GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 8, 2002 - In major league baseball, one of the early-season clichÃ©s is, "a win in April is just as important as one in September." There isn't much difference in the drag racing version: "Every round win is important if...
GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 8, 2002 - In major league baseball, one of the early-season clichés is, "a win in April is just as important as one in September."
There isn't much difference in the drag racing version: "Every round win is important if you want to win the championship."
While this NHRA Powerade Drag Racing season is too new to begin drawing any title conclusions, there is one inescapable fact: John Force is leading with two of 23 races in the record books.
"He's not one of the guys you want to see get a head start after the first two races," said Ron Capps, driver of Don Prudhomme's Green Skoal Racing Camaro and one of many drivers in his class who wants to halt Force's string of consecutive championships at nine and 11 overall. "I think we'd all like to see another name other than Force up there this early in the season."
Selfishly, Capps would like it to be his name, but there is ample time for all the challengers to fire their best shots before the winner will be crowned in November. Force's advantage going into the Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 15-17, at Gainesville Raceway is a paltry 10 points (216-206) over Del Worsham while Capps ranks fourth with 126 points, two behind Scotty Cannon.
"Right now the best part about the championship race is the tough fields that we have at every race," Capps continued. "Funny Car is so tough that you accomplish a lot just by getting into the show. Plus there are so many good cars in the field that are capable of taking Force out in the early rounds that we don't have to wait for him to smoke the tires."
Capps has had his opportunities already this year but hasn't been able to push Force aside. Capps was pulling away from Force's faltering Funny Car when a blower explosion slowed the Skoal Racing Camaro, giving Force the semifinal-round victory at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. Force went on to win the event.
Two weeks later, this time at Phoenix, Force out-ran Capps, 4.850 to 4.891 seconds, in the quarterfinal round en route to a second-place finish.
"Obviously, in order to be the champion you have to beat the champ," commented Capps, who had the second-quickest time among the eight cars in the quarterfinals but still had to go home early. "We put ourselves in that situation by not qualifying well. We were ninth and he was first so we had to run him in the second round.
"And while we don't want Force to be in the point lead, at the same time we feel like our Skoal Racing team - my teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. and I - can run with any car in the class . . . if we get some breaks."
About the only breaks Capps has had thus far have been parts breaking, first at theWinternationals and continuing at Phoenix.
"Right now we haven't had a whole lot of luck," he said. "We went over to Phoenix and tested the week after Pomona and we tested again the day after the Phoenix race even though we did a pretty good job in the first two races. Ace (crew chief Ed 'The Ace' McCulloch) found a few things wrong. That's what it takes to get ahead. You have to keep testing, do whatever it takes to get better. He was pretty happy about the results, so we are looking forward to racing at Gainesville."
That's where Capps will continue his title search, one round at a time.
Capps was the Gatornationals runner-up in 2000 and was a semifinalist last year. -30-