Denver: Ron Capps preview

DENVER, July 10, 2000 - It was Jerry Lee Lewis who several decades ago introduced the world to his venerable hit song, "Breathless." He didn't have the mile-high altitude of Denver in mind, and he certainly had never heard of Funny Car...

DENVER, July 10, 2000 - It was Jerry Lee Lewis who several decades ago introduced the world to his venerable hit song, "Breathless."

He didn't have the mile-high altitude of Denver in mind, and he certainly had never heard of Funny Car engines back then, either. But rest assured, the nitromethane-fueled motor in the Ron Capps driven, Ed "Ace" McCulloch tuned U.S. Tobacco Co. Funny Car will be breathless this weekend (July 14-16) during the NHRA's Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.

The lack of oxygen at this altitude automatically makes it difficult for the engines to generate horsepower and now crew chiefs like McCulloch are faced with a new tune-up dilemma up here. They'll only be able to use 90 percent nitro in the tanks instead of the 100 percent from past seasons.

"That's going to hurt us big time," says McCulloch, who has had some success at Bandimere Speedway while tuning Doug Kalitta's Top Fuel dragster. "There are three ways to compensate for lack of air - increase the blower overdrive, increase engine compression and increase the nitro percentage.

"We can't add nitro and we already have a blower belt problem so we're about maxed out increasing the blower drive," he added. "We're going to do what we have to do but I don't like it." Essentially, McCulloch knows the Don "The Snake" Prudhomme-owned Funny Car will run slower than it did here last year, thanks to the 90-percent rule. They've run slower at sea level, too, although Capps has the quickest time this season, 4.811 seconds.

"The cars don't run as good at Bandimere as they do at sea level anyway and, in the driver's mind, the run takes longer," said Capps, who is third in Winston Series Funny Car points with 765. "We have to be careful because we can really hurt a lot of (engine) parts if we don't pay attention to what the motor's doing on the run. Things seem to happen to the engines quicker at that altitude."

The team is eager to continue the momentum it built last weekend during the Winston Showdown special race at Bristol, Tenn.

The U.S. Tobacco Co. Camaro qualified No. 1 with a 4.887-second effort, produced the three quickest times in the category and left with a runner-up finish following a close loss to Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan in Sunday's final-round fight for $200,000. Capps added runs of 4.911 and 4.940 seconds on the tricky Bristol Dragway asphalt in the Funny Car vs. Top Fuel Showdown.

"It's a good springboard going to Denver," said Capps. "We won $10,000 for being low qualifier and $50,000 for being runner-up; it's a good payday. We're trying to fight ourselves back into the NHRA Winston points chase. We all were happy because our car's running great.

"We did our own deal last weekend. We came in with a different attitude. Ace was very aggressive in his approach," added Capps. "He said we were going to go to Bristol and qualify No. 1 and that's what we did. Then we ran the 4.94 in Sunday's first round, by far the quickest run of the day. That's the approach he had and it's nice to see a plan come together."

Capps defeated Mike Dunn, Frank Pedregon, Bob Vandergriff Jr. and Tony Schumacher before meeting McClenathan.

"We spun the tires against Cory," Capps recalled. "You're trying to focus on what you're doing and looking out the window for the other car. It started spinning even harder and then I saw his nose through the side window and I knew it was over."

McClenathan's car also spun the tires but won with a 4.852 at 291.32 mph to Capps' 5.168 at 275.28.

After the run, McCulloch discovered a faulty clutch seal that caused the clutch to engage improperly on the run.

The defective part has been replaced, but Capps, McCulloch and the crew promise the aggressive attitude remains intact. Now it's a matter of coping with the altitude.

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