ENNIS, Texas -- By now, Ron Capps thought he'd be battling John Force for the NHRA Funny Car lead. By now, four races into the 1999 season, Capps thought he'd have at least one race win. Capps, crew chief Roland Leong and the ...
ENNIS, Texas -- By now, Ron Capps thought he'd be battling John Force for the NHRA Funny Car lead. By now, four races into the 1999 season, Capps thought he'd have at least one race win. Capps, crew chief Roland Leong and the Copenhagen Racing Camaro Funny Car team never would've believed they could be as low as 14th in the standings. But they are. Capps is the defending champion at the Castrol Nationals, April 23-25, at the Texas Motorplex, but he isn't listed as one of the favorites this time around. The Don Prudhomme-owned team is searching for reasons why its new combination hasn't unleashed elapsed times in the low 4.80s (seconds) and is running in the 5.00s instead. "It's been tough," says Capps, who chased John Force all the way to the final 1998 race and finished second in points. "Roland, the crew, Dale Armstrong (crew chief on Prudhomme's Top Fuel dragster) have tried a lot of different things but the combination just hasn't responded. "We had a lot of optimism going into our last race (Houston, April 11), but it didn't happen then." There are new parts - cylinder heads, injector and five-disc clutch - that are giving Leong tuning nightmares. Capps hasn't had a round win in four races and he failed to qualify at Houston for the first time in 40 events. He arrives at the Motorplex in 14th place with 108 points. Force, a three-time winner, leads with 470. "Its aggravating," Capps commented, "specially with a barometer like last year, which was a banner year (five series win, the most in the category, plus the runner-up finish) for us. It really reminds you how low the valleys are." Leong knows the new parts are capable of good elapsed times. Capps was timed in 4.84 seconds, his career best, during a post-race test session at Gainesville, Fla., last month. But the different track conditions at Houston prevented a performance repeat.
On one Houston qualifying run, the front end came up around mid-track. "We're making so much power it is lifting up the front end," said Capps. "That's scary when you're going 240 mph and the front end starts going up. You can't steer it." During his last qualifying attempt, a spark plug shot out of the cylinder head and the engine dropped a cylinder. "That pushed the car toward the centerline," Capps added, "and once the car got out of the groove, it struck the tires and they lost traction." Leong and Prudhomme are committed to the making the new parts work. "We just need to keep running the car," said Prudhomme. "Things happen, it's not like I've never seen this before. We'll work at it. We'll solve it." The changes have been implemented to keep the team competitive with Force and some of the other frontrunners who are running in the high 4.70s and low 4.80s (seconds). "We can't be content running high 4.80s or low 4.90s anymore," said Capps. "We know we have to step up. This is a completely different car now than what it was last year. It's making more power, I can tell by driving it. It even sounds different. "Roland, Dale and Todd Okuhara, our assistant crew chief, learn something new with every run we make. We all know it's a matter of time before the Cope Racing Camaro will be back going after race wins. We'd like it to happen at the Motorplex." Race qualifying is scheduled at 2:30 and 6:30 Friday and noon and 4 p.m. Saturday. Eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m.
Ron Capps Facts:
Age: 33 Hometown: Carlsbad, Calif.
Final-round record: 8/12 (7/10 Funny Car, 1/2 Top Fuel); Last win: Topeka, Kan., 10/17/98;
Quickest time: 4.864 seconds; Fastest speed: 315.45 mph
At Texas Motorplex: Won this race last year, beating Force in finals. Reached semifinals of fall race twice