"Jeg certainly has a lot of talent and the team they've put together is really strong," Yates said. "He doesn't flat outrun everybody, but when he comes to the line he's got a good setup and he's ready to race mentally. I think that's why they've got off to a strong start."

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher , Allen Johnson