Capps' Camaro in tune for Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 6, 2001 -- For nearly 35 years, "Performance American Style" has been a phrase analogous with the Chevy Camaro Z28. Next weekend at Gainesville Raceway, Chevy's winning legacy continues when the 24-event NHRA Winston ...

GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 6, 2001 -- For nearly 35 years, "Performance American Style" has been a phrase analogous with the Chevy Camaro Z28. Next weekend at Gainesville Raceway, Chevy's winning legacy continues when the 24-event NHRA Winston Championship tour makes its yearly visit to the Sunshine State for the 32nd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals on March 15 - 18. One of the premier races on the schedule, the Gatornationals is rich in tradition and marks the series' first journey of the season to the eastern side of the continent.

Skoal Racing's Ron Capps returns to the Gatornationals in his fifth season driving for team owner Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. Last season Capps came close to capturing victory at Gainesville Raceway taking his Chevrolet Camaro Z28 to the championship heat (the second of his seven final-round matches in 2000). During his tenure at "Snake Racing" the 35-year-old California native has scored three top-five, and four top-10 points finishes with his best seasons in 1998 and 2000 when he placed second in the final standings. Heading into this year's Gatornationals, Capps has eight career Funny Car victories in 17 final rounds, all behind the wheel of a Chevy Camaro Z28. He is currently third in the 2001 Winston standings.

General Motors, through the participation of Pontiac, GMC and Chevrolet, is easily the most successful automobile company involved in NHRA Winston championship drag racing, having established an undisputed record of excellence.

The 32nd annual Mac Tools is the third race on the 24-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Qualifying highlights of the Gatornationals can be seen on ESPN on Saturday, March 17, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern. Same-day coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, March 18, starting at 5 p.m. Eastern.

How do you like the two-car team? "I love it. The objective was to make our team better and we've done that. Every year we've run the car since 1997 when I first started driving for 'Snake' we've done very well. We've finished second in the points standings twice, and felt like we've had chances to win the championship, but that maybe something extra was needed like having a second car and being able to run data between the two of them. Before now the ideal situation just hadn't come up until last December when Snake was offered to run a second car with the Skoal people. That's when Snake brought Tommy (Johnson) on board. For Tommy and I to get along like we do and to talk to each other like we do was the only way a two-car team would be successful, and it has been. That was evident at Pomona. I wasn't qualified going into the last session, which wasn't a good way to start the year, but after Tommy's excellent pass, they were able to take the data from his Camaro, put that same tune-up in my car and away we went. We ran a 4.88 and that put me in the show. That right there made it worth it, let alone what's going to happen on down the road. Both of these Skoal Chevrolet Camaros have a chance of setting low e.t. every time we go to the line. It's really exciting, especially to watch the enthusiasm from Snake and Ed McCulloch. They're seeing how well and how close the cars run together."

You and Tommy have a lot in common. Both of you have competed in Top Fuel and Funny Car and have experienced success in each class. "I've always had a good relationship with Tommy. He's always been someone that I've gotten along with and been comfortable with. Everything worked perfect when the team came together. I think we both have similar backgrounds so that when we make a run and talk about it, it's funny, he'll start talking about his run and it's almost like he's taking the words right out of my mouth. It's how I would explain to 'Ace' how the car felt to me. He talks the same way, feels the same things and I think that further benefits Ed in setting the car up because of the way we're able to give him feedback, which has happened a few times when there wasn't data off the car. That's when it's really important for a driver to be able to give feedback. That's the way Tommy and I both drive, and it's unbelievable how well we've been able to work together. I couldn't ask for a better teammate even though we have to race each other. But it's elevated my performance and I hope it has for him as well. It's making me concentrate on doing my best and I think it's pushing both of us."

How does your team stack up against the rest of the field? "I know every time I strap in and we fire the car up that we have a shot at taking the pole. On Sundays we know that anything is possible, as you saw in Phoenix when we set low e.t. during final eliminations in the first round. I know that I have a car that is very capable of winning, and likewise with our blue Skoal Camaro Z28. It's very capable every time we show up at the track of winning the race. You cannot ask for any more than that. There's no excuse for us not to win. Every time we go to the starting line we know that others are watching to see what we're going to run. That kind of respect tells me that we have a real good team."

Do you feel the potential is there to win the championship this year? "Definitely! It's been there every year. When we finished second in 1998, that race was a little closer than when we finished No. 2 last year - we weren't that close at the end of last year. I knew we had the tools and what we needed to do, and the team knew what we had to do to change that. But we have everything we need right now to win the championship. It's funny. We finished No. 2 last year, and the team was disappointed because they know we can win and that we should win."

A lot of teams would've been happy with last season's results. "The guys were not satisfied anytime we were runner up. It would be maybe Tuesday following a race when we realized that maybe we hadn't done so bad. There were a lot teams that didn't qualify, or went out first and second round, that would've loved to have been runner-up at some of those races. That shows what kind of team we have. Success starts at the top. When you have a guy like Snake up there that demands and knows what it takes to win but gives you everything you need to win, you start to think of yourself as a winner. When you don't win, whether you go out first round or last round, there's definitely disappointment."

What will it take to be successful this year? "It's going to take working through the tough times. I've said it before, when you're running good and having a good weekend, whether it's luck and everything's on your side, when you're having that kind of a weekend, you almost can't do anything wrong. The car's running well, you get through the semifinals into the finals and things are going great. When you're not having a good weekend, when little things are creeping up, parts are breaking and things are out of control, it's at that time that you have to fight through it, try to go a couple of rounds and get out of there. Those are the weekends that'll kill you in the points standings. That's why Force has been so good over the years. When they're having a bad weekend, you still see them go to the semis or the final round. Some people think they have him down in qualifying, and then 'boom!', next thing you know he's in the final round. You just have to scrap and fight through the bad weekends, deal with the problems you're having and go some rounds. That's what 'Ace' is real good at and I think that's going to be a key. We're going to get to the summer months where the tracks are a little warmer and we've shown we can run in those conditions."

Where does the cohesiveness of good chemistry fit in? "That's evident with Force's teams. I know all of those guys personally and they've been together, the same guys, for years. There's not much turnover on his team so they all work well together. The core of our team has been together since 1997 so we're working in our fifth season together. They're to the point now that once they get into the pit area, they're tearing that car apart and there's not a word between them. They know what each other is thinking, they know exactly what each guy needs and they know exactly what they have to do. That's fundamental to winning teams. Ace has to make the right call on the tune-up, and I have to do my job at the line, but the most important part is the function of the crew guys. They have to do their job right - they're the backbone and they've proven that they have what it takes to get the job done. We ran 4.84 in the first round in Phoenix, they came right back, put the car together and we went out again and ran 4.86 the very next round. It would've been another 4.84 but I staged a little deeper. That's consistency and that's what it takes to be a winner."

We had the quickest Funny Car class ever in Phoenix. What can we expect in Gainesville? "It's going to be stout! Every year, we go to Pomona and Phoenix, and you kind of weigh those two events and see what everybody did. Then you add about a tenth of a second or so to what's going to happen in Gainesville. There's going to be a national record set, I can almost guarantee it. If the bump is not better, it will be as good as it was in Phoenix. Gainesville is a mineshaft. It's one of the biggest races of the year, plus it's an awesome racetrack. The atmospheric conditions are very, very good there. It's a place where you tighten your Simpson safety belts one extra notch because you have a chance of running your personal best. It's been a great place for us - we've gone some rounds there. Ace is the kind of guy who's not afraid to get after it, and Gainesville Raceway has the kind of track that a crew chief loves because it has good air and it will hold the power. As a driver, you just hang on because you have a chance of really flying. The Gatornationals is one of the top races of the season. It has a lot of history and it's very exciting for us. It's a big deal to win at Gainesville, but you have to be careful there too. A lot of guys have run well at the first two races and they get to Gainesville, turn the knobs up and end up not running so good."

Is that a facility where you feel you'll be able to push the envelope on your Camaro Z28? "In Phoenix where we ran some of our best speed ever, the car never showed any signs of hazing the tires or smoking them at the top end, which shows you that the car has a lot of good downforce - it's not just drag, it's a smooth ride for that kind of track. At Gainesville it's even better because the air is so good anyway because we're close to sea level. I know that last year at the Gatornationals the car was planted really well, and that was one of the first racks where the Z28 was starting to torque the front end up at halftrack. Ace was really getting after it, and I'm actually lifting both front tires off the ground at halftrack and carrying them, so I couldn't even see the front end. It was pretty wild. We've had our Camaro in the wind tunnel lately so we're learning some things. We have two new Camaro bodies at the painter right now that won't run at Gainesville, but we'll probably run them in Houston, so this may be the last race for this car before we move into the new body."

What are your long-term goals? "I want to be successful, and I want to do good for Don Prudhomme, and especially for guys like John Middlebrook who had a lot of faith in us when he put us under the Camaro banner in 1997. For John Middlebrook to have that kind of confidence in us, and bring back the Camaro name to drag racing, it's meant a lot. More than anything, I'd like to give everybody up there at Chevrolet a Funny Car championship. But that's what it's all about. We have an outstanding team that can win championships and two cars that we hope to put way up there in the Winston points standings."

-GM Racing Communications

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Don Prudhomme