Brainerd: Capps/Johnson preview

Okuhara makes debut as Green Skoal Racing Crew Chief; Johnson to clinch first berth in Bud Shootout. BRAINERD, Minn., Aug. 12, 2003 - It was, as Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. stated, "a tough week (Aug. 3-10) for Don Prudhomme's Skoal ...

Okuhara makes debut as Green Skoal Racing Crew Chief; Johnson to clinch first berth in Bud Shootout.

BRAINERD, Minn., Aug. 12, 2003 - It was, as Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. stated, "a tough week (Aug. 3-10) for Don Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Funny Car team."

First, Green car assistant crew chief Todd Okuhara was named interim crew chief, replacing Ed "Ace" McCulloch, and then the team's technology trailer, filled spare parts, computers, flow benches and assorted race-related stuff, tipped over following an accident in Kansas as the team was returning to its Indianapolis base.

So Okuhara, who joined Capps' Green crew in 1998, had to deal not only with preparing the Camaro for this weekend's Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, but with reclaiming as much as possible from the wrecked trailer, putting it into a spare trailer and getting it to Brainerd, too.

"We were lucky we were able to salvage all our data from the computers," Okuhara said, "but there was a lot of stuff destroyed in the accident. We have enough parts and pieces and the car is ready to go. We will be without certain things, but we will make do."

The thrash to get the new trailer stocked with new parts and on the way to Brainerd consumed much of Okuhara's focus. "I will be happy when Thursday arrives because then I can start thinking about getting the car ready to race," Okuhara added. "That will be a plus."

Okuhara has been conferring with Mike Green, Johnson's Blue car crew chief, and the cars "will be more the same as far as parts go, but Mike will run his car the way he wants to and we'll run our the way we see fit," Okuhara said. "The parts are more the same so we can share (computer) information."

Being able to retrieve the all-important data from the computers was extremely vital. "We were lucky the information survived," Okuhara continued. "It would've been a lot different if it hadn't. We would've been starting all over again."

While Capps was disappointed to see McCulloch, his crew chief for 3½ years, leave, he has the utmost confidence in Okuhara.

"We're going to be starting a new era for the Skoal Green crew," commented Capps. "Todd has been an apprentice to Roland Leong, to Dale Armstrong and Ed McCulloch, so it's his time to show what he's learned. I'm excited about it. Todd will be working with Mike Green and his assistant, Tommy Delago, and Dick LaHaie (crew chief on Prudhomme's Larry Dixon-driven Miller Lite Top Fuel dragster that leads the NHRA POWERade Series) is right next door.

"I watched him grow into this role. We're behind him 100 percent."

Capps has two victories (1998 and 2001) and one runner-up finish (1997) at Brainerd. He also was No. 1 qualifier at the track in 2000.

Tommy Johnson also has fondness for Brainerd, a track that used to be closest to his hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa. He finished second in 1993 and 1995 while driving his family-owned Top Fuel dragster.

"This could be the best Brainerd race in years because there's a new racing surface on the track and it should be smooth," Johnson said.

He's also enthusiastic this year because he's guaranteed a position in the Budweiser Funny Car Shootout, Aug. 31 at Indianapolis. It's the first time he'll be competing in the special event for the eight drivers earning the most qualifying points over the past 22 races.

They'll be racing for the $100,000 top prize.

"The pressure's off going into this race," Johnson said. "We were disappointed when the Blue crew didn't qualify last year, but this year we've not only qualified for every race in 2003 but we've qualified well."

His best is third and he's been in the top half of the field 10 times in 15 races. He ranks seventh in Shootout points with 2620, 195 ahead of No. 8 Dean Skuza. Capps, the defending champion and three-time winner, is sixth at 2690.

"Now we'd like to get our Sunday performance to match our qualifying positions," Johnson continued. "Earlier in the year we seemed to win more rounds even though we weren't qualifying as well as we are now. Mike Green is trying to figure out the answer so we can start going to the semifinals and finals again.

Johnson, runner-up at Chicago in May, went to three semis and one final in the first 10 races and no semis in the next five.

He is seventh in POWERade Series points with 780, 50 behind Capps, who is sixth.

"It has been a rough week for both crews at Indy (where the team is based)," Johnson said, "but the Blue crew seems to have adapted well. I'm pleased to see how well they've handled all the problems related to the technology trailer's accident.

"Not only did they have to deal with that, there was a new car waiting at the shop when they got home and they put it together Saturday. We'll probably test it before the U.S. Nationals at Indy (Aug. 29-Sept. 1).

The Skoal Racing team will be ready when Lucas Oil Nationals qualifying gets underway Friday at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. Friday and concludes Saturday at 1 and 4 p.m. Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Dean Skuza , Ron Capps , Tommy Johnson , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie