Funny Car Showdown pre-race teleconference, part 1

NHRA TRANSCRIPT: SKOAL SHOWDOWN TELECONFERENCE WITH TOMMY JOHNSON JR., RON CAPPS, GARY SCELZI AND JOHN FORCE BOB FREY: For those who may not know, the rules for qualifying for the Skoal Showdown are fairly simple. Drivers get points based on their ...

Funny Car Showdown pre-race teleconference, part 1
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BOB FREY: For those who may not know, the rules for qualifying for the Skoal Showdown are fairly simple. Drivers get points based on their qualifying, and the higher you qualify the more points you get. One-hundred seventy-five points if you are number one and 165 if you are second. It drops in 10 point increments for the first four. It really does put a premium on being in the top four. It drops off by five points after that. If you are the 16th qualifier, you get 85 points. Unfortunately if you do not qualify, you get zero and that has happened to a couple of the drivers this year and we will talk more about that in a bit.

Points actually begin right at the U.S. Mac Tools Nationals. For example, after Indy last year, John Force was the number one qualifier. Six of the eight drivers in the top eight after Indy last year managed to hold on to the entire season and will run for the Skoal Showdown this year. It is pretty important to get off to a good start and make the other guys chase you.

This will be the 25th anniversary of the Skoal Showdown. It got started back in 1982 and a couple of Hall of Famers are the guys that won. Frank Hawley beat Don "the Snake" Prudhomme. Snake has a team running in the Skoal Showdown and it will be Tommy Johnson, Jr.

Some of the background on some of the numbers for people who competed. In the 24 previous events, 49 drivers have competed and that's a pretty select group over the last quarter of a century. Twenty-three different drivers made it into the final round and there have been 14 winners of the Skoal Showdown. Ironically with all the good drivers that have been in there, only six drivers have won it more than one time. Two of them we have on here for the teleconference; John Force has won it five times, and Ron Capps has won it three times.

It is tough to repeat. Just getting into the top eight is very tough, especially with the quality of the field, but it is tough to repeat. Believe it or not, in the previous 24 years, only two drivers have won this event in back to back years. Al Hoffman did it, and one of the drivers we have on the teleconference, Ron Capps, did it. It is a very tough thing to do.

Last year's winner of the Skoal Showdown, Del Worsham, won the Skoal Showdown and then won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals the next day. He did not qualify for the event this year. It is not unprecedented. Prior to this season only five times did the defending champion not qualify for the event the next season. I am sure Del doesn't want his name to be on the list. As I always say, I don't write them, I just read them.

The race day purse is $147,000. That is just part of the money that the folks at U.S. Smokeless Tobacco and Skoal put up. During the course of the year they pay $4,000 at each race as low qualifier money. If you add it up, it is a quarter of a million dollars that the folks from Skoal and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco put up in cash against this event every season. Del Worsham last year wins the Skoal Showdown and then backs it up with a win at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. That's another $50,000 bonus. There are six drivers that have done that over the past few years.

In addition to the four drivers who were scheduled to be on the teleconference, we have Robert Hight in the program, Eric Medlen who went to the finals last year, Tony Pedregon who is the 2003 champ will not be happy when I mention this stat, has the distinction of the driver to beat in the Skoal Showdown the most times without a win. He has been in it 11 times coming into the season. Last year Del Worsham had been in it ten times and had one win.

It is interesting to note, while the drivers are racing it is part of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The POWERade point battles qualifying to go into the Skoal Showdown is important. The points carry over or reflect where we are in the national standings. Last year the final champion, Gary Scelzi, who won the POWERade Championship, won it, even though he had less race wins than the guys who were right behind him and the qualifying points were very important for those drivers.

It is good to get off to a great start. And two of the drivers we have on for the teleconference, John Force and Ron Capps, are involved in that points battle this season.

That gives you a very quick history of what has gone on in the past. We will talk to a couple of our drivers. Ron Capps is on with us. Ron, are you there?

CAPPS: Yes, sir.

FREY: Ron has three Skoal Showdown wins. He won in '98, '99 and '02. This is the first time you have been back in here. How does it feel?

CAPPS: It feels good. Last year I was crushed I wasn't in it. You win it not only once but you win it like we did three times and you look so forward to this event, and to stand around and walk up and watch it when you are not in it, it was a pretty empty feeling. I talked with Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) and we said we would work real hard to make the field this year.

FREY: You had one of the more emotional wins here. Tell us about it.

CAPPS: It was a snakeskin car. I have been with U.S. Smokeless Tobacco nine or ten years. We had a special car put up in the snakeskin. We caught it on fire first round and they sent me to the infield care center, the burn center and the late Steve Evans snuck me out in the golf cart and we got back to the pit area. And there were about 30 fans helping put the car back together because I think Del Worsham at the time had beaten Force. And I was in the burn center watching the TV. I said, we may have a shot at this. Steve Evans snuck me back and we went on to win the thing with our backup body. It was an emotional day.

FREY: Everybody on the team was walking off and Snake (then-owner Don Prudhomme) had tears in his eyes. It was impressive with the team you have together. You have qualified well for this thing and it has been consistent in your performance all year.

CAPPS: We haven't qualified as high as we wanted to. Last year we sat down and looked and the showdown points that Skoal put up is to get into the field, but you also have to look at it for points, at season ending POWERade Championship points. So we lost a lot of points with our standings in qualifying and we really want to work on that, not only to get into the Skoal Showdown but to make sure we gain as many points as we can and everything that goes with that.

I have said it especially the last ten races, almost every interview, we are fighting for a championship right now but our second goal right behind that was to get into the Skoal Showdown. We got in. It is a tough field. Del is not in, like you said. There are tough cars that didn't make it. A few races ago I was pretty nervous. The last race we knew who you were and then you look at who you are going to run the first round. We are nervous on a race day where after Saturday qualifying you know who you are going to run. Now we know who we are going to run for a week so it has made it pretty difficult.

FREY: We wish you a lot of luck here this weekend.

FREY: Tommy Johnson is also on with us. He will be representing the Don Prudhomme team and the Skoal Smokeless Tobacco debuted the limited edition of the Skoal Monte Carlo a couple races ago. It is his third appearance in the show. How are you feeling?

JOHNSON JR.: Good, good. Proud to be in it. That's probably one of our team's most important goals throughout the season is to make sure we make the Skoal Showdown and to get the car and not only for the championship for the whole season, but that's probably one of the bigger things on our minds throughout the season.

FREY: Now, you have been in this twice before. You still get a little nervous going into these things with the kind of money and competition that you are competing against?

JOHNSON JR.: I guess you get a little nervous, but not really. This is the eight best guys out here as far as the eight best cars and the best guys you race against every week. It is not really more nervous, but it is definitely the toughest eight cars out here. It is not going to be an easy trip.

FREY: What about the fact that you are running for the Skoal folks? I know a lot of people say if their sponsors are sponsoring an event, it turns out to be a hectic time for them.

JOHNSON JR.: Yeah, you know, last year, this being the thing everybody kept asking me if there was added pressure, I kept thinking yeah, there is a little bit of added pressure. When it came down to it, the support they give us is win, lose or draw. I was actually most comfortable going into that first round last year and probably drove better than I've ever driven and still got beat. I think there is probably just more added pressure we put on ourselves, not from the sponsors, not from Skoal or anybody involved.

Skoal Racing Monte Carlo, you want to make sure that's in the deal and I think that's where the pressure comes from. And when you finally get in it, race day is kind of a relief. I feel more relaxed I think than I do all season.

FREY: You have a pretty good race car. The big win at Brainerd, Minn. and the low ET in the finals. You have to have as much confidence in (crew chief) Mike Green and your team as you have all season long.

JOHNSON JR.: Absolutely. I couldn't think of a better time to peak in the season than coming into Indy for the Skoal Showdown and the U.S. Nationals. Definitely the car running right now the way it is it gives me a lot of confidence and definitely gives you a hope that you have got the car to beat going into that. We qualified, I think I think this is the highest I have ever been in the Skoal Showdown coming into it and we missed getting lane choice by just ten points there last weekend.

I don't think that's important. We are trying to have a little bit of advantage, but I don't think it will hurt us at all. It will be a great race between Gary Scelzi and myself.

FREY: First of all, John (Force), nice to have you with us here today, getting set to go into the Skoal Showdown. This is like a regular part of your Indy ritual, isn't it? You know you are going to come here and run in the Skoal Showdown.

FORCE: It is really good because if you can win it, it is just kind of you have worked all year for this and part of last year qualifying. So it is kind of a way to flex your muscles if you can and back it up back to back, that's really cool, and make NHRA give you the extra bonus. We all like this.

Continued in part 2

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