You know what’s worse than J.J. Yeley not winning a race in 577 starts in NASCAR? It’s that people either forget, or don’t know, how good of a sprint car driver this guy really was.
I was listening to the Martinsville race this past Monday after it was snowed out on Sunday in an earphone off-and-on as I was working, and I heard a name way towards the back of the pack, J.J. Yeley.
To NASCAR fans, J.J. Yeley is nothing more than a back marker with an occasional glimmer of speed. To sprint car fans he’s a legend, who in 2003 did something only one other driver did in USAC, win the “Triple Crown” – the series champion of each USAC national series in a single season. The other was Tony Stewart in 1995, and even Stewart remarked that, “[Yeley] definitely had a better year than me in 1995. I was good. He was dominant.” [source]
Yeley was dominant alright – he was record breaking with 4 Silver Crown, 13 Sprint and 6 Midget victories that shattered the win record of 19 in one season set by A.J. Foyt.
(and since tied twice by Sleepy Tripp and Jay Drake)
There’s no question J.J. Yeley needed to move up. To have broken records and earn achievements alongside A.J. Foyt and Tony Stewart – he had too – and a lot was expected.
Yet, here we are 15 years later, and it proves that not everyone is meant to run NASCAR or IndyCar (he’s run 8 races in IndyCar, best finish was 9th at Indianapolis 500 in 1998).
I wonder how many millennial drivers that came up through the dirt ranks and now race NASCAR would still do it if they had as little success as J.J. Yeley has had? Maybe more than I’d like to admit.
But it goes back to my theory in a previous article – that up-and-coming drivers like Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson (both USAC drivers) – seem way more progressive than previous drivers to me. The currency is pride over paycheck. Whether it’s winning the Daytona 500 or the Chili Bowl – a race Kyle Larson said was bigger to him than the Daytona 500 (Chili Bowl is $10,000 to win, Daytona 500 is $1.5M)… it isn’t about money for this new crop of winners, it’s way more visceral.
So I ask, why does J.J. Yeley, such a sprint car racing ace, continue to race in NASCAR when he hasn’t found any success for over a decade? Doesn’t he miss winning?
Because if it’s just about paying the bills, then he shouldn’t be racing. Yeley should look at today’s top ace World of Outlaws drivers who fly back and forth from home to tracks constantly, and share a large percentage of the winnings. I can’t imagine J.J. Yeley’s winnings last year in NASCAR (approx. $1M) compared to his winnings in 2003 ($420,000+) netted him much more (as I can imagine the purse percentage he takes home is much less in NASCAR).
Of course, I’m spit-balling here. I have no idea the money situation. But I’d rather be making low six figures catching checkered flags than racing 35th every week for a little more bread.
I just want to see J.J. Yeley back on dirt (with a little bit of pavement). Tap into that “Cactus” Jack Yeley from his roots with his dad, and become the the “J.J. Yeley Express” again. Find a way to make money in grass roots racing – it’s possible, and it would be a helluva a lot more fun to watch.
It’s just tiring to see a guy with so much talent put it to waste in a form of motorsports his style doesn’t seem to resonate with. The ship has sailed, but it still leaves me wondering if the stint in NASCAR was much shorter what he could’ve done to the record books in sprint cars…
What’s your thoughts? Comment below.