Seattle: Skoal Racing preview

Johnson, Capps recall first Northwest Nationals wins; want to add to their totals this weekend. KENT, Wash., July 23, 2002 - Maybe it's the water and all the trees in the Seattle area. Whatever it is, Tommy Johnson Jr. knows he always feels ...

Johnson, Capps recall first Northwest Nationals wins; want to add to their totals this weekend.

KENT, Wash., July 23, 2002 - Maybe it's the water and all the trees in the Seattle area. Whatever it is, Tommy Johnson Jr. knows he always feels comfortable when he arrives for the NHRA's Northwest Nationals.

The same could be said for Ron Capps, his Skoal Racing teammate.

Each has a special affinity for Pacific Raceways, formerly known as Seattle International Raceway, because it was the site of their first national event victory. And, ironically, Cory McClenathan was the losing driver on each occasion.

This year's race, the 15th annual Lucas Oil Northwest Nationals, Friday through Sunday, offers both drivers another attempt to add to their NHRA POWERade Series winning total. It's also the second of three successive races in the traditional Western swing - beginning with Sunday's Mile-High Nationals at Denver and concluding with the Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif., Aug. 2-4.

"For as hard as the Western swing is, you don't mind when you go back to a track where you've had some success," said Johnson, who will be at the controls of the Don "The Snake" Prudhomme-owned Blue Skoal Racing Camaro.

"I've always liked Seattle, from the time I get off the airplane," he added. "It's a really peaceful atmosphere with all the trees around the track. You never forget the track where you earned your first win."

That victory came in 1993, when Johnson was driving a Top Fuel dragster. He battled his way to the finals, and then beat favored McClenathan in the title round. "It was one of those days when everything we did went our way," Johnson recalled. "We ran well and were consistent. It was always a matter of getting down the racetrack."

Not much has changed at Pacific Raceways since then. It is expected to present the same challenges this time around.

"I'd like to transfer my Top Fuel success to Funny Car this year," said Johnson, who has one round win to his credit in three previous visits driving a Funny Car. "We ran well there last year but still got beat in the first round."

The same fate befell Johnson Sunday at Denver when his Special Edition Skoal Racing Camaro was outrun by Del Worsham, 5.086 seconds at 298.60 mph to 5.341 at 236.67.

"We didn't have an answer to Worsham's 5.08," lamented Johnson. "That was the quickest run of the round. It will be good to get back to sea level after being in this mile-high altitude. You can't really tell how well your car is running up there."

Capps has been a winner in Funny Car as well as Top Fuel at Pacific Raceways. He followed his 1995 rookie-season dragster victory with a Funny Car win in 1998. He was runner-up last year, losing by one-thousandth of a second to Whit Bazemore.

"Seattle has always been a good place for us to visit because we've had success in both Top Fuel and Funny Car," commented Capps, driver of the Green Skoal Racing Camaro. "It's not only my success as a driver, but Snake and Ace (crew chief Ed 'Ace' McCulloch) have a very long history of success in Seattle from, as it's been called, 'the fabled match race days of Funny Car.' They were two of the best to race at that facility (back in the 1970s and '80s)."

Capps had to work overtime to get his Top Fuel win. "All I remember is being at the track on Tuesday," he said. "We ran one round on Sunday before we were rained out. We came back Monday and got in another round before we were rained out again.

"There were about 50 fans in the stands when we ran the final. To win a race in my rookie year and beat drivers like Kenny Bernstein, Mike Dunn and McClenathan was a very special time for me."

That was Capps' only Top Fuel victory. He's added 12 more in Funny Car since joining Prudhomme in 1997.

"The track has very good atmospheric conditions and is one of the toughest to get down. It's very tricky from half-track to the top end," Capps added. "That's where the crew chiefs earn their money."

Capps, like Johnson, exited in the first round Sunday at Denver when a stud bolt broke on the intake manifold. Tony Pedregon won with a 5.195 at 249.53 to a 5.274 at 233.84.

It was the second time a manifold stud bolt broke during the weekend in the mile-high altitude. Assistant crew chief Todd Okuhara noted it was an oddity. "I've only seen that happen four times in my seven years here."

The results find Capps in seventh place with 641 points and Johnson ninth at 567 going into the Northwest Nationals.

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , Cory McClenathan , Tommy Johnson Jr.