FORMER EMPORIA STATE UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL STANDOUT YONKE RETURNS TO KANAS IN SEARCH OF NHRA DRAG RACING VICTORY TOPEKA, Kan. -- As homecomings rate, Bob Yonke is really looking forward to this one. A native of Alma, Kan., Yonke was like most...
FORMER EMPORIA STATE UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL STANDOUT YONKE RETURNS TO KANAS IN SEARCH OF NHRA DRAG RACING VICTORY
TOPEKA, Kan. -- As homecomings rate, Bob Yonke is really looking forward to this one.
A native of Alma, Kan., Yonke was like most kids growing up in this hoops-crazy state -- he started dribbling a basketball before he could walk.
His skills on the court eventually landed him a spot on the basketball roster at nearby Emporia State University, its campus located in the Flint Hills section of Kansas.
As the "Sixth Man of the Year" and an honorable mention all-conference selection in the CSIC (Central States Intercollegiate Conference) in 1986, Yonke helped the Hornets win their conference championship and advance to the Sweet 16 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national basketball tournament.
Now, Yonke returns to his home state as a popular subject of the latest "Where Are They Now?" installment for former ESU basketball greats.
Nearly 25 years removed from his days pounding the hardwood at legendary White Auditorium as a shooting guard for ESU, Yonke, who now lives in Burleson, Texas just outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area, traded in his sneakers and sweatbands for a race helmet and driving gloves.
Now he's living life in the fast lane and pounding the pavement at drag strips across the U.S. in his Yonke Motorsports Pontiac GXP as a top 10 performer in the 200-mph Pro Stock category in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Yonke's goal during his brief return home to the Sunflower State is a victory at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX, May 21-23 at Heartland Park Topeka. He hopes to celebrate his first NHRA Pro Stock victory with all of his family and friends from nearby Alma and Emporia who will be attending the race.
Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
Yonke has come close to winning twice already this season, by racing to final round appearances at the NHRA Arizona Nationals near Phoenix and the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C. In both finals he lost to current Pro Stock dominator Mike Edwards. As a teammate with veteran Pro Stock driver Greg Stanfield, Yonke currently sits ninth in the Pro Stock point standings.
It is only a matter of time, he feels, before he will finally break through and win a race. It couldn't happen at a better time for him personally, than this weekend at Heartland Park Topeka, the same track where he made his NHRA driving debut back in 2000 in the Pro Stock Truck category. He's arranged for his own VIP-hospitality area for the race because he's expecting to entertain a lot of guests.
"It'd be huge to win at Topeka," Yonke said. "It would be an incredible feat and totally emotional for me. It's going to be a hectic weekend. Not only will I have a lot going on with all the family and friends that will be at the race, but my son (Christian) will be graduating from high school Saturday evening back in Texas. My plan is to get qualified well into the field and then I have a private jet chartered to take me to Texas on Saturday afternoon for his graduation and then return me to Topeka Sunday morning for the race."
It will certainly be a challenging weekend that Yonke fully embraces. Just like his quest to become a contending Pro Stock driver on the highly competitive NHRA circuit. Before this season, Yonke's previous 19 starts in NHRA competition ended with a DNQ (did not qualify). By putting together a team with the right chemistry and joining forces with Stanfield, Yonke has found the path to success. Now he needs to perform well during the remaining nine races in the Countdown to 10, NHRA's regular season, in order to secure one of the 10 available spots for his category in the Countdown to 1, NHRA's six-race championship playoffs.
"My goal has been to average one round win per race and make the Countdown," he said. "If I can do that, then we'll see where it goes from there. These next two months will separate the men from the boys. That's going to be a grueling stretch of races (8 races in 10 weeks). I think we have a great team and will be up for it. It's really not all that different from playing tournament basketball, when sometimes you'll have to play three to five games a week."
And like basketball, Yonke says the sport of drag racing requires mastery of some of the same skill sets in order to be successful.
"I think the two are related, because like basketball, racing has a lot of things that you have to be repetitive with," he explained. "In Pro Stock if you get out of your routine and one small thing goes wrong it can really mess you up. That's the thing that I work on the most, is sticking to my routine and doing everything the same. When I played basketball I was an 86-percent free throw shooter, and that all came from having the same repetitive motion at the line, staying with the same routine."
On the court he says he had some of his best games late in ESU's '86 championship run, in a pivotal game against Washburn for the CSIC title and in a thriller against defending national champ Fort Hayes State to advance in the NAIA tournament. In those games he said his adrenaline flowed like a raging river and he played his best. In the world of NHRA drag racing, he's adjusting to the controlled precision of maintaining his highs and lows during competition.
"I'm working on my consistency," Yonke said. "I tend to get really pumped up and can be too quick with my reaction times, or I will get too relaxed and be too slow on the starting line. I need to find that neutral point and get in that zone. As a basketball player you needed to be pumped up all the time. Driving these cars you need a fine balance, to be relaxed but intently focused, and not get too over the top."
Like a victory celebration at Heartland Park Topeka would produce for he and his family should he win.
"That would be way over the top," he said. "It would be very special."