Las Vegas II: Capps, Johnson preview

Capps says lessons were learned from recent explosion; Johnson happy to return to The Strip at LVMS.       LAS VEGAS, October 21, 2002 - The last time Ron Capps was buckled into his Green Skoal Racing Camaro he had to be extricated by the...

Capps says lessons were learned from recent explosion; Johnson happy to return to The Strip at LVMS.

      LAS VEGAS, October 21, 2002 - The last time Ron Capps was buckled into his Green Skoal Racing Camaro he had to be extricated by the NHRA's Safety Safari.

      A fierce explosion - caused by a broken exhaust valve retainer - shattered the car's carbon fiber body, blew the engine's supercharger into pieces and wrapped the firewall around the roll cage surrounding Capps.  Fortunately for Capps, he came away with bruised knees and a serious headache.

      Twelve days after that Oct. 13 incident at the Texas Motorplex, near Dallas, Capps will be getting ready to get back into the Funny Car's cockpit to begin qualifying for the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals, Friday through Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

      He has no trepidation, either.

      "I'll have no problem at all getting back into the car," said Capps, from Carlsbad, Calif.  "Even if I hadn't seen any replays (and had won the first round match against Tommy Johnson Jr., his Skoal Racing teammate, and not had knees so sore he couldn't bend them), I wouldn't have had a problem getting into the car for the next round. I think I could've been ready to go.  You know, you have a passion for driving these cars and, as long as there were no broken bones, you can get right back in. I love driving the Green Skoal Racing Funny Car.

"After I saw replays of the explosion a few times, I realized it was a lot more violent watching it from the outside," added Capps.  "I knew it was probably worse than any one we've had, but after seeing all the replays, it hit home because I realized it was amazing things like that don't happen much anymore.  That's a tribute to how safe the cars are.  I know because I got up and actually walked out of the ambulance.  That tells you how well these cars are built.  

      And Capps will have a rebuilt racecar to drive here.

      "The crew had the car ready for this race two days after I left Dallas.  Ace (crew chief Ed 'Ace' McCulloch) and Todd (assistant crew chief Todd Okuhara) say we'll be stocked up on parts so we can go out and win that race again."

      Last year, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's team won both events at The Strip - Johnson in April, Capps in October.  Johnson's Blue Skoal Racing Camaro made it to the finals in April but lost to Gary Densham.  Capps, turning in a consistent performance with times in the 4.80-second range, defeated Bob Gilbertson in the title round a year ago.

      "We've been concentrating on winning rounds and trying to get a couple more wins before the year is out," said Capps, acknowledging that only one other event remains - the Auto Club Finals, Nov. 7-10, at Pomona, Calif.  

      Capps does see some good coming from his spectacular engine malfunction.

      "When a parts failure like that happens and becomes more like a bomb, you must think about ways to protect a driver's legs and feet," he pointed out.  "I'm straddling the whole bell housing when I'm in the car and my foot is about eight inches from the back of the engine.  Snake has already been on the phone with the chassis builder, Murf McKinney, going over what we can do to make these cars safer.

      "Murf's building two new cars for us for next year and he's working on new safety features for them."

      For Johnson, a return visit to Las Vegas is a special occasion.  

      "Vegas is my favorite place," he says, "but not because of the gambling.  I don't spend a dime gambling.  I don't know what it is; good things just seem to happen to me there.  It has been a good track for me.  I'm going there with no worries whatsoever because I know I'll do well."

      His confidence is up for a reason.  His Blue Skoal Racing machine is running well.

      After beating Capps in that explosive first round in Texas, Johnson knocked out favored Tony Pedregon in the quarterfinals.  And he did it at the starting line. Johnson's .453 reaction time gave him a lead he didn't relinquish, but just by the slimmest of margins.

      Pedregon, winner of three straight events, left the line with a .493 reaction and got to the finish line about three or four inches behind Johnson, who won with a 4.893 at 311.13 mph to a 4.854 at 319.26. The difference at 1320 feet was fifteen ten-thousandths of a second.  Johnson also earned a $1000 bonus because it was the narrowest margin of victory during eliminations.

      "It was close at the line and I had to radio to find out who won," Johnson said.  "And the guys yelled at me that we beat him on a hole shot.  That was a real highlight for us."

      After defeating Pedregon, Johnson lost in the semifinals to eventual race winner Del Worsham.

      "I'd like to finish the season by winning at least one of the last two races," he continued.  "It's possible considering the way we've been running."

      Johnson was able to close the gap between himself and Capps in the POWERade Series standings.  Capps is seventh with 1022 points and Johnson is next with 1005.

-jls-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Gilbertson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , Gary Densham , Tommy Johnson Jr.