Continued from part 1
MICHAEL PADIAN: Did John have any seasons that paralleled that at all, Ron?
RON CAPPS: Oh, yeah. When I first started, that's the reason I went to Funny Car. I drove Top Fuel for a year and a half. A lot of teams, that's the reason you see a lot of Funny Cars where they're at right now. Everybody wanted to go in and battle John Force. He was the guy you wanted to put yourself against because you knew he was absolutely the best. He was destroying people. He was clinching championships sometimes in September.
Yeah, I've seen that before firsthand. Being a teammate of Schumacher, watching what they've done the last few years, I'm not sure you'll see that again in some time. It was an amazing thing to watch. Everything was going right. So we'll see.
MICHAEL PADIAN: As a footnote, Tony did set the record in either nitro class for most wins in a season. He had 15. John Force had 13 in 1996. Greg Anderson in 2004 had 15 wins and 76 round wins, which Tony Schumacher had also. They both share the NHRA record for wins and round wins at 15 and 76.
Q: Ron, you referred to last season being embarrassing for your team. Yet in the last race of the season, you made the finals. Did that give you a boost of confidence coming into this year?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, well, definitely. Ace that whole day Sunday in Pomona at the end of the year, I could see it in his eye. He was trying things he wasn't comfortable trying, but that's what you got to do a lot as a crew chief. I could tell on the car, the car was getting much more of an animal every run. In the final round, he did some things he would not normally do and it paid off.
I wanted to go hang myself after running what we did, finally running that good, be in the final round, last race the year, a chance to give NAPA a win, losing the race. I had the whole off-season to think about it every morning.
It gave us definitely a silver lining to look forward to this year. That's why we're so apprehensive. When Ace decided to change a lot of things, it was like, We just finished with a great run. He also knew that the other teams out there, (Auto Club Ford Mustang crew chief) Jimmy (Prock)'s team that always seems to be low ET at qualifying, we were going to have to step it up. To do that we were going to have to completely change everything.
As a crew chief, it's a hard thing to do. But I'm glad he did it.
Q: In Phoenix you destroyed the field. How did that feel after what you went through last year?
RON CAPPS: Looking back, it kind of looked that way. When you're in the trenches race day, it didn't feel that way. We barely beat our teammate Matt Hagan the second run. We weren't quickest the first couple rounds, but Ace knew why. The cool thing about racing with Ace, you look at years past. There's been great drivers in the past. But if you look at a great racer, there's only a few of those out there. He's one of those guys that approaches it that way. He only ran what he thought we needed to win those rounds, not get ourselves in trouble.
I didn't feel like we were dominating. What made me feel like maybe we had a car that did maybe dominate a little bit was the final round when Mike Neff broke his clutch linkage. He idled down the track (indiscernible).
MICHAEL PADIAN: Ron, we sort of lost you there. You broke up. As a footnote to what Ron mentioned just a minute ago, in 1996 John won 13 races out of 19. In 2004, Greg won 15 of 23. Then last year when Tony won his 15, we had 24 races.
Q: Antron, you've had success in both classes. Do you feel now you're kind of racing what you always wanted to race? Is this kind of a dream being realized?
ANTRON BROWN: Oh, for sure. I mean, I can take you back to 1986. I was 10 years old at the Summernationals at Old Bridge (Township Raceway) Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. I was there when Big Daddy Don Garlits flipped his super shop car over. I remember as a kid just watching that race. I was a motorcross racer back then. My dad was drag racers. They were Super Comp and Super Gas racers. I remember I said, 'I want to drive one of those things one time, either a Top Fuel or Funny Car.' Didn't make a difference. I was never picky. I was fascinated with the nitro class, how fast they went.
I got into the motorcycle end of it. I got there and, Capps will remember, when I was over at DSR racing the bikes, I would talk to him every once in a while. I want to drive one of these. Will you help me out? Capps was one of my heroes. I thought he was the best in the business that ever drove a Funny Car. He would say, Whatever you want, if you get in one of those deals, I will help you drive it. I want to do this deal. I want to do this deal.
I just never got the opportunity to make it happen at DSR. When I got this opportunity to come over here with the Matco car, I went full head of steam. Fortunately it worked out for me. I was putting my head down. Till this day, when I won my first race in Houston, I still look up at the sky every day and say, 'Lord, is this really happening?' I think I'm dreaming. It's like a dream to drive one of those cars. Until you drive one and experience it, it's like a being kid in a candy store, you want to do it over and over and over again. The ride never changes. That's why Force is still doing it and he's (59 years old). He loves it. That's the kind of passion I have for this sport as a whole and driving this racecar. I'm very fortunate to get to do what I'm doing for sure.
Q: Ron, when you look at how you finished second in your career, are you at a point where you're kind of compartmentalizing the season into segments, how you want to start off, things you maybe want to try mid-season, trying to save it for the end, or are you pretty much going all out all the way through?
RON CAPPS: That's kind of funny. The way we approach this season I think is kind of how I want to approach the whole thing. In years past, everybody has had this Countdown looming over us. You want to be one of the cars that makes it in there. When you get in there, you want to try to be a car that's peaking.
The first year of the Countdown (2007), we went in with a points lead and we lost a huge points lead when it started. We just never saw the points lead again.
The approach that Ace and our team have this year, where it's one run at a time. I know it's cliche. We're standing on the gas and we're going to try to be the quickest car every single run of that round, then do that and win every race, just try to win races. All that will come with it. Instead of laying back and testing, trying things here, you know, sound like a NASCAR guy, We're okay with a top-five finish this weekend. That turned out to not be the right approach. I think a lot of teams are going to see that same thing. You can't approach it -- drag racing is not NASCAR, first of all. But you can't approach it like that.
So far it's worked for what we wanted to try this year.
Q: Antron, talk a little bit about the difficulty or the transition between the motorcycles and the Top Fuel car.
ANTRON BROWN: The transition was mind-boggling. A lot of people say it looked easy, but they looked from the outside looking in.
When I first did the transition, I went to Frank Hawley Drag Racing School and got my alcohol license. I got to Gainesville with the Matco team, was able to make four runs there because the weather wasn't permitting. We went in the wintertime. I got my first shake, tire shake. When the car shakes its tires, it's like somebody put your head between two two-by-fours and was slapping your head like a paint shaker. It was kind of violent. It got me to all the different types of feelings I'm going to have to get used to in the car. The bike, the movements are real subtle. When I got into the Fuel car, everything was like overexaggerated where you know it was happening. So I think the bike really got me primed and ready for how to be one with the vehicle because you're not strapped in, you're sitting on top of it, where you have to feel every nook and cranny, be in tune with it to give feedback to help the crew chief make the tune-up calls besides looking at the race computer.
When I got into the Fuel car, all those movements were really exaggerated, where it really helped me catch on quick. The thing the bike did not prepare for me was the rate of acceleration. That's one thing that took me at least a half a year just to get into my system where I can actually say, Okay, this would happen here. This would happen in the first 60 feet. This would happen at the hundred-foot mark. This at the 330.
The Fuel cars, what happens is you feel about 3.8 Gs off the starting line. When you get to hundred foot, it goes to 4.2 Gs. 330, you're at four and a half Gs. When you're at a half track, you reach 5 Gs. On my bike, I felt 3.8 Gs off the starting line till about a hundred foot out, then it descended where it went down to 1 G by half track. You're along for the ride. You got the bike straight, it's easy. The fuel car is accelerating all the way down the racetrack. The whole racetrack is like my Pro Stock bike 60 foot. In three seconds, we're over 300 miles an hour.
That took me some really getting used to, how to feel the car, get it through tire shake, keep the car in the groove. When I first started off, I was looking at it all the way down the racetrack. When I was looking at all the way down the racetrack, the car would get out of the groove and I would spin the tires, where I had to start paying attention to a hundred foot or 200 foot in front of the racecar. If the car was making a twitch, I had to correct it. It came to just be a reaction. When I was trying to do it, I never could keep up with it. I just had to react to it.
The adjustment took me a while. I'm still learning stuff to this day. I'm way more comfortable than what I used to be. I can maybe win a round or two if I have to pedal it before last year where I had to get through it and I might lose a round because I didn't pedal it at the right time. I think now I can maybe sneak a couple rounds out if I have to get into a pedals match with somebody else.
Q: Ron, is this the strongest start you've ever had to a season in your competition? What's the highest number of consecutive race wins you've been able to string together?
RON CAPPS: Definitely the strongest. We had a pretty good start I think it was '05, but nothing like this. The most consecutive, I'm not sure. I know we've won at least two in a row. I thought we won three in a row a couple years ago. Trying to remember. Michael might know more.
Yeah, this is definitely our strongest. I think our consecutive might be three.
Q: Antron, in NASCAR the open-wheel guys that have made the transition, AJ Allmendinger, Ricky Carmichael, those are exceptions. Most of the open-wheel guys did not make it. What do you think you share with those guys that you're able to adapt and be a points leader?
ANTRON BROWN: I think for one thing I can relate to Ricky Carmichael a lot. I think one thing of it is is just having the determination and the willingness to want to win. I think that's what you see not in just athletes, but into your championship-caliber athletes. You know what I mean? You just go out and beyond the call of duty.
When I took the Top Fuel deal, it didn't just come to me. It's that a lot of people say, You picked a bike guy to drive a Top Fuel car? You did this or that. For me personally, when I get in there, I kept my head down, worked hard. I've been in the shop every day. Scott Speed, Ricky Carmichael, that's what they shared, they did it in their other previous sports. That's why they got to get into the NASCAR Truck Series, what they're doing, they actually do everything it needed to take and more. They went beyond the realm to achieve success. Success doesn't come easy. You go through bumps and trials. But it's the people that don't give up, continue the work ethic to succeed. That's what makes champions, how you go through adverse times.
I'm one of those types of people. I don't like losing by any means. I'm confident in myself. But I'm willing to put the work that it takes to be successful in life. That's the main key, to have determination.
Q: During the off-season you got the opportunity to race those guys in a go-kart in Orlando. Could you comment on that?
ANTRON BROWN: It didn't go the way I wanted to. I went out there, got my tail whipped. That time right there, I'm not giving up, I'm going to go out there with them next year, but be with a little bit different team next year. I had a lot of equipment failure. It didn't help when I had - what do you call it - a pair of vice grips that were still clamped on my steering column beating me on the leg when I was going around the track either. It was a lot of fun. You could see the raw determination of those guys, how they got out there from their sports. They performed well in the go-karts. I love go carts to death. Ron was out there with me. It's a lot of fun, but you got to be on your toes. That's a lot of endurance. I'm going to be ready for them next year. Want to go out there and try to get definitely a top-10 finish. That will make me feel real good for a drag racer.
Q: How do you think the one thousand foot length is working? Is there a possibility of going back to a quarter mile?
RON CAPPS: I'm real happy with it right now. Until we get all the shutdown areas at all the tracks like we have at Pomona, Charlotte and Indy, you know, then I think we'll be more comfortable going a quarter mile.
I don't think we've lost any bit of the competition, the racing, for the fans. I think a lot of them had their arms up in the air when it first happened, were wondering if the racing was going to suffer. It's still strange not to go to a quarter mile. I think a lot of us have gotten more used to it.
For me personally, I think it's a good thing right now. I see us going back to quarter mile sometime down the road.
ANTRON BROWN: I definitely agree with Ron on that. To give you a little history, in previous tracks, some of the tracks haven't changed since the '60s and '70s, some of the early '80s deals. Our cars do over 330 miles an hour in a quarter mile. I think it's all the right moves we did, especially with our sport. The racing actually has gotten tighter at a thousand foot. We all loved 1320. Don't get none of us wrong. We want to go back to the full quarter mile. That's what our sport was built on. In the fan aspect, you're seeing a lot of cars and teams where the part attrition is up when you can see the cars run hard to a thousand foot without hitting the rev limiter. I think you're going to see 315 miles an hour or 310 miles an hour out of a Funny Car, you're going to see 320 out of a Top Fuel dragster. I think you're going to see some good quality racing this year. I'm pretty excited about it actually because now it puts it back into a driver's hands a little bit more because you got to be more in tune and crisp off the line to get those race wins.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thank you for joining us on today's call. 2007, Ron Capps won three of the first seven races en route for a fourth-place finish. In 2006 he won five of the first 11 races, en route to an eventual third-place finish.
Thank you all for joining us and a special thanks to Ron and Antron for taking time out to join us. We'll see you next weekend at the 40th annual AC Delco NHRA Gatornationals.