Ron Capps looking forward to first race

POMONA, Calif. - Ron Capps, Don Prudhomme and Ed McCulloch have been looking forward to the start of the 2000 National Hot Rod Association season since last November. Now, their wait is almost over. The AutoZone Winternationals kicks off...

POMONA, Calif. - Ron Capps, Don Prudhomme and Ed McCulloch have been looking forward to the start of the 2000 National Hot Rod Association season since last November. Now, their wait is almost over. The AutoZone Winternationals kicks off the 23-race schedule at Pomona Raceway, Feb. 3-6, and Capps, driver of the U.S. Tobacco Co. Camaro, is anxious to begin his fourth year of Funny Car competition, one which he hopes leads to a championship. Capps, team owner Prudhomme and crew chief McCulloch are eager for the season to begin because they believe the team can contend for the title, and the car's performance during preseason testing lent credence to their views. Back-to-back runs of 5.01 and 4.97 seconds at Phoenix last month convinced McCulloch to limit testing to three days and return to the team's Vista, Calif., headquarters to prepare for the Winternationals. The performance also brought flashbacks of 1998 to Capps and Prudhomme. And this is one déjà vu they wouldn't mind revisiting, albeit writing a new conclusion. Capps won five races in '98, including the Winternationals, led the standings for part of the year and chased John Force to the final event before finishing second. "I refer to 1998 so often because that's our barometer to compare to anything else. It was our best season," said Capps. "This year is so reminiscent of 1998. We finished 1997 on a good note and Roland Leong, our crew chief then, didn't make many changes during the winter. We went to Phoenix testing and the car responded the way Roland wanted, then we went home. "We had a plan. We tested, then came back and got ready for the season." This time, McCulloch had to deal with a new 90-percent nitromethane fuel rule NHRA imposed during the winter, but it didn't stymie him or assistant crew chief Todd Okuhara for too long. "Based on our Phoenix testing, I'm pretty optimistic about the season," said McCulloch, who took over his duties prior to the last 1999 race. "Our test went really well. It took a few runs to get our direction with the new fuel mixture, but we were able to send the car down the track three times in a row. At that point we felt we were in good shape. "But testing is testing. At Pomona, all of us will be on a level playing field for the first time this year, so we will really be able to see which teams have the best handle on their tune-ups," he added. With 10 percent less nitro in the tank, McCulloch is looking for elapsed times in the high 4.80s (seconds) or low 4.90s at the opener. "What we want to do is win rounds of racing," said Capps, "and try to eliminate as many first-round losses as possible. We found out in 1998 that you can't have a lot of first-round losses and still win the championship. "I think this is going to be a great year, and I think we will be one of the teams to beat," he added. "Our crew guys are fresh going into Pomona, they aren't worn out from testing. If a team goes into the first race with a tired crew and not enough parts to start the season, it's going to have to play catch-up. That's what we did last year, and that turned into a complete disaster." One bright spot was the AAA Finals at Pomona, which also was McCulloch's first outing with the car. Capps was the No. 1 qualifier with a career-best run of 4.853 seconds. He added runs of 4.868 and 4.883 seconds. They were the quickest runs of the year and McCulloch was determined to merely refine the tune-up in preparation for the 2000 campaign. Early returns indicate he's done so, but the most ambitious NHRA schedule, one containing 23 races with the addition of Las Vegas, lies ahead. "One thing each driver and crew think about at this time every year is having a great season," said Capps. "That's the one thing we all want. I'm very, very excited about our prospects for this year."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Don Prudhomme