JJ YELEY: "2003 DRIVER OF THE YEAR" by Jeremy Troiano
“Triple Crown” Winner Heading Off To NASCAR
No, we are not promoting JJ Yeley as our driver of the year. That could just be his new nickname.
Yeley, the next NASCAR-bound USAC superstar, completed one of the most remarkable racing seasons in USAC history last year. Heck, maybe even in Short Track history. Do we dare say, maybe even in auto racing history?
Championships in both the Silver Crown and Western States Midget Car Series.
Yeley’s four Silver Crown, 13 sprint and six midget victories (plus a non-points sprint event) broke the record of 19 in one season set by AJ Foyt and since tied twice by Sleepy Tripp and Jay Drake.
With the stats and championships come plenty of accolades. Just some of them include: first-team member of the 2003 Auto Racing All-America Team by the Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association, National Speed Sport News “Champion of Champions," Al Holbert Memorial/EMPA Driver of the Year and Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy as AARWBA Driver of the Year. Yeley was also one of the finalists for the SPEED Channel Driver of the Year.
Yeley’s year wasn’t just impressive. It was dominant. The USAC Series has never seen a season like Yeley’s. Not even Stewart’s (who owns the sprint car team and is part owner of the midget team Yeley drove for) 1995 season. Tony’s “Triple Crown” season can’t hold a candle to JJ’s dominance.
“I would easily say he had a better year that in did in 1995,” said Stewart. “I only won seven sprint car races the year I won the Triple Crown. He won 15. I didn’t even win a Silver Crown race the year I won the championship. I only had
Yeley says the sprint car title is the one he is most proud of. (Fisher photo)
three second places. I would say he definitely had a better year than me in 1995. I was good. He was dominant.
“I’m real proud of him, both as a car owner and a fellow driver. It isn’t any easy task to go drive three national divisions and win three titles driving for different car owners. To see what he has done was very impressive.
“I told him he during the year that he couldn’t sit and worry about looking at points. But that isn’t his style. JJ only cares about winning the races. He isn’t thinking of points. I told him if you win races, the points take care of themselves.”
Stewart won the sprint and midget titles handily, but lucked into the Silver Crown championship. In the final race, points leader Dave Darland blew an engine and was the first DNF; second-place Jack Hewitt wrecked and finished 20th, Stewart was 2nd and won the championship by just two points.
“Tony helped me out when I needed it the most,” said Yeley, “especially after not having a sprint car ride at the beginning of the year. Tony was sparked on the idea of starting his own USAC team and it paid off.”
Other awards his amazing season resulted in included: a USAC Super License, a USAC Life Membership and the True Speed "Triple Crown Award," consisting of a ring now owned by only four driver in USAC history - the others being Stewart, Pancho Carter and Dave Darland.
“It’s funny, because the plan going into the year was to try to win the midget championship,” said Yeley. “In 2002, I came close to winning the Triple Crown. But unfortunately,
His stats speak from themselves. Yeley's season produced only the second single-season sweep of USAC's coveted "Triple Crown" of National Championships (Silver Crown, National Sprint Car and National Midget Car titles). The only other to do it… 1995 “Triple Crown” champion and 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, Tony Stewart, who ironically owns two of the three teams Yeley drove for on his way to the “Triple Crown.”
But his stats aren’t done yet. Yeley’s season also produced an all-time record 24 total feature victories and earned him prize money of over $420,000 for he and his various teams. Yeley also captured the Earl's Plumbing Fast Qualifier
JJ Yeley had a dream season in 2003, one that sent him to the big leagues of racing.
there were some obstacles that kept us from doing it. So to do what we really did with the different team, it is just amazing to me. I’m stills shocked at the success I had with all three divisions that we did.
“The sprint car title is the one I’m especially proud of because I did all the work on the cars myself and took car of everything for motor work to cleaning the car each and every week. But running all three divisions makes it that much harder to do because you time is so limited. Sometimes, we might have a weekend off with the sprints but have everything ready because I’ll be gone racing in the other two divisions. It was the toughest of the three because you are working so much during the day trying to get it done so you can go race in the other division.”
So now that Yeley will be thrust even more into the limelight, don’t expect him to forget his roots. He won’t get too rusty.
“I am planning to try and run some open wheel stuff when I can in 2004. I’m going to try to limit the open wheel I’m going to do though. I don’t’ want to get myself to where I’m
And Tony didn’t stop helping there. While 24 national victories in any division will get car owners from all over the country turning their heads, there was one that really sat up and took notice. It just so happened to be Stewart’s current boss, Nextel Cup team owner Joe Gibbs.
“Tony told him that I was the next guy in USAC that needs a chance. It was enough for those guy’s (at Gibbs Racing) to say come down and look at our shop. The success of the drivers that have come from the USAC series stands for itself. Its funny, but that is where they are looking these days.
So it was recently announced that Joe Gibbs Racing and Yeley signed a multi-year contract with the team. Beginning with the 2004 racing season, Yeley will run an A-B-C schedule, consisting of seven to eight ARCA races, 10 to 12 NASCAR Busch Series races and two to three NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races.
“J.J. Yeley is a very talented racer whom everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing is excited to have,” said Gibbs. “He has accomplished a lot in a very short period of time in many different racing disciplines.”
But had a couple of other experiences not soured him earlier in his career, Yeley may be in a total different boat.
“There wasn’t ever any opportunities in stock cars for me before,” said Yeley. “So I ran the IRL in 1998. The was the first big door for me. It might not have been the best decision looking back on it. The more experienced I got, the more I realized that stock cars may be more the way I want to go. But there was just never the right opportunity for me.”
The Silver Crown car was the only one Tony Stewart didn't have a hand in.
trying to adapt myself back and forth to different cars. When you try to jump back and forth, it can hurt you and I need to give my absolute best to the Joe Gibbs team.”
It was a whirlwind season for Yeley in 2003. But if the start of the 2004 season has any outlook on how this year might go for him.. Things are definitely looking up.
Yeley didn’t take a lot of time off, heading out to Tulsa (OK) to partake in the annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. JJ had problems in his heat race and had to start in the "F Main" event, which he won. He then started from the back of the "E Main," won that, and started from the back of the "D Main," won that one as well. He then started from the back of the "C Main," which he also one and repeated the feat yet again in the "B Main." He was on his way to doing it again when the laps ran out and he finished third behind USAC sprint car teammate Cory Kruseman and World of Outlaws star Danny Lasoski.
“I want to be successful wherever I go. I’ve been given a great opportunity by Joe Gibbs and I plan to make the most of it.”
If 2004 ends up anything like 2003, we are pretty sure he’ll surly make the most of it.