Phoenix: Skoal Racing Team preview

Two Skoal Racing Crew Chiefs equal consistent performances going into CSK Nationals. CHANDLER, Ariz., Feb. 14, 2003 - There's something different about the Skoal Racing Funny Car team this year and it's not just the cars' colors. They're still...

Two Skoal Racing Crew Chiefs equal consistent performances going into CSK Nationals.

CHANDLER, Ariz., Feb. 14, 2003 - There's something different about the Skoal Racing Funny Car team this year and it's not just the cars' colors.

They're still green and blue, albeit in darker shades than 2002. This change was far from cosmetic. For the first time in three seasons, the two crews are separate, but equal. There's still the "all for one, one for all" feeling, but no longer does one crew chief determine the combinations in both Don "The Snake" Prudhomme-owned racecars.

And, if the results from the Winternationals provide any clues of what may come, it just might be beneficial to both crews. The proof is in the performance, and performance is what the cars driven by Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. had at Pomona, Calif., in NHRA's traditional season opener.

Ed "Ace" McCulloch, now tuning Capps' Green Skoal Racing Camaro, and Mike Green, who returned to call the mechanical shots on Johnson's Blue Skoal Racing entry, indicated both cars were ready to challenge for the 2003 NHRA POWERade championship. Each advanced to the semifinals and was looking at the opportunity of competing for the race win.

Neither made it to the finals, but it's still early yet. Twenty-two races remain, starting with the Checkers Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 21-23, at Firebird Raceway.

Capps and Johnson return to the site of their preseason testing tied for third place with 72 points.

"I'm excited because, for the first time since I joined Prudhomme's team in 2001, we have a chance to leave Phoenix with the series lead," said Johnson. "I'm very pleased with what's been going on and happy with the Winternationals outcome, especially since I beat John Force in the first round. Both cars ran well and I think each car improved by having a separate crew chief." Only once in the team's first 47 races (2001 and 2002 seasons) did Capps and Johnson reach the semifinals together - last June at Columbus, Ohio. Capps won that showdown, one of three he claimed in their four head-to-head battles last year, and went on to win the race.

"The Funny Car category looks awfully strong this year," added Johnson, who lost to eventual event winner Tony Pedregon - Force's teammate - in the semifinals. "I think we are within striking distance. We ran 4.829 seconds in the second round at Pomona, and that was quicker than we ran in all of 2002.

"I think the Blue crew is a work in progress. We ran well right away and I think Mike showed we have a lot of potential."

When he sent John Force home in the first round, Johnson knew there was something quite different about 2003. In 2002, for example, it was Force who eliminated Johnson in the opening round.

"We didn't have much success against Force last year (1-4 overall), so it was a good way for us to start the new season," Johnson said. "Prudhomme told me that we have to be competitive before we can think about winning races. Now we are competitive, so I'm thinking about winning races. I will tell you it's been a long time - way too long - since I won a race (at Las Vegas, April 2001). It's time our Blue Skoal Racing Camaro did something about that."

Capps, who was sixth in points a year ago, one position ahead of Johnson, believes there are positives on his side of the camp, too.

"Ace and Todd (Okuhara, assistant crew chief) have worked hard to get our Green Skoal car running consistently," said Capps. "I think we will be able to step up and run with any car on the grounds. It was exciting to see how close Tommy and I came to racing each other in the finals. That's one of our major goals, and we believe it's going to happen soon."

Capps fell victim to Johnny Gray in a close finish. Both cars had the same time, 4.897 seconds. "I was ahead of him when the engine dropped a cylinder four seconds into the run and he was able to get to the finish line just before I did," Capps recalled.

"It is a good feeling to be able to go into the second race tied for third in points. Funny Car racing is so close this year. There are so many cars that are fighting for the championship. Each run on Sunday and every 20 POWERade points we can pick up will be very important as we go through the season. If we can have as good a weekend at every race as we had at Pomona, we should be solid championship contenders."

Points earned in February do count as much as those earned in October, and the Skoal Racing team begins its quest for more points with qualifying Friday and Saturday at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday's eliminations start at 11 a.m.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Johnny Gray , Tommy Johnson Jr.