Gainesville: Ron Capps preview

Capps honored by bid to test IROC cars, but focused on keeping Funny Car Point Lead At Gatornationals. GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 10, 2003 - Preseason prognosticators hardly mentioned Ron Capps when the subject was 2003 NHRA POWERade Series ...

Capps honored by bid to test IROC cars, but focused on keeping Funny Car Point Lead At Gatornationals.

GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 10, 2003 - Preseason prognosticators hardly mentioned Ron Capps when the subject was 2003 NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car championship contenders.

And it's a virtual certainty even fewer people thought about him when it came time to select drivers for the 2004 International Race of Champions event that is contested at four different oval tracks during the year. Both probably were logical assumptions.

Capps won once - at Columbus, Ohio - in three final rounds a year ago and finished sixth in points. He doesn't have much experience driving stock cars on large ovals with 10 or 12 other drivers, all of whom make their living going in circles at least part of the time.

But Capps and his Green Skoal Racing teammates are out to prove the drag racing forecasters wrong. And they've done a good job of it after two of 23 races. Capps enters the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway Friday through Sunday with a 10-point lead (184-174) over Tony Pedregon - the driver most pundits picked as the eventual champion. This is the first time Capps has led the series since August 1998 and it's the first time in 45 races that someone other than John Force or his two teammates, Pedregon and Gary Densham, has been in front.

When Capps won the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Phoenix (Feb. 23), he leaped over Pedregon in points. He helped his own cause by eliminating Pedregon in the quarterfinals, then used a brilliant - and, he'll admit, lucky -- .003 reaction time (four-thousandths of a second from a foul start) to beat Densham in the finale, 4.868 to 4.810. Capps, team owner Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, crew chief Ed "Ace"McCulloch and assistant crew chief Todd Okuhara are enjoying the moment, well aware that's a long time until Nov. 9 Auto Club Finals.

On the IROC side, Capps was thrilled just to be asked to test drive an IROC car next month. No other drag racer has ever been considered, but brothers George and Jay Signore and Les Richter, IROC's leaders, looked at Capps' resume and liked what they saw.

"George and Jay Signore sent me an email after I ran in the Chili Bowl (Midget race) and said they thought I'd done a great job," said Capps. "It was big surprise to have them ask me if I was interested in coming to Talladega during the week and go out and run with some of the drivers. They wanted to put me in the car for experience, to see what would happen. They also asked if I'd want to do the same thing at the Chicagoland track in Joliet, Ill. They'd checked out schedule and saw we were between races at St. Louis and Denver.

"This is a great honor. I had lunch with Snake after I was invited. With us leading in points and at a time when there are a lot of things going on, I didn't want to take any of the attention away from what Ace and Snake are doing. It was a relief to see he was as excited as I was. "Just getting the opportunity to go to a super speedway like Talladega and go out and draft with other drivers to see what I can do is fantastic," Capps added.

But first things first, and the Gatornationals now has all of Capps' focus.

"We spend every off-season getting ready for the next season and Ace makes a game plan. This year we worked on consistency," said Capps. "We didn't qualify as well as we wanted at both races, but in the last three years with Ace, I know that no matter where we qualify, I always feel we have a shot at winning the race. Now I feel I have a car that can win at any time, and that's a real good feeling to have."

Capps advanced to the semifinals at the Winternationals, despite qualifying 12th. He lost a close one to Johnny Gray as both cars ran 4.897-second times. Capps began eliminations at Phoenix from the No. 9 position. He also ran his best speed, 319.52 mph.

"Even though some of our runs haven't been as quick as they should've been, the car's still been going down the track, getting through the trouble spots on the run." Capps noted. "It's also a confidence booster to pull up next to the top cars and know you have a shot at outrunning them."

-dpr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Johnny Gray