Topeka: Series round nine preview
CAPPS CHERISHES BATTLES WITH LEGENDARY FORCE; ANTICIPATES ANOTHER ONE AT O'REILLY NHRA SUMMER NATIONALS IN TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kan. -- Nothing motivates a great race car driver like another great race car driver. And for Ron Capps, a veteran Funny ...
CAPPS CHERISHES BATTLES WITH LEGENDARY FORCE; ANTICIPATES ANOTHER ONE AT O'REILLY NHRA SUMMER NATIONALS IN TOPEKA
TOPEKA, Kan. -- Nothing motivates a great race car driver like another great race car driver.
And for Ron Capps, a veteran Funny Car driver in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, nothing gets his competitive juices flowing more than a side-by-side 300-mph race or a season-long championship battle with John Force.
A three-time series runner-up, two of Capps' championship title runs were memorable down-to-the-wire battles with the legendary Force.
For the last three seasons, while Force struggled to find his way back to top form after a near career-ending crash in 2007 at the Texas Motorplex, Capps wondered if he would ever get to race against the old Force that he squared off with so regularly during the late 1990s and most of the early 2000s.
However, this season Force has turned back the clock thanks to a gym-rat mentality, a forever young attitude and some key changes to his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang team. He opened the season with three victories and four No. 1 qualifying positions. Capps finished runner-up in two of those races and is looking forward to going head-to-head with the 61-year-old icon during the rest of the season.
"It's great to have John back to where he was when I first came into Funny Car," Capps said. "It was tough to watch him struggle the last few years. But he's got a big kick in his step right now, and it's fun."
Capps will try to hold off Force and the rest of the Funny Car contingent and successfully defend his 2009 victory at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX, May 21-23 at Heartland Park Topeka. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) join Capps as defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
Last year Capps beat Force's daughter Ashley Force Hood for the Topeka victory. In 2006 Capps beat Force and in 2000 Force got the win light over the Carlsbad, Calif. driver. Capps' other win at HPT came in 1998 when he beat the late Al Hofmann.
Capps says there isn't a driver on the tour that he gets more satisfaction out of beating other than 14-time world champ Force.
"To be honest, whether we are on the track or in a rental car going back to the hotel, you want to beat Force, whatever you are doing," Capps said. "He really brings that out in you. That challenge of having him back at the top is good for our sport, because it's John Force. People know who he is and they love him. If you beat him, then on Monday you hear from your sponsors, 'Hey, that was a great race, you beat the champ.'"
At Heartland Park Topeka, Capps is third on the all-time Funny Car wins list, behind Force and Cruz Pedregon. He enjoys racing at the multipurpose motorsports facility that has been the scene of many impressive on-track performances by a variety of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport.
"It's always nice confidence-wise for (the team) to go back (to a track) as the winner," Capps said. "It's a track where teamwork is important. We've won at Topeka multiple times and I always look forward to racing there. The track is hot and gets sun on it all day. It takes a driver working very well with the crew chief, and the crew guys putting the best car possible underneath the driver. You always feel like when you win a race like that, that at the end of the day, you've earned it."
Capps says much of his confidence as a driver comes from his talented crew chief, Ed "The Ace" McCulloch, the ring leader of his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger crew.
"I love the fact that Ed McCulloch always has a car that's there and doesn't get too far out of bounds," Capps said. "When I get to the track on Sunday I always know that even if I am struggling a little bit in qualifying, I know that I've got a hot rod. I know I can win the race as lost as we may appear to be. It trickles down from the top and it makes you feel good as a driver because you need that kind of confidence."
Capps is currently fifth in the Funny Car point standings, within striking range to finish out the regular season in good position to begin the six-race Countdown to 1, NHRA's championship playoffs, with a lot of momentum.
"We've come close to winning the Full Throttle championship," Capps said. "As has been proven with Robert (Hight, 2009 champ) and Cruz Pedregon (2008 champ), you don't have to have the best car all season long, you just need to have it at the right time. We need to learn how to do that."
In Top Fuel, Dixon, Cory McClenathan and six-time defending champ Tony Schumacher have swapped the series lead for much of the first third of the season. Each driver has earned multiple wins and appear poised to challenge for the championship crown. Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Brandon Bernstein and Morgan Lucas all could prove to be darkhorse title threats as the season winds to a close.
Defending world champ Mike Edwards continues to lead the Pro Stock contingent in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP and has posted multiple victories and multiple No. 1 qualifying positions this season and holds a very large lead over second place Johnson, the defending event winner. Atlanta winner Jeg Coughlin, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Ron Krisher, Greg Stanfield and hometown favorite Bob Yonke, a native of nearby Alma, Kan. and a finalist at Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., are also among the pre-race favorites in the 200-mph category.
* SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m. on May 21 and noon and 2:30 p.m. on May 22. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 23.
* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Summer Nationals. For tickets call Heartland Park Topeka at (800) 43-RACES (72237) or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, May 22. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute race preview show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 23. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 23.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Summer Nationals also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on May 21. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on May 22.