Pomona: Skoal Racing preview

POMONA, Calif., Feb. 3, 2003 - Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. don't carry lunch pails or punch a time clock, but they thoroughly enjoy reporting for work. Some days they are on the job a lot longer than other days. Sometimes it takes only a ...

POMONA, Calif., Feb. 3, 2003 - Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. don't carry lunch pails or punch a time clock, but they thoroughly enjoy reporting for work.

Some days they are on the job a lot longer than other days. Sometimes it takes only a matter of a few minutes for their workday to end. That's the life of professional Funny Car drivers.

Things are about to become more hectic for the drivers because the NHRA POWERade Series season opens with the 43rd annual K&N Filters Winternationals, Thursday through Sunday at Pomona Raceway.

Capps, driving the Green Skoal Racing Camaro, is beginning his seventh year with Don "The Snake" Prudhomme while Johnson, at the controls of the Blue Skoal Racing Camaro, is in his third season. They have been looking forward to this event since the 2002 campaign closed in November.

Capps and Johnson feel they have something to prove. They expected better results in 2002 and have their sights set on improving their 2003 performances. Their immediate goals now are the same as they were then: race each other in final rounds, challenge for the championship, and finish among the top three or four.

"Sure, I feel we should be contending for each race win and should finish in the top three," said Capps, "but in drag racing you are only as good as your last race. Actually, being only as good as your last run applies even more. Actions speak louder than words."

To that end, Capps isn't making any predictions.

"We have the potential with the Green car," he remarked. "We have a lot of the same crew members, starting with the crew chief, Ed 'Ace' McCulloch. Todd Okuhara (assistant crew chief), Scott Okuhara, Ed Veenstra and Doug Bradley are veterans. They have made mechanical changes and our 2002 Camaro body has been in the wind tunnel.

"It's going to be a tough season. There are a lot of good cars out there that will be challenging us at every race. We know both Skoal Racing cars are capable of winning. Now we have to prove it."

Capps said McCulloch was satisfied with the results. "It's a good feeling to know he's comfortable," he added. "He had me shutting off early on the runs and the good news is the incremental times were right with the cars that were running to the finish line and running in the low 4.80s (seconds). Our best time was 4.856 seconds, and I shut it off at about 1000 feet.

"It was great being able to get into the car and test," he continued. "When I get in the car on the first day of testing I'm amazed at the g forces and horsepower we see, how tough these cars are to drive and how comfortable it feels in there after a few runs."

Capps has 13 career victories, 12 in Funny Car. One of his wins came at the 1998 Winternationals when he and Top Fuel teammate Larry Dixon gave Prudhomme his first double victory. Capps has been to 26 finals in Funny Car and has one win in two Top Fuel finals (1996). He finished sixth in points (1148) a year ago and believes he has the car capable of making a run at the 2003 title.

He had one win in three finals, winning at Columbus, Ohio, and placing second at Sonoma, Calif. (finishing three-thousandths of a second behind John Force) and Chicago II. He did collect his third Budweiser Shootout title and $100,000 check for the special event run in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.

Tommy Johnson, meanwhile, sees plenty of positives when he looks at his revamped Blue crew. Mike Green rejoined the team as crew chief after last season and Tommy DeLago is back as assistant crew chief.

"I feel re-energized," said Johnson. "I learned a lot in the last two years, and I've watched the Blue crew grow together during the off-season. I'm excited about Mike running the team. We have good chemistry.

"We also have a new combination and a lot of new parts," he continued. "We want to see both Skoal Racing cars winning rounds on Sunday, and I think you'll see that this year. We are a two-car team, but Mike is making the tune-up decisions for us and on race weekends we will be pretty much operating independently. I think you will see both cars running better. It would be nice to see both of us get to the finals of at least one race."

The 2002 season was bittersweet for Johnson. He did reach the finals four times and eventually wound up seventh in final point tabulations - his finest finish in either Top Fuel or Funny Car. His 1128 points were 20 behind Capps. He was eighth in 1995 while driving in Top Fuel.

"It was good to go to the finals, but finishing second wasn't what we were there for," he remarked. "We went there to win."

Three of his four losses were to John Force, including a heartbreaker by a few thousandths of a second at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

"We want to prove we can win these races. We have the best equipment and people so there's no reason why we can't," said Johnson. "We need to go out and set low elapsed time and show we can run with everyone else, and I think we can do just that. The car made good horsepower during our test sessions and showed signs it can be consistent running down the track with competitive elapsed times."

The two Skoal Racing teammates raced each other four times in 2002, four more than they did in 2001, with Capps winning the first three.

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tommy Johnson , Tommy Johnson Jr.