Third generation drag racer Camrie Caruso’s bid to shake up NHRA Pro Stock racing as just the second woman to race for the season championship got a big boost Friday with the announcement that Jim Yates will serve as crew chief on the 2022 Caruso Family Racing Camaro in which she will debut next February at the Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.
“I am thrilled to have Jim Yates as my crew chief for my rookie season,” said Caruso. “We have a strong team and Jim’s years of experience will only make us stronger. Having a crew chief that has driven as well as tuned these race cars is a huge advantage and one that I am looking forward to taking full advantage of starting at the Winternationals.”
Yates, 68, is a two-time former NHRA Pro Stock World Champion (1996 and 1997) who made a virtually seamless transition from driver to crew chief after selling his auto parts business in 2000 and climbing out of the cockpit for the last time in 2009.
“I want to bring my knowledge and experience to this team to make them the best they can be, said Yates. “I have worked with a variety of drivers with differing experience levels and it helps to have that background. Working with that variety of drivers and also having the experience with a diverse number of power packages is really important to a start-up team in my opinion.”
During a 20-year driving career, Yates won 25 NHRA tour events and was runner-up in 33 others. A graduate of the University of Maryland, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering, he proved himself to be as adept in business as in motor sports, building Yates Auto Parts into an enterprise with 23 stores in and around Washington, D.C., supplied by their own warehouse.
After disbanding his own team, he worked with Johnny and Shane Gray. During Shane’s rookie season Yates directed the two-car operation that finished fourth in the Pro Stock point standings and won the final race of the season. The Gray Motorsports operation would go on to win the championship in 2018.
Significantly, four of the 500 cubic inch Gray Motorsports engines, refurbished and now maintained by Eric Latino’s Titan Racing Engines in Denver, N.C., will provide the power for Caruso’s Denver, N.C.-based, Jerry Haas-built Camaro.
The 23-year-old Pro Stock rookie, daughter of former Pro Modified racer Marc Caruso and granddaughter of “Papa Joe” Caruso, who raced in Super Gas, Top Sportsman and Pro Mod, brings much more to the competitive table than just a great racing pedigree.
“If you look at how there are so many young drivers in Pro Stock, I am really excited about the future with Camrie,” added Yates. “You need personality, a good attitude and ability to drive one of these cars and Camrie brings all those things to the party in aces. I am excited to be involved with a driver like that who has her family behind her 100 percent.”
Caruso began driving in the NHRA Jr. Dragster League before attending Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and earning her Super Comp license. She has continued to move up through the NHRA competition classes for over a decade. After three years of competing in the 8.90 index class, she went back to Frank Hawley and obtained her Top Dragster license, successfully competing in both PDRA and NHRA for three years.
In 2019 Camrie landed a seat with the championship Top Alcohol Dragster team of Randy Meyer Racing. In her second start in Top Alcohol Dragster at the famed Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Caruso qualified second and captured her first TAD win. She advanced from Top Alcohol Dragster, then to Elite Top Dragster and Pro Outlaw 632 on the PDRA circuit. The team’s 632 car was a naturally aspirated, clutch-equipped former Mountain Motor Pro Stock GXP that is very similar to an NHRA Pro Stock car.
Thereafter, she raced in Top Dragster and, most recently, in Pro Outlaw 632 on the PDRA circuit. The team’s 632 car was a naturally-aspirated, clutch-equipped Pontiac GXP strikingly similar to a current NHRA Pro Stock car.
“I feel like I’ll get up to speed pretty quickly,” Caruso said of her Pro Stock comfort level. “If it wasn’t for the 632 car, I might not feel the same way. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what to expect.”