Gainesville: GM Racing - Ron Capps interview

Snake Racing readies Capps' Chevrolet for championship battle. INDIANAPOLIS, March 6, 2003 - After driving his Chevrolet Camaro to an early season victory at the CSK Nationals in Phoenix, Ariz., 37-year-old Ron Capps finds his name at the top of...

Snake Racing readies Capps' Chevrolet for championship battle.

INDIANAPOLIS, March 6, 2003 - After driving his Chevrolet Camaro to an early season victory at the CSK Nationals in Phoenix, Ariz., 37-year-old Ron Capps finds his name at the top of the NHRA Funny Car standings. Over the winter, the Don Prudhomme team made improvements in safety and aerodynamics to their green Chevrolet at the Snake Racing shop in Indianapolis. In just two events, the enhancements have helped to propel Capps to six round wins, and a career-best speed of 319.52 mph at Phoenix, an auspicious start for the 2000 Mac Tools Gatornationals winner.

You're first in the points heading into Gainesville.

"That's great. But there's a lot of racing left, although we still want to enjoy a little bit of the success we had in Phoenix. One good thing about this team is that we have volumes of racing experience in Ed McCulloch, and Don Prudhomme and Dick LaHaie. They motivate you so that you never want to be content with where you are. It's a great start though. We just need to keep it going. It's dog-eat-dog right now in the Funny Car class. It's so competitive and so close that you don't know what's going to happen. I feel this class is as close as the Pro Stock guys, but at over 300 mph. When you wake up Sunday morning and look at the eliminations ladder, it's brutal. There are no easy rounds and no easy cars. In '98 we almost beat Force for the championship. We won Pomona that year, and went on to win four additional races. In fact, we won mores race than Force yet he beat us for the championship. That taught us that it's not about winning the most races, although it's great to win as many races as you can, but the important thing is to be consistent. Those weekends when you're not doing so well and things aren't going your way, you need to dig down deep to get the best results. At Pomona, we went to the semifinals and had a great shot at the finals - that race against Johnny Gray was a dead heat. You look back and try to figure out how you can win a race like that next time and gain that 20 points you otherwise would have lost. During the off-season I worked hard getting back into shape, and the guys on the team worked hard to make this Chevrolet better. It's been a big effort by everybody and it's cool to see the results we've had so far."

Speaking of fitness, what do you do to stay in shape?

"I have a pretty strenuous regimen where I train during the week when I'm home. I'm also playing racquetball again - I used to teach it and played at a tournament level for many years. I feel playing racquetball helps my hand-eye coordination. I feel like I'm in great shape. When the summer months roll around at some of these hot tracks, that extra .001 of a second off the starting line may be the difference in winning or losing the championship. There're no plusses from not being in better shape, especially when you consider the g-forces we encounter during a 320 mph run. A couple of years ago after a race, I'd have to see a chiropractor and I'd be pretty sore for a few days. That's when I decided to start using a seat insert for my Funny Car that is very similar to the seats used by IndyCar and Formula One drivers. The new seat, along with the HANS device, has helped to reduce some of the g-force effects on my body, and allowed me to show up at the track during back-to-back race weekends and not be limping around."

What improvements did the team make to the racecar?

"A lot of the testing and changes we made to our existing Camaro body were done primarily at the shop in Indianapolis with Murph McKinney, Snake (Don Prudhomme) and Ace (Ed McCulloch). They were able to consolidate some of the things that made our Camaro a good racecar, what in the past had made the Pontiac Firebird a good car and apply that to this car. Right off the bat, this Chevrolet has much more downforce than the car we ran last year, is easier to steer and seems much more stable. Plus, we had a new chassis built that had the additional protection around my legs and torso. With those two things incorporated into the car, we went to Pomona and ran well, and then to Phoenix and won. We're hoping we can make additional improvements."

The impetus for the safety improvements.

"Snake has always been on the cutting edge of anything drag-racing related. He's always looking for ways to make the car go faster, but even more so, he wants to make the car safer. When you look at the evolution of the Funny Car chassis, you realize that not a whole lot has changed in the last couple of decades as far as the driver compartment and the way they are built. When we're going so much faster than any other motorsports series, we need to take steps to make our cars safer. Things like what happened to me last year in Dallas occur. When you're sitting in a Funny Car, and you have the driveline right between your legs, and the engine and the transmission less than a foot in front of you, we need to work on everything we can strengthen the chassis and make all of the drivers safer. There's no crash testing with these cars. We took a lot of input from a lot of people including GM Racing's safety team. Their work with the HANS and their efforts to make the use of the HANS more widespread in our sport have been invaluable. I'm pretty excited with the results, not only from a safety perspective, but also with what this chassis has to offer from a performance standpoint, the ease in which it steers and its ability to stay glued to the track surface."

Is the two-car team still effective?

"Absolutely, especially since Ace doesn't have to spend time on both cars. Having someone like Mike Green on board has helped as well. It's not the same setup on the car, but at the same time, both crew chiefs can talk and learn from what each other is doing. If something is making one of the cars run better, believe me, the other crew chief is going to find out what it is, and vice versa. It's really a great situation and I'm happy for Tommy (Johnson). It's good to see him doing better."

Do you feel good about your chances of winning the '03 championship?

"You always do at Snake Racing and that's something that for me will never go away as long as I'm driving for Don Prudhomme. Whenever I show up at the track, I always feel like I have a chance to win each round and each race. I really have a great amount of confidence in our guys."

Looking ahead, what will it take to stay at the front of the pack?

"We're just trying to make each run better. We also need to qualify a little better. When we ran the 4.83 in the second round at Phoenix, the car had been trying to do that all weekend, but we just had these weird little things happen. A couple of the 4.88s we ran should have been 4.82s. Our goal is to qualify better sooner, and now we feel like we have a handle on some of these variables. You can talk about Formula One or IRL, and say the crew chiefs in those series have a lot of variables to work through, but it's nothing compared to what Ed McCulloch has to figure out. The timing, the fuel system, the clutch, the chassis, winning or losing a race in five seconds, just everything that could go wrong in the blink of an eye without any opportunity to correct a mistake, makes me glad I'm not a Funny Car crew chief. The more we concentrate on the round in front of us and nothing else, the more success you're going to see from this Skoal Racing Chevy Camaro program."

General Motors (NYSE: GM), the world's largest vehicle manufacturer, designs, builds and markets cars and trucks worldwide, and has been the global automotive sales leader since 1931. GM employs about 350,000 people around the world. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Don Prudhomme , Johnny Gray