NHRA: Yates Still in Pro Stock Title Hunt Despite Early Season Stumbles
15 July 1998MORRISON, Colo. -- Two-time defending NHRA Winston champion Jim Yates has experienced the harsh reality of the level of parity in Pro Stock racing on two separate occasions this season. At both the Pennzoil Nationals in Richmond, Va., and the FRAM Route 66 Nationals in Chicago, Yates failed to run quick enough to qualify for the 16-car field.
The moral of the story is that no driver in the category is immune from the dreaded DNQ.
Yates preceded his first DNQ with two consecutive first round losses, unleashing rapid chatter in the Pro Stock pit area that largely said his days of dominance were over. However, Yates didn't listen to the talk.
He followed his early slump with a sound recovery. He posted semi-final appearances at the Castrol Lone Star Nationals in Dallas and Englishtown, N.J.'s Mopar Parts Nationals. He was runner-up to Jeg Coughlin Jr. at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in Columbus. He advanced to another semi-final at the recent Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.
All of a sudden, the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird was sticking around for several rounds on race day. Yates will try to win four rounds and take his second victory of the season at the 20th annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals, July 16-19 at Bandimere Speedway near Denver. He is the defending winner of the $1.5 million race, the 12th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"I think the performance of our car is back on track," Yates said. "The car is running excellent. We had low ET in both the second round and the semi-finals at St. Louis and considering what we did at Columbus, I think we have our program figured out."
The 45-year-old Alexandria, Va. racer has scratched and clawed his way back into the Winston championship chase as well, and now trails leader Warren Johnson by 171, and is 32 points behind second place driver Coughlin.
"We're still in the points race as much as we can be and we want to win another race just to show people we can still do it," Yates said. "We're not quitting and we're going to keep going as hard as we can. We're racing with the idea that we can still win the Winston championship. And you know what, I think we can."
Yates' recent streak of consistency has given his team the confidence it will need to make a championship charge during the second-half of the season. He says the brief bouts with adversity early in the season have given the team character, and more grit and determination than ever.
"This is the best I've felt about our program in a long time," Yates said. "We still have a few wrinkles to work out, but considering what we've been through the last two races have been a huge morale boost for the entire team. The competition and parity is so good in Pro Stock. We have so many fast cars out here. You can be the No. 1 qualifier and go out in the first round, or you can have a really fast car, make a bad run in the good qualifying session and not qualify. We just have to keep focused on what we have to do in the next round of qualifying and eliminations."