|Photo – Getty Images
By Jason Schultz
J.J Yeley has experienced highs and lows in his NASCAR career. He has been with big teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and on small teams like he is now with car owner Jay Robinson. Yeley was thrown into our sport. At the time when Gibbs signed him, Yeley hadn’t driven a car with fenders. That put him at a disadvantage but Yeley still attempted to do his best each weekend. He had driven in the ARCA Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series in his rookie year. Yeley had little experience but that didn’t stop him from going out and doing well. Now Yeley is driving for an underfunded team and is having difficulties showing his talent due to the lack of good equipment. Yeley wants a chance to succeed again and show all of his talent.
Recently I was able to interview JJ about his racing career and his family life.
How did you get your start in racing?
“I received my start in racing from my Dad, Cactus Jack Yeley. He raced himself and is a 7 time Arizona midget champion. I had spent every day of my life around racing or at a race track, I was brought in an environment that racing was everything and to be successful you had to give it 100% all the time.”
Who was your racing role-model growing up?
“My racing role models growing up were A J Foyt and Dale Earnhardt Sr. They were drivers that showed all kinds of emotion on and off the track. They did whatever it was going to take to try and win the race. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized that my Dad was my biggest racing role model because he sacrificed whatever it was going to take for me to be a good race car driver.”
What was your first NASCAR job?
“My first job in NASCAR was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing; it was a fast start in an area that I didn’t have much experience. I ran a select number of ARCA, Nationwide and Cup races my first year. It was my first time racing anything with fenders!”
What was it like driving the No.18 Interstate Batteries Car for Joe Gibbs Racing with all the history in that car?
“It was a dream come true to get the opportunity to pilot the car that was the original flagship car for JGR. I enjoyed my time with Gibbs driving the Interstate Battery #18 car. Everyone from Interstate accepted me and being a rookie driver, that help tremendously with my confidence.”
What are the difficulties driving for an underfunded team?
“Some of the biggest obstacles to overcome in an underfunded team are trying to compete against cubic dollars. The new cars, fuel injection take time to figure out, with the sport evolving as fast as it does it takes testing, time and money to find the short cuts to perfection. The larger teams are able to figure these things out before they ever get to the race track; this allows them to work on their setups. An underfunded team has to figure everything out at the race track, with limited time on the track for practice a smaller team will almost always be at a disadvantage.”
Is there anything you enjoy driving for an underfunded team?
“There aren’t any advantages to being with a small team. The crew is usually very small and do three times the work that larger teams do at the track. The biggest satisfaction for me and my team is out qualifying larger teams with better equipment and much larger budgets. It reminds us that we are still able to do great things with just enough to get by because we are hungry for success.”
What are your favorite and least favorite tracks to race on?
“My favorite track on the schedule would have to be Chicago. I love the shape of the track; it is a fast 1.5 mile race track that races kind of like a flat track. There are usually multiple grooves to race and pass on. I don’t really have a least favorite track. Bristol was one of those tracks I didn’t look forward to going to, but after they went back and redid the surface and it became a track that you could run any groove you wanted, it became a track that I like.”
What is one race you’ve dreamed of winning?
“I think winning the Brickyard would be one of my dream come true wins. I spent a good portion of my career racing around Indiana dirt and pavement tracks, ultimately giving my opportunity to move to NASCAR.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“I hope that in my next few years in NASCAR that I can reestablish myself with a larger team that has the ability to be competitive on a weekly basis. Having driven for smaller teams my past few seasons has given me a different outlook on the sport and my career. I want another chance at proving that I belong in Cup Series and that I can win races.”
What do you enjoy doing off the track?
“I enjoy spending time with my family when I am away from the track. My family doesn’t travel as much now that my daughter is in school. As a NASCAR driver, I spend half of every race week away from my girls so when I am home I try to dedicate all of my spare time to them. I do try to squeeze a round of golf in every now and then; it’s usually on a Saturday after practice or qualifying.”
Be sure to follow J.J Yeley on twitter at @jjyeley1!