Phoenix: Ron Capps, Tommmy Johnson preview

Capps, Johnson Hope Skoal Racing Changes Bring Improved Performances, Race Wins CHANDLER, Ariz., Feb. 18, 2002 - CHANDLER, Ariz., Feb. 18, 2002 - Optimism runs rampant in the hearts of drag racers everywhere. And it will be especially noticeable...

Capps, Johnson Hope Skoal Racing Changes Bring Improved Performances, Race Wins

CHANDLER, Ariz., Feb. 18, 2002 - CHANDLER, Ariz., Feb. 18, 2002 - Optimism runs rampant in the hearts of drag racers everywhere. And it will be especially noticeable in this Phoenix suburb during this weekend's Checkers, Schuck's, Kragen Nationals at Firebird Raceway.

Optimism is a necessary ingredient in championship hopes early in this NHRA Powerade Series season because the stop here is just the second in 23 events. For example, virtually every Funny Car driver entered believes he still has viable title aspirations, including Skoal Racing teammates Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson.

Capps, on the basis of his performance at the Winternationals two weeks ago in Pomona, Calif., has bragging rights for the moment on the Don Prudhomme-owned team. He had a string of impressive, consistent elapsed times en route to a semifinal finish and ranks third in points with 74.

Johnson, meanwhile, remains hopeful following a personnel change on his Blue Skoal Racing Camaro crew that had Larry Meyer replace Mike Green as crew chief.

"I don't care what we have to do to be competitive, or who tunes the car, I just want to win," Johnson said of the move. "I'm all in favor of whatever it takes for us to be a championship contender. If a team doesn't make changes to be competitive, your chances of winning are gone."

Johnson was the 16th qualifier at Pomona and lost in the first round. In 14th place with 31 points, he was very optimistic as he prepared for this week's event. "We made the change after just one race," he remarked. "That gives us time to get back up there in points. The Blue car's performance doesn't appear to be all that close to Capps' Green car, but we are getting close. The one thing we did at Pomona was qualify. Our chances would've been much worse if we hadn't done that."

Capps and his Green Skoal Racing crew tested alongside Johnson's car last weekend near Phoenix to make sure the performance numbers in Johnson's car resembled those of Capps' car. He qualified fifth (4.814 seconds) at Pomona and ran competitive times of 4.825 and 4.832 during eliminations before a mechanical failure ended his day in the semis against John Force.

"We wanted to start off the season on a good note and were very disappointed we didn't win the race, especially knowing that we not only could've, but should've," commented Capps, who was leading Force at half-track when the malfunction occurred. Force's car had trouble, too, and he won with a 4.972 to Capps' coasting 5.202.

"It always seems to take a few races to get the championship contending drivers sorted out," he continued, "but every year we've finished second to Force - in 1998 and 2000 - we've started off well at Pomona. Our semifinal finish wasn't bad, and neither was leaving there in third place. I think a good start is very important because it boosts the crew's confidence going into Phoenix. And it gives me confidence as a driver knowing we have a racecar that can compete."

Empathy for His Teammate

Capps knows what Johnson's going through right now. "It's tough on Tommy and the Blue crew," he said. "I've gone through it. I know I can go over and give him a pep talk, but Tommy's a professional. He doesn't need me to go over and pep him up. He knows what it takes. He did what he could to get the car down the track (at Pomona) and get it in the show. He lost in the first round but he knows it's a long season.

"The good thing is we can put my car's tune-up on his car to try and get it as quick as ours. If we get both cars running like the Green car did at Pomona it could be a good season for both of us."

Two Cars Equal One Team

Ed "The Ace" McCulloch, who tuned both cars last year, said immediate plans call for Meyer - who joined the team Feb. 11 - to familiarize himself with the crew and tune-up and "then we can get back to getting the Blue car to run like the Green car.

"We'll discuss ideas and any thoughts about improving our performances, then stay and test the Monday following the races to see if we can implement any changes on both cars."

Meyer, who has worked with several two-car teams in the past, is in familiar surroundings. "I'm getting acquainted with the crew and the way things are done here," he said. "It's like riding a bike, only the pedals are different."

Twenty-five and counting . . .

It's been one season and one race and Prudhomme's two Funny Car drivers have yet to face each other on race day. Capps and Johnson went the full 24-race campaign in 2001 without squaring off for team bragging rights.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Tommy Johnson