Reading: Capps searches for win

READING, Pa., Sept. 11, 2000 - The Internet has its viruses and the U.S. Tobacco Co. Funny Car has its gremlins. Both can be very disrupting and costly. Ed "Ace" McCulloch's gremlins have infected the Funny Car's mechanical operation. "I'm...

READING, Pa., Sept. 11, 2000 - The Internet has its viruses and the U.S. Tobacco Co. Funny Car has its gremlins. Both can be very disrupting and costly.

Ed "Ace" McCulloch's gremlins have infected the Funny Car's mechanical operation. "I'm getting tired of fighting these gremlins," said an exasperated McCulloch, the team's crew chief, after another malfunction short-circuited Ron Capps' drive to an NHRA national event victory.

Drag racing aficionados say the Don "The Snake" Prudhomme-owned Camaro team is a win waiting to happen. Capps, McCulloch and Prudhomme agree, adding, "How about now?"

Their next opportunity comes Friday through Sunday in the Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. Now 17 races into the 2000 Winston Series season, Capps has four runner-up finishes to go along with five semifinal exits and enough points (1076) to rank third behind John Force and Jerry Toliver. But there are no wins.

"I told Ron, Ace and the guys to hang in there; it's going to happen," said Prudhomme. "We have a bad race car. When those other guys pull up against us, they know we can run good."

"We know we're capable of winning. We've been running well all year," said Capps. That's before those mechanical gremlins keep showing up.

Capps does have the quickest run of the season, 4.811 seconds. His 4.862 set a Brainerd International Raceway performance record and his 4.903 was the best on race day at the U.S. Nationals. Saturday Capps had the second-quickest run in eliminations during the completion of the Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J.

Also Saturday, the engine dropped a cylinder in the semifinal round against Cruz Pedregon and triggered a serious engine explosion and fire. Pedregon was the round winner and went on to defeat Force in the finals.

"Obviously we need to change our luck a little on race day," Capps added. "We were lucky at Maple Grove last year when we finished second. Maybe we can use that luck to go one round farther this year."

The U.S. Tobacco Co. crew repaired the damage caused by the engine problems Saturday. Quick action by Capps - getting the car stopped and the Camaro body up so the NHRA's Safety Safari could make sure the engine fire was out - prevented the carbon fiber body from receiving more than minimal damage.

Capps, the No. 16 qualifier in the rain-delayed race at Englishtown, defeated Jim Epler in the first round, ending a string of three consecutive losses to him, then beat Scotty Cannon with the 4.947. Capps was in a good race with Pedregon when the cylinder went out and the engine went boom.

"There was a big explosion and a whole bunch of fire immediately," Capps recounted. "It just filled up the whole cockpit. It was the hottest fire of my career. It pushed the head gaskets out and the heat was directed at my feet. It burned my boots and gave me first-degree burns on the back of both my calves.

"I'm OK," he added. "We'll be ready to go at Maple Grove. We were able to pass Tony Pedregon and move back into third place Saturday, and now we're trying to move our Camaro into second place. We believe we can catch Toliver before the end of the season."

Winning a few races would definitely help Capps and the U.S. Tobacco Co. crew achieve that goal.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Scotty Cannon , Cruz Pedregon , Jerry Toliver