Madison: Midseason teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Ron. Q: How much different of a driver are you? How much did you learn from going through that epic points battle last year? Are you approaching things different than last ...

Continued from part 1

MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Ron.

Q: How much different of a driver are you? How much did you learn from going through that epic points battle last year? Are you approaching things different than last year?

CAPPS: Yeah, you always learn something from it. Throughout my career, even when I was a crew member, ironically when I became a driver, the first person I went to to ask questions was Ed ("Ace") McCullough. It was in Seattle I remember the first year I got my Top Fuel license.

I've always tried to take a piece of everything I could, whether it's hanging around Dick LaHaie, Dale Armstrong, Don Prudhomme, working with Ace, the guys I've gotten to work with, just kind of take things here and there that you can use. I think any athlete will tell you that. You can't think that you know everything. Somebody can always, especially with experience, offer something to you.

I think Don Schumacher, there's just a lot of people around, a good support group that I can always feed off of. Last year, like (the moderator) said, I've been in the championship (chase) -- I've been the runner-up three times in the championship. (So I've) kind of been there. Last year I was really close to winning it. I took a lot from that. I was getting sick on Sunday mornings. In fact, it made me drive better. I never faltered when it came to the starting line.

Yeah, I did learn a lot from it. Ironically, you know, I got asked about it yesterday and this morning, so the word is out, Ace, they found some cancer in him again. As we speak, he's under the knife in surgery right now in Indianapolis. They just found a little bit more on the other side, so they're hoping to go in and get it out. But it's kind of de'ja vu. It was this time last year that he had the cancer in the first place.

To answer your question, what I learned last year, there were so many other things going on, especially with his cancer, still going to the track, getting chemo in between the races, it really pushed everything aside. It really made it a strange trip down to the end.

The racing, here we are about to win a championship possibly, and the racing was really secondary. I can't really attribute a lot to what happened to the end of the year to what we're going through now.

Q: You mentioned Ed, what he's gone through. How much more inspiration or something would that be to win this championship for Ed? Does it inspire you to try harder for him?

CAPPS: It's everything for him. I mean, obviously it's for Don Schumacher as well. Don and I talked. I've known about them finding the cancer since before -- right around Bristol. Of course, Ace didn't want anybody to know. We kept it quiet. Don didn't find out until Englishtown. We didn't want it around to fog up any mission we had.

I even said last year, all my guys on the crew, we all wanted to win it for Ace. To be honest, I thought he won a championship, at least one or two. I was kind of dumbfounded when they told me he never won one. I kind of prided myself in knowing the history of drag racing. I thought he already won a championship. He won just about everything in sight. I was surprised. Then it was kind of a mission to win it for him.

I hope I got a lot of years left in me, but right now we're really concentrating on this is our best chance to get him a championship ring.

Q: Ron, is Ace the biggest difference between being with Snake and being with Schumacher?

CAPPS: Biggest difference?

Q: Biggest plus, just the way your career has really blossomed. Is he the big factor?

CAPPS: Yeah, I think so ... It was neat for me because at Snake's (former team owner Don Prudhomme), when Ace got let go, it crushed me. I mean, I was in my room the night of Sonoma when he got let go. I sat in my room and cried because he had been such an influence on me. Every time I went to the starting line, I wanted to do everything perfect for him. When it didn't work out, I was crushed.

When he was announced as the crew chief on the Brut deal (to begin the 2004 season), I really looked at it as this is my chance to work with Ace again. He's been a huge influence. We've really -- the relationship has really grown a lot between him and I on the track and off the track, but especially on the track. Going to battle him on Sunday morning, as you know, he's a gamer. I really am thriving on learning how to race from the guy.

Q: Did he hold off on the surgery for the start of the summer break?

CAPPS: Yeah. We kind of knew about Ace's deal prior to Bristol. He of course doesn't want anybody to know. He was trying to get through and do the same thing last year, get the surgery done right after St. Louis. We had the break. He's so driven, he had it all planned out. He's so meticulous about everything. He had a plan, get the surgery done, have time to heal, go on the plane, go to Denver.

We had the car -- brand-new car we were going to run in Denver. It's a car we've been running to be front-halved after St. Louis. That was another one of his plans. Almost like he had all these planned out. Get the car front-halved, have a brand-new car for Denver, I'll get my surgery done, everything will go perfect, we'll have a couple weeks off. So, yeah, he definitely had a plan. Anybody that knows him knows how he plans everything to a 'tee'.

CAPPS: I called him last night. I'm scared right now. I'm really scared. He's in surgery now. I'm just hoping everything goes all right.

Q: What kind of cancer does Ed have?

CAPPS: Colon cancer they found last year. He went in for his checkup. They found a little polyp I believe on the other side of his body there. Just a tiny bit. Precautionary, they want to go in and definitely take care of that, just make sure everything else is good.

We don't know what they're going to do, if they're going to do chemo again afterward or he'll be fine with what they get out. We're waiting to hear. He's in surgery as we speak in Indy. We'll probably know Friday when he goes home, go from there. We're not sure yet.

Q: Down the road, coming to Sonoma, what are your thoughts about that track? Is it a track you look forward to coming to? Is it a challenge?

CAPPS: Infineon has always been -- it was kind of a home track. I lived in the Bay Area, going to school. I lived up there, met my wife up there. I lived up there about eight or nine years. That was a home track.

Besides the fact that when I was growing up, my dad, when he raced, we went to Fremont and Sonoma all the time, Sacramento for that matter as a kid. The Bay Area has always been kind of a home track for me.

Seattle I've won I think twice, Funny Car once, Top Fuel. That's always been a great place for me. Denver, we've done so-so. Like Melanie said, you never know if it's you or the crew chief. Sometimes a driver goes to the track and he just does well. Sometimes a crew chief goes and he does well.

The Western Swing has always been a good place in my heart. We're camping right now in central California at a lake for a couple weeks, then I take the family on that Western Swing. That has another add-on to why I love the Western Swing. Especially with Bruton Smith, what he's done with the track at Infineon, it's turned into one of the most favorite tracks we all go to.

Q: Where about are you camping?

CAPPS: We're at Lake San Antonio. I grew up in San Luis Obispo. Used to come here as a kid. Last four or five years, we come up here. In fact, I just ran into some Doug Herbert Snap-On distributors parked next to us with some boats. It's cool. A way to get away. At the same time we run into some fans. We're going to hang out here for a couple weeks with the kids, ride skidoos and boats and stuff.

Q: If you compared golf majors to drag racing points championships, are you the Phil Mickelson of your sport? Do you feel if you can get one out of the way, it could be the start of something really cool?

CAPPS: You're always coming up with these bitchin', intellectual questions. You crack me up. Yeah, I guess. Hey, to be compared with Phil would be awesome. Just to be a contender. If I had to quit right now with what I've done, I'd be more than happy with the career I've had. But definitely we'd like a championship. To always be a contender, that's all you can ask.

Last year hurt. That eight points, losing it. In the big picture, the Oakley team winning it, they were a big part of this team as well. Everything was perfect. I don't want to go another year as another runner-up. If I have to, it beats third or fourth. I can only do so much as a driver. The team, a lot of young guys. I'm hoping to keep the team together for a long time. If we can win a championship, it would be unbelievable.

Q: Five for five in finals this year. How do you explain that?

CAPPS: Ace and the guys. Believe me, staging the car. A couple of those, I was thinking, man, I don't know if we got it today for this run right here. Ace would pull it out. We've been winning as a team and losing as a team. I've made some mistakes. The first guy to pat me on the butt was Ace and the crew guys. They help keep my spirits up. Vice versa. I'm able to win a few on holeshots, which is always good for a driver.

Those finals, beating Force when we've beaten him, as Melanie talked about, the points, down to (44), but those are points we put in our pocket for a reason. If we didn't do well at the beginning of the year, we'd be behind right now. You try to just show up at each race and get as many points as you can. That's all we can do.

Q: Why do you think that no No.1 qualifier in either Top Fuel or Funny Car has won yet in 2006?

CAPPS: You know, I've said it time and again, you really have to look at our qualifying. We've won from 14th, 15th. I think it's just coincidence, to be honest with you. Those are good teams qualifying No. 1. You know, I'm looking and hoping that NHRA will change something with our Friday night qualifying. Maybe there's a way to lock in the top four for Friday night, have the other two runs. It's too much dependent on all the Nitro and Pro Stock classes on the Friday night run. I really believe that. If you have one bad run, Dell (Worsham) in Topeka, you can go on a big team that struggled, have something go wrong on a Friday night run, you're up the creek. Very rarely is the weather going to be any better on a Saturday. If you don't get that run in, that's usually where the field is going to end up. We don't see those conditions ever again during the weekend.

Those teams that have been No. 1 are the teams that really go for it on Friday night. That's where it ends up. That's just kind of I think how it's ended up where those teams maybe don't run as well when it does heat up on Sunday.

Q: Now with the Western Swing coming up, is this more difficult than the ones you went through?

CAPPS: Yeah, a little bit, only because Denver is so hard on parts. It's a difficult place to go. It's pretty close. The Chicago, Englishtown, St. Louis thing was pretty brutal with conditions changing, hard on teams. This one will be as well.

I think they're pretty close with the exception of Denver and having to really lean on your parts because you're a mile high. You know, I think for a lot of the teams it's a little more relaxing. They're closer together. This last one was very hard. You have to remember these guys jumping in these trucks, having to drive race to race. I think that's probably the most difficult difference of the two.

Q: You're 4-1 against Force this year. At least one of them was on a holeshot. To know you beat him off the line, to you, is that almost as impressive leading the points?

CAPPS: Standing back, if that was somebody else's record, I would be impressed.

I just get up for the guy. I try to get up for everybody. That just tells you how big a deal he still is in the sport. I've said it before. If you can beat him to the hotel in a rental car, qualifying, final round, whatever it is, it's going to be a big deal.

Anyhow, yeah, I'm impressed with it. I'm impressed with my team, what they've done. I just try to do the same thing every time. I get up for the guy like you can't believe. We just had a great car every time. You know, as soon as you get out of the car, I'm shaking my head sometime in disbelief of how good we've done. You expect to be able to do that. When it happens, keep reeling those wins off, I'm impressed myself.

Q: You consider Infineon your home track and your teammate Gary Scelzi also considers it his home track. Are you going to take him in the Funny Car?

CAPPS: Well, we were in the final round together last year. I've been in several of them there. I've won there before. Gary is from Fresno. That's pretty close. I lived up there for a while. Gary and I are great friends. We do the go-kart thing to raise money for Speedway Charities, have a fun time with that. It's always been a fun track for me and I know Gary as well. If we can both get in the final again, that would be unbelievable. I love that place, everybody at that track, what they do. They welcome you. Just everything. You can ask any team, that's a great place to go.

I've had great success.  I don't want to jinx myself.  I always think
when I go to a good track, I don't want to talk too much about it.  It's
always been great to me.  I'm hoping I can just repeat.

Continued in part 3

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Gary Scelzi , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie , Don Schumacher