Columbus: Capps/Johnson Jr. preview

Johnson would like to redeem himself; Capps looks for repeat victory at Pontiac Nationals COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 10, 2003 - Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. both have fond memories of their last visit to National Trail Raceway in ...

Johnson would like to redeem himself; Capps looks for repeat victory at Pontiac Nationals

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 10, 2003 - Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. both have fond memories of their last visit to National Trail Raceway in nearby Hebron.

Capps, who beat Johnson, his Skoal Racing teammate, in the semifinals of the 2002 Pontiac Excitement Nationals has reasons to smile because he then went on to eliminate Bruce Sarver in the final round.

It was not surprising, either, that those semifinal and final rounds were filled with tire smoke and drivers getting in and out of the throttle on their quarter-mile runs. Capps' winning time against Johnson was 6.917 seconds and he improved to 6.027 seconds in the title round.

"With summer coming, we expect to see tires spinning and elapsed times going up because the weather will be hotter and more humid, and the racing surfaces won't be nearly as good as they have been," said Capps, who made the most of nearly ideal weather in the Chicago area two weeks ago. His first-round win over Bob Bode came via career bests of 4.753 seconds at 322.96 mph in the Green Skoal Racing Camaro at Route 66 Raceway.

"The weather isn't going to be like Chicago's was, by any means," added Johnson, "but I am comfortable going to Columbus because I believe Mike Green, crew chief on the Blue Skoal Racing Camaro, will have a good tune-up we can use and that he will adapt to the racing conditions.

"I also have a lot of incentive going to Columbus. I want to get to the finals this year," Johnson continued, "and I want to erase the unpleasant memories of the Chicago race."

Johnson finished second to Whit Bazemore at Route 66 Raceway when Bazemore left the starting line first, winning with a slower 4.872 seconds to Johnson's 4.837.

"I'm looking forward to getting back to racing," commented Johnson. "I've had enough time to think about it. I know what I can do. I just have to do it. The Blue crew knows we are capable of winning; now we want to show everyone we can.

"I want to make up for the mistake I made at the starting line. There are a thousand excuses I could make, but I just didn't get the job done," Johnson continued. "I want another final round so I can made amends for it."

Johnson did improve his best elapsed time to 4.790 seconds during Route 66 qualifying.

By reaching the finals for the first time this season, Johnson moved up to sixth in NHRA POWERade Series standings with 552 points. He's now 34 points behind Capps.

Capps, meanwhile, has a win at Phoenix and a runner-up at Englishtown, N.J. His Green Skoal Racing Camaro had never run quicker than 4.801 seconds until that opening-round salvo that was the quickest run on race day at Chicago.

However, Capps' car experienced traction problems and shook the tires in the quarterfinals and he was upset by John Lawson.

"The car went into instant tires shake," he reported. "I was surprised.

"It will be good to get to Columbus because it's always nice to return to a track where you are the defending champion. My crew chief, Ed (Ace) McCulloch, tested a hot weather combination after the Chicago race and I think we should run well there. We know one thing. When the sun is on the track and the temperatures are warm, the track is probably as tricky as any one we race on. It's definitely not a track that favors a lot of horsepower."

Capps continues to impress in IROC testing

On the Monday after the Route 66 event, Capps not only drove his Green Camaro during testing, but then changed driving suits, drove across the ChicagoLand auto racing facility and crawled into an International Racing of Champions car and tested himself and the car on the 1½-mile oval.

"That was something unbelievable . . . to go from one car to the other. It was something a race car driver dreams of," he remarked.

The track was almost half as long and required more driving skills, but Capps said everything went well during his second test outing, this one at ChicagoLand Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

"We had a chance to get some laps in Monday, but things were busier Tuesday after the rain went away and Wednesday," Capps said. "Danny Lasosky and I were sharing a car on Tuesday when they were trying to find the right setup.

"Danny left on Wednesday because he had a race, but I got in a lot of laps with Jim Sauter and Dave Marcus, the two IROC test drivers that were there. We were working on setups and trying to stay at full throttle without lifting all the way around that track. It's tough enough going around that track but when you're wide open through the corners, that's an unbelievable ride.

"I got a lot of laps in Wednesday," Capps continued, "running nose to tail. It was such a short track compared to (2.66-mile) Talladega (Ala.) and it was amazing working on throttle control. It felt good to be able to race with Marcus and Sauter."

Capps also said the biggest difference between the two was this track had 18-degree banking and required a lot more controlling the car going with the throttle entering turns. "If you don't hit your lines going in you are going to get out of the groove and go up into the wall, so it's a matter of going around every single lap and hitting your marks," he added. "If you don't, your lap is ruined. It's a disciplined track.

"Jay Signore (IROC president) seemed pretty happy with my testing and I was ecstatic. I go back there and test again the week of the race, July 7, 8 and 9 before the Winston Cup race at ChicagoLand."

-sr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , Jim Sauter , Bob Bode , Tommy Johnson Jr.