GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The memory of his quickest Funny Car run is still in Ron Capps' mind. "I ran 4.84 (seconds) last year at Gainesville (Raceway)," he said. "I remember thinking, 'wow, this is my best run.' The worst part was that it...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The memory of his quickest Funny Car run is still in Ron Capps' mind.
"I ran 4.84 (seconds) last year at Gainesville (Raceway)," he said. "I remember thinking, 'wow, this is my best run.' The worst part was that it was on Monday . . . after the race, during testing."
Capps didn't approach that kind of performance again until the final 1999 NHRA event, but he returns to Gainesville for this year's Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 17-19, confident his U.S. Tobacco Co. Camaro is capable of recording numbers in the 4.84-second neighborhood.
Capps proved it, in fact, during the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Phoenix (Feb. 25-27). He drove the Don "The Snake" Prudhomme-owned, Ed "Ace" McCulloch-tuned Funny Car to the second-best run of the season - under the NHRA-mandated 90-percent nitromethane rule - 4.858 seconds, and threw in a 4.895 run for good measure.
The 4.858 was good enough for Capps' fifth career No. 1 qualifying berth and was his second top spot in three races with McCulloch making the tuning decisions. The Carlsbad, Calif., driver also advanced to the finals before losing to John Force, but the car's ability to run with Force and the other top teams in the category lent credence to the team's belief it will be a definite title contender.
Capps comes to town fourth in points with 122, 71 behind leader Jerry Toliver, but with a long road - 21 races - remaining in this Winston Series competition. "We definitely like racing at Gainesville," Capps commented. "With the track as smooth as it is and the air as good as it is, we know the cars will run fast there. Coming off our performance in Phoenix, we are excited to be racing there.
"Even though we lost to Force, we still had a wonderful weekend in Phoenix, that was the best part. As I've said before, Ace is just getting used to running a Funny Car. He's run nothing but a Top Fuel dragster the last decade and this is his first year with a Funny Car. It obviously showed what he can do and what knowledge he has."
McCulloch, a former Funny Car star and four-time Gatornationals winner, expected a learning curve when it came to tuning the U.S. Tobacco Co. Camaro.
"I think we're on the right track," he said. "We're getting better. We are still learning. The car wants to run good. Collectively, we have been trying to figure out all this stuff. One thing I do know, the more we run, the better we're going to get."
McCulloch - who will be inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame Thursday, March 16, in Gainesville along with his boss, Don Prudhomme - believes some mechanical changes he made at the season-opening Winternationals (Feb. 6 at Pomona, Calif.) are helping now. "We didn't do very well at Pomona because I made some changes midway through qualifying and it hurt us then," McCulloch commented. "But in the big picture, it was the right move."
Capps was the only driver in Phoenix with elapsed times in the 4.80s and he posted the quickest time during eliminations, 4.927 seconds, in his first-round win over Bob Gilbertson. Capps defeated Jim Epler and Tony Pedregon before meeting Force. In the title round, the 14th of Capps' career, he left the starting line first but the tires began shaking hard and Force won with a run of 4.933 at 313.88 mph.
"We lost lane choice for the final and the other lane was much better," Capps said. "The car shook so hard that it broke one of the side windows. I pedaled (the throttle) once, then again. The second time I pedaled it our car went up in smoke," and Capps coasted to the finish line.
"It was great getting to the finals. Now we want to get to the winner's circle," Capps concluded.