45th annual gatornationals is set to go off in Florida this weekend
Ron Capps understands the importance of the 45th annual NHRA Gatornationals this week for reasons beyond it being one of the oldest events on the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.
The legendary track at Gainesville, Fla., is one that Ron has mastered twice (2007, 2006) and was a finalist in 2000.
He is ready to end his six-year drought at the track this weekend and jump-start the 2014 season with Don Schumacher Racing's NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T.
"It's definitely what we consider one of our big three races," Ron said. "It's such a big race and one of those events where I never thought I would get a trophy. To finally win there and then win again was awesome. It's definitely one of the most fun events of the season, and it's a lot more fun when you win.
"You can try and say it's just another race, but nothing really prepares you for that drive to the track on Friday morning because you almost forget how big it is. By the time you get to the gate your hair is standing up and it's like an automatic motivator. This is a big race."
The year hasn't started the way Ron and crew chief Rahn Tobler had wanted. A violent engine explosion at the season-opener left Ron uninjured and that was followed by a first-round loss two weeks ago near Phoenix.
"I've learned a lot in my career being around the more experienced owners and drivers that you just don't panic after a slow start," he said. "Maybe five or 10 years ago I might have panicked, but I've learned to keep chugging away and not panic. I have the great luxury of knowing we're going to see success pretty soon."
For the past two events Tobler and longtime assistant John Collins have devoted some of their time to DSR's Make-A-Wish Funny Car driven by Tommy Johnson Jr. while team owner Don Schumacher was deciding on a full-time crew chief for Johnson, who advanced to the Phoenix semifinals and is ranked fourth in Funny Car points.
When the teams arrive at Gainesville, Collins will be Johnson's crew chief and Eric Lane has been hired as Tobler's assistant on the NAPA team.
Lane had been with John Force Racing since 2001 and most recently was the assistant crew chief on the Top Fuel dragster driven by Brittany Force, who advanced to her first Top Fuel championship round on Feb. 23 near Phoenix.
"We wouldn't have been able to promote John to the Make-A-Wish car unless I could get Eric," Tobler said. "I needed a good, experienced crew chief to come in here and help me. Eric can give me input into how to improve the car. I know Eric on a personal level and he'll fit in well with our team."
Lane, 40, is a native of Baldwin Park, Calif., and currently lives with his family in Avon, Ind. He graduated from Mt. San Antonio College and Universal Technical Institute before working for three years on Gary Densham's Funny Car team.
Don Schumacher Racing