Pomona II: Skoal Racing preview

Skoal Racing Teammates have same goal in mind: close 2002 season with Auto Club Finals win. POMONA, Calif., Nov. 4, 2002 - The 2002 NHRA POWERade season has almost come full-circle for Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's...

Skoal Racing Teammates have same goal in mind: close 2002 season with Auto Club Finals win.

POMONA, Calif., Nov. 4, 2002 - The 2002 NHRA POWERade season has almost come full-circle for Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal Racing team.

The last event in the 23-race series - the 38th annual Auto Club Finals at Pomona Raceway - will put the finishing touches on a campaign that never reached the lofty aspirations Capps and Johnson had when it all began here in February.

"I guess the best thing we can say," said Capps, speaking for his Green Skoal Racing Funny Car crew, "is that we can't wait for it to be finished so we can start over in January. We want to win the 2003 championship. That has been our goal since we were eliminated from 2002 contention."

The feeling is mutual on Johnson's Blue Skoal Racing crew.

"It's time to move on," he said. "I want to get going on '03. I want to start testing as soon as possible . . . start with a clean slate."

But before that happens, Capps, Johnson and their respective crews have several things to finalize before the close of 2002.

Foremost is where they wind up in the standings. Capps, on the basis of his semifinal finish at Las Vegas (Oct. 27), has a hold on sixth place, albeit a precarious one. His 1094 points put him three ahead of Scotty Cannon and 53 ahead of eighth-place Johnson's 1038.

Capps, from Carlsbad, Calif., has finished in the top five four of his previous five Funny Car seasons. He was second twice (1998, 2000), fourth (2001), fifth (1997, his first year at the helm of Prudhomme's Funny Car) and ninth (1999).

"Ace (crew chief Ed 'Ace' McCulloch) and Todd (Okuhara, assistant crew chief) were trying a new fuel system at Las Vegas," Capps said. "They made progress because we ran 4.80s in the first two rounds of eliminations. That showed we're going to be a threat for next season. We should be able to run 4.80s all day at Pomona, weather conditions permitting, of course."

Capps has one victory at Pomona, that coming at the 1998 Winternationals. He qualified fifth and advanced to the semifinals before bowing out of the season-opening Winternationals.

Capps has one 2002 win (Columbus, Ohio) and he's a two-time runner-up (Sonoma, Calif., and Joliet, Ill.). He helped himself in points when he upended Cannon in the first round at Las Vegas, then advanced to the semis.

"We always want to run well at Pomona," added Capps, "because it is our home track. There will be a lot of our friends and relatives watching. I hope we can give them something to smile about."

Johnson, like Capps, has experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions through the first 22 events.

For example, he's a three-time runner-up who gained notoriety as the driver who was in the opposite lane when John Force won his milestone 100th Funny Car race at Houston in April.

"I guess that made me the answer to the trivia question of what driver raced Force the day he won his 100th," said Johnson, who was second at Las Vegas in April and also finished second to Force at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day. "That's one race I should've won, but didn't," continued Johnson, from Avon, Ind., 10 minutes from the U.S. Nationals track. "I ran quicker but he left (the starting line) first. That was very disappointing."

But Johnson is enthused about his recent performances.

"Our car has been running better lately and we're going out with the intentions of having a good weekend and winning the race to finish the season with a bang," he added. "The Blue Skoal Racing crew worked hard all year even though things didn't always go our way."

Johnson posted his career-best elapsed time, 4.797 seconds, at last year's Finals. He lost in the first round of the Winternationals. He's advanced to the semifinals twice at Pomona, both times while driving his family-owned Top Fuel dragster. "We still have an opportunity to move up in points," he said, "but we're going to need some help."

Cannon leads Johnson by 53 points (1091-1038) and Johnson must reach the finals and have Cannon lose in the first round in order to claim seventh.

Johnson has been 10th twice in Funny Car (1999, 2001).  His best
finish came in 1995 when he was eighth.  He drove dragsters from 1990-97.

Johnson knows some things will definitely be different next year. Prudhomme has already rehired Mike Green as Blue crew chief. He takes over Nov. 12.

Auto Club Finals qualifying takes place Thursday and Friday at 3 p.m., noon and 4 p.m. Saturday. Eliminations get underway Sunday at 11 a.m.

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Scotty Cannon , Tommy Johnson Jr.