Indianapolis: SKoal Racing U.S. Nationals preview

Skoal Racing teammates agree: U.W. Nationals victory would help make 2002 good season. INDIANAPOLIS, August 26, 2002 - Don Prudhomme has won the U.S. Nationals - the most prestigious race on the NHRA POWERade Series schedule - seven times. Ed...

Skoal Racing teammates agree: U.W. Nationals victory would help make 2002 good season.

INDIANAPOLIS, August 26, 2002 - Don Prudhomme has won the U.S. Nationals - the most prestigious race on the NHRA POWERade Series schedule - seven times. Ed McCulloch has six wins to his credit on the Indianapolis Raceway Park quarter-mile track.

Between them, Skoal Racing Funny Car teammates Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. don't have any victories at the oldest race on the docket.

Each driver will be attempting to change that statistic during the 48th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at IRP.

If they needed a pep talk about taking home the trophy and $50,000 first-place check, it could come from Prudhomme, the team owner, and McCulloch, Capps' Green Skoal Racing Camaro crew chief.

Suffice it to say Capps and Johnson need no prodding. They want the win because it would provide an exclamation point on a season that uncharacteristically needs some excitement. Capps has one victory in two finals while Johnson has been runner-up twice. Capps is seventh with 777 points while Johnson is 10th at 666.

"How important is a win at Indy?" Capps said, repeating a question. "Well, when you ask any driver that, I think they'd say getting a win at Indy ranks right behind winning the championship.

"A win at Indy this year would absolutely make our season. It's been up and down. It's obvious this hasn't been a banner year for us but we've been in the winner's circle once. To be able to say we won the U.S. Nationals won't save the season, but it would sure help when you look back on it."

Johnson, who will be driving the Special Edition Skoal Racing Camaro for the third time this season, has similar feelings.

"You can be having a tough season, go to Indy and win the U.S. Nationals and that win would make it a successful season," Johnson commented. "That's how important the race is. It's that big a race that winning it makes it a good year. It would mean a lot to Rob (crew chief Rob Flynn) and the crew.

"I was the No. 1 qualifier two years in a row (1999, 2000), and last year I was No. 8, but I haven't won a round of racing at IRP since 1999, my first year there in a Funny Car," he continued. "I really don't care where we qualify this year; we want to concentrate on winning rounds."

A consistent qualifying effort at Brainerd, Minn. (Aug. 16-18), by the Special Edition Camaro's crew and a 4.89-second elapsed time during a two-day test session at IRP, provided renewed optimism. Johnson started eliminations from fifth spot (4.910 seconds) a year ago, but the car lost traction in the opening round and he lost.

"It's ironic that our performance is beginning to come around now," he said. "That gives our crew hope and enthusiasm going into the U.S. Nationals. We'll have confidence at an opportune time this season. You have to be competitive to win, and we're starting to get more competitive. We definitely want to finish the year on a good note."

Flynn was encouraged by the Brainerd qualifying effort that included runs of 5.084 and 4.927 seconds.

"We are going in the right directions," in terms of a competitive tune-up, said Flynn, who stepped into the crew chief's role six races ago. "The problem is we still don't have enough runs on the car using my combination. Getting the right combination just doesn't happen over night. It definitely takes time."

McCulloch can verify that. Capps was runner-up at Sonoma, Calif. (Aug. 4), losing by inches. But a mixture of things at Brainerd prevented the Green Skoal Racing machine from making the 16-car starting field.

"We had a problem with the car spinning the tires down track and that kept us from qualifying," said Capps, who had a 4.94-second best during last week's test outing at IRP. "It hurts, but we put that behind us. I had no trouble forgetting about it because we are going to the U.S. Nationals.

"If you can't get up for Indy, you have something wrong with you," he continued "If rolling through the gates at Indy doesn't get you excited about racing there, then you probably don't have much blood pressure. It shouldn't take much to get you excited about racing there."

Capps, a semifinalist at the last two U.S. Nationals, has yet to get to the finals. Overall, he has three semifinal finishes in six races, including 1995, when he drove a Top Fuel dragster.

It's Capps vs. Tony Pedregon in Bud Shootout Opener

While Capps has not won the U.S. Nationals' Labor Day eliminations, he does have two wins on Sunday in the special Big Bud Shootout.

Capps captured the event in 1998 and 1999, the first two years he was eligible for the competition, and took over $100,000 each time. The Shootout, run in conjunction with Sunday's final two qualifying sessions, is open to the eight drivers accumulating the most qualifying points during the season.

Capps qualified sixth for the 2002 edition and meets Tony Pedregon in Sunday's opening round.

"The Shootout adds a lot of pressure because we need to get our car down the track early in qualifying," commented Capps. "When the first round rolls around, you have the top eight cars in the class vying for the $100,000. It's going to be nerve-racking.

"Tony's car is running very well right now, but there isn't one of the eight cars that isn't capable of winning that race. We've done it twice so I feel we have some experience going our way. We're going to be trying to put our Camaro in front of his Ford."

Shootout pairings - First round: John Force vs. Dean Skuza; Whit Bazemore vs. Del Worsham; and Scott Cannon vs. Gary Densham. Semifinals: Force-Skuza winner vs. Cannon-Densham winner; Capps-Pedregon winner vs. Bazemore-Worsham winner; Finals: winner vs. winner

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham , Don Prudhomme