Point leaders' pre-Bristol teleconference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: And finishing second place, how did that steel you for this year? CAPPS: Yeah, it's funny because, you know, that championship came down to what it did. Not that I was looking farther ahead. I knew what...

Continued from part 2

Q: And finishing second place, how did that steel you for this year?

CAPPS: Yeah, it's funny because, you know, that championship came down to what it did. Not that I was looking farther ahead. I knew what was going to happen was going to happen. To be honest with you, I almost didn't feel like we deserved it in a way because we didn't lead all year, and I felt bad for Scelzi going through his holeshot loss he had in Dallas. They should have run away with it before it got to Pomona. We beat them in the final to Vegas to put us right within a round of him with one race to go. It was like, oh, boy, we may have spoiled something here and let Force back in from a team aspect.

But I knew beyond that, once Pomona was over, and the banquet was over on Monday night, we were going to be something to contend with in '06. I knew that (crew chief Ed "Ace" MuCulloch's) plan was to come right back up with everything the same. When he said that, I mean, I have such confidence driving this car right now, I'm pretty sure that we're going to win every round I roll up to.

Q: A lot of Californians have done well in all sorts of motorsports. What do you think is part of the key that so many Californians have come up through the ranks?

CAPPS: Well, I mean, to be honest with you, drag racing was born in California, not that it has anything to do with me, because it's about 50, 60 years later. The fact of the matter is I grew up going to Sacramento, as a matter of fact, my mom and dad -- my dad raced when I was a kid. I got several pictures, we were just looking over the holidays of me four, five years old at Sacramento Raceway, Pomona, Lions.

I lived in the Bay Area, so I used to go to Fremont a lot. To have Infineon, you know, it's a big deal that we still have a track up in that area. It's a really big deal.

Q: Whereabouts in the Bay Area did you live?

CAPPS: Mountainview. My wife lived in Cupertino. That's where we met. Went up to college and lived in Cupertino, Mountainview, then Palo Alto.

Q: Where did you go to college?

CAPPS: Santa Clara. I taught racquetball at a club in Milpitas, believe it or not. I played tournaments all over the Bay Area, that got me through college. When I go back to that race, it's funny how many people from the health club or Silicon Valley companies that used to come into the health club that knew me that are race fans that come up. It's kind of a home track for me.

Q: I know you've been close at different times in winning the championship. Now that you're leading as well as you are this season, is it putting pressure on you or taking pressure off?

CAPPS: God, I don't know. It depends on what day it is, to be honest with you. I'm really trying to be the coach or the fatherly type to my crew guys because it's easy for these young guys to get excited about leading in the points. I keep reminding them about how long the year is.

But, you know, on the other hand I enjoy being where we're at right now. It almost bothers me when people say, "Hey, points leader, you're doing great leading the points." It's just so early. You want to get excited, crawl off in a corner where nobody can see you and go, "Yeah, yeah, we're leading the points." You don't want to jinx yourself. I'm a firm believer in karma. I don't like anybody getting up and celebrating before you score the touchdown. That's kind of the way I'm trying to treat this.

Q: With Scelzi and Whit struggling like they have, if you're not running against them, how do you handle it and keep it inside yourself? You said you didn't want to go and talk to Scelzi when he had a bad time. How do you keep a separate focus for yourself when they're not running well?

CAPPS: We've all been there. That's the cool part. I mean, we're dealing with the best guys in the world at what they do, Baze and Scelzi. If they want my advice, they'll come talk to me. If somebody, their crew chief, wants advice, they'll come ask. You don't want somebody forcing their opinion on anything. I sure don't.

Gary and I are really tight. We do a lot of dirt racing, spend a lot of time together away from the track. The fact that they may be struggling, I've been there plenty of times as you know in the past. There's some times things are not going your way, there's nothing you can do. The last thing you want to do is go over, pat somebody on the butt and say, It will be okay. It's just cliche. A lot of times it may not come from the heart from somebody.

These are guys that do this for a living, they are the best in the world at what they do. You don't have to tell them things will get better. They know it. All you can do is offer your help.

PADIAN: Before we finish off, Ron, you talked a lot at the end of last year that John and Gary got a lot of the publicity. How has it been so far for you this year, because you've been under the spotlight for the first couple months of the season?

CAPPS: Yeah, it's been cool. I mean, the reality show "American Dragster," its two episodes have aired now. I just had this lady come up to me a minute ago in the airport and recognize me from not watching the drag racing, but seeing the show on Sunday morning. That was kind of a change. Usually we get people that are race fans that see you out in public, they'll tell you they saw you on TV or are cheering for you. Things like that are just helping the sport grow.

I think leading the points, it's automatic that you're going to get some press. But the fact that the sport is growing like it is and every year we show up somewhere, the attendance gets better and better, the tracks get better and better, I feel like we're really lucky and I'm lucky to be where I am right now with the sport.

PADIAN: I just wanted to finish off a note on winningest drivers in NHRA history who have never won a POWERade Series championship. Kurt Johnson leads that unique fraternity with 33 career wins, including of course he just won in Las Vegas, that was his 33rd career win. He's finished second four times and third four times. The winningest Funny Car driver to never win a championship is Del Worsham, won 21. Ron is two wins away from that.

Moving on to Melanie Troxel, just like Ron Capps had two wins this year, Troxel has been to every final round this season, which is an NHRA record in Top Fuel for a consecutive final round to begin a season. She's built a 156-point lead over Dave Grubnic. Melanie from out of work a year ago at this time to leading Top Fuel by 156 points, in your wildest dreams, did you see that coming?

TROXEL: No, definitely not. You know, that seems so kind of surreal to be talking about having that kind of lead early in the season. It is such a long season that we're not counting our chickens before they've hatched. Certainly a great start to the season.

While I knew that we had a team that was definitely capable, I somewhat expected us to come out and do well and win some races this year, I don't think that any of us expected this.

Q: There's been a lot of talk about women drivers. You're doing it. You're winning week in, week out. You're at the top of the game right now. What have you seen with women in motorsports during your career? Have you seen this big upsurge where there's more women on the track?

TROXEL: Yeah, I think so. Actually, I think we continue to see more and more women involved in the sport every year. I don't think -- you know, definitely it's become, you know, a lot more obvious to people right now just with the exposure that Danica got and we're seeing -- I think really the big change is we're seeing women who are definitely qualified getting great opportunities. There have definitely been a lot of women out here trying to compete in all different types of motorsports for quite a while. I think those numbers will continue to increase. But we're finally seeing, you know, women really get those opportunities with the great teams.

It doesn't matter how good of a driver you are, if you're not -- if you don't get into working with a team that has a car that has the capability of going out and winning, then it makes absolutely no difference. Nobody's going to know how good of a driver you are.

Q: Are you seeing more female fans out at the track?

TROXEL: You know, I think we are. Certainly being a female, we get a large number of female fans that come by in general. We're probably more aware of the female fan than the average driver. But certainly I think having women who are having more success in the sport attracts more women to it. It does seem like there's been an increase in the past six months to a year.

Q: Are there enough words in any language to explain the starting launch at the electronic tree?

TROXEL: That's probably one of the most common questions that especially fans will ask us. "What is that like?" My husband (Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr.) and I joke all the time, we've yet to find any good way to describe it. There probably are words, but it's definitely something that you have to sit down and really put a lot of thought and time into coming up with something that would really be able to describe the incredible feeling, the incredible forces that are involved with one of these cars at launch.

Q: Are you also a fan of roller coasters?

TROXEL: I am. I consider myself a big adrenaline junkie in general. I love roller coasters. Got the opportunity to go skydiving for the first time last year. Kind of funny part about it is that my husband wants absolutely nothing to do with any of this stuff. I have to find other people in order to go have an opportunity to go to do this stuff because he's definitely not chomping at the bit to go try that with me.

Q: At the time of Pomona, nobody had really used the new Goodyear tire. With this many races in, is it kind of (indiscernible) into where the teams are getting ahold on it for the new performance tire?

TROXEL: I definitely think we're getting a handle on it. I mean, everybody involved. We've fared pretty well. We've had our fair share of struggles with it. But everybody's making strides at getting the cars down the track and understanding what this tire needs to work.

There's definitely the chance that there are struggles ahead for us. When we start heading to the hotter racetracks where the tracks are different and it's going to, again, take a different setup, that may throw everything up in the air again. It's hard to say at this point.

That's definitely what makes a crew chief's job challenging, is constantly having to adapt to the different conditions out there. I think we've made a big part of that jump already. Hopefully it won't throw us for another curve and we'll just see everybody move into the summer races smoothly.

Q: Does it bite more or less than the old tire?

TROXEL: Honestly, I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this entirely. My feeling on it has been just that it acts different early in the run. There's a place early in the run where the tires want to shake. These tires shake a lot in that area. That can be caused by an overpower condition, it can be caused by kind of having an underpower tire shake. If there was any one obvious thing that we could say about it and say the tire bites more so we're going to throw more power at it, I think everybody would have gotten through it a lot quicker. I think it's a lot more complicated than that. I'm certainly probably not the person to be explaining that to everyone.

PADIAN: Melanie, have you thought about or how do you keep yourself from thinking about potentially making the record-setting final round this Sunday in Bristol?

TROXEL: You know, honestly for me, that would be -- you know, it would be neat to have that record. For me it's far more important for us to be looking at the long-term points chase, that that really doesn't even enter into my thinking. You know, I'm not concerned about, oh, are we going to be able to get that record? For me, it's much more important that we're working on a long-term plan of consistency.

We could go 10 years down the road and definitely people are going to remember you a lot more for winning a championship than that streak of final rounds. It will be one of those things that if it happens, it will be a neat record to have. Really even just worrying about going to another final isn't in the big picture because you're not going to go to every final round. You can't win every race. As long as we can continue to working on making our qualifying and our Sunday runs consistent, I'll be happy with the outcome.

PADIAN: The last four Top Fuel champions were leading at this point in the season. That's probably a stat you're interested in hearing.

TROXEL: Yeah, that's definitely nice to hear. I would probably doubt that any of those teams were less than a year old. With a driver that has been out of the seat for two years prior to the team coming back, so I know we have our challenges ahead of us. But at the same time I think everybody's doing a great job and I don't think that we're getting too caught up in all the hoopla around leading the points and everything. We're just trying to stay focused on what we're doing.

If we can continue to do that and have that opportunity to hold onto this points lead, then obviously that would make me extremely happy.

PADIAN: Melanie, appreciate you're coming on to the call. Also want to thank all the media for joining us today in asking all the questions. We will be back in July with a similar teleconference with the four POWERade Series leaders at the midpoint of the season. Any questions you have for us or anyone here or the media department, you can reach us by telephone. Thanks again for joining us. That concludes today's call.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , Melanie Troxel , Tommy Johnson Jr.