AUTO CLUB RACEWAY AT POMONA A SPECIAL PLACE FOR FUNNY CAR RACER CAPPS WHO SEEKS MORE WINTERNATIONALS SUCCESS
POMONA, Calif. -- One of the greatest NHRA Funny Car racers in the history of the sport will be honored during the 51st annual Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Feb. 24-27.
Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, who won four world championship titles and claimed 49 victories during his legendary career, will be honored as NHRA presents the "Snake Pit" car corral during the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season-opening weekend. The "Snake Pit" will contain a collection of Prudhomme's greatest race cars. Prudhomme will also be highly-visible at the track during the weekend signing autographs for fans and catching up with many in his close-knit racing fraternity.
One current driver who is looking forward to catching up with Prudhomme is Ron Capps. Capps raced to his first of two Winternationals victories while driving for Prudhomme back in 1998. At that race he and Larry Dixon gave Prudhomme a sweep of the nitro categories.
A lifelong California resident, Capps, who now drives the NAPA Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing, still cherishes the special moment he shared with the NHRA legend.
"Pomona is such a special place," Capps said. "If you want to win a race, I know Indy's our biggest race, but for me growing up in California, it's kind of where the season starts and ends, so it's a family race for me. But more than anything else, I got to win a double-up there for Snake, with Larry Dixon and I winning there I think in '98. That was huge."
Capps, who also won the tradition-rich season-opener in 2009, says there is simply something magical about the sacred strip of asphalt at the home of hot-rodding. He says the scene from the cockpit looking down the Pomona track is unlike any other.
"The sun is going down, you're staging the car, there is a plane flying into Bracket Field, and it takes you right back to being a kid sitting in the grandstands watching all your heroes drive there," Capps said.
With the nostalgic atmosphere surrounding the NHRA's 60th Anniversary, and countless NHRA legendary drivers cruising around the pits, Capps and his competition will need to be extra-focused on the task at hand. He says a win at the Winternationals can vault a team into title contention. And with the special 60th anniversary pewter Wally trophy on the line, a victory here will be even more special.
"You want to get off on the right foot," said Capps, who finished seventh in points last year with one victory in three final rounds. "You want to do well. But being the 60th, I'm looking at some of my trophies right now and there are a few that stand out. They're a little differently made, and I'm sure Pomona will be a trophy that you want to put up in the middle of your mantle. So it's going to be a race that every driver wants to win for sure."
Capps' competition includes a very strong field, starting with 15-time world champ John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang, and his teammates Auto Club Mustang driver Robert Hight and Mike Neff, who will pilot the Castrol GTX Mustang. Second-place points finisher Matt Hagan is back in his DieHard Charger, along with Jack Beckman, who drives the Aaron's/Valvoline Charger. Throw in a bunch of veteran past winners like Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca, Tim Wilkerson, Melanie Troxel and Jeff Arend, and the battle for the race title could get very interesting.
The great mix of competitive teams gives the event's honorary legend reason to smile. Prudhomme, who is widely credited for bringing in the sport's first mainstream sponsor in Mattel with its Hot Wheels brand, can now look back over the last 59 years and reflect on how far the sport has come.
"Well, for it to last 60 years, it's pretty good for starters," said Prudhomme, who won the Winternationals five times during his career. "When a lot of people in the early days didn't think it would fly, you know. It just wouldn't happen. There was no money in the sport and we were all running junkyard parts. To see where it's at today is quite amazing, you know. So I'm just pleased to see it carry on. I'm pleased to see drivers like Ron Capps, and several of the drivers in the sport making real good money and making a living. It's something that was a hobby with junkyard parts with ("Big Daddy" Don) Garlits and I the way we started out. So it's quite amazing to me, and I'm thrilled to play a part in the 60th anniversary. It's an honor to be honored at the track."
And while NHRA will honor Prudhomme during the Winternationals, a major part of the 60th anniversary campaign is geared to honor the fans. Capps says he always recognizes the crowd when he's on the track and it makes a huge difference to know the he and his fellow racers have their support.
"There is nothing better than showing up for your first qualifying session whatever town we're in, whatever race we're at, and you do the burnout and it could be the afternoon qualifying session on a Friday," Capps said. "You just burnout and flip the hatch open and put it in reverse and start backing up, and you look out in the crowd and it's packed or close to packed on a Friday when people should be working or should be in school. That, for me, is kind of when it hits you that it reminds you of how cool our sport is. How loyal our fans are. They plan their vacations around it. They show up on Friday. They ditch work, cut school. Whatever they do, it's a big deal... In Pomona, it will be a Thursday qualifying session, which is unlike most tracks, and you'll see the grandstands close to full, which I notice it. I definitely notice it every time."
- SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Feb. 24-25 and at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27.
- TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 51st annual Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline. Call NHRA at (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit nhratix.com.
- ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Feb. 26. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Feb. 27.
- LUCAS OIL SERIES: The 51st annual Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series gain experience. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 24. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 25.