Capps looking to carve his niche in NHRA

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   BRISTOL- It looks like for the first time in many years, John Force is ready to be knocked off his lofty perch as NHRA Funny Car Champion.
   Ron Capps hopes he is the man that will do it.
   Capps has finished second to Force twice in the point standings, but with Force struggling so far this year, the Carlsbad, CA resident hopes he's the man that will end Force's reign at the top.
   "Whoever is the next Powerade Champion in Funny Car that's not John Force is going to be a huge story," Capps said Wednesday at a press luncheon. "It's going to be the biggest story in drag racing. He's dominated for years, he's the guy to beat. I wake up every morning and go to the gym in the off-season and I work myself out and the team works harder to beat John Force.
   "What it's created is a lot of people are doing the same thing. You have these other guys building multi-funny car teams and it's now created one of the toughest classes in NHRA history. It's no longer just John Force now."
   Capps will be back in the area next week to compete in the MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at the Bristol Dragway, an event he won in 2001.
   Capps expects it to be tougher than ever, just like all the races.
   "It's a race in itself just to qualify, because we don't have a provisional," he said. "To qualify is a big relief on Saturday night, then you've got to go to bed and try to win a race on Sunday. It's tough, but it's a lot of fun with it being this competitive."
   Capps' car owner, Don "The Snake" Prudhome, also wants to defeat Force.
   Larry Dixon won the Top Fuel title as one of Prudhome's drivers last year.
   But Prudhome wasn't real pleased, simply because his funny cars
   couldn't crack the dominance of Force.
   "They were winning races like crazy last year with Larry, and Snake was
   still not happy," Capps said. "He was beating Bernstein and doing all the
   things that should make him happy, but he was only half-happy because his
   funny cars weren't running as well as he wanted them to.
   "Snake is very motivated at trying to make his funny cars the best they can be. We'll do anything it takes. He wakes up at five in the morning out there and he'll call me up wanting to know about things in the cockpit that he doesn't really need to worry about. But he wants to make the car better for me and make it easier for me to drive. When you have a guy like Don Prudhome that fulfills a dream of winning a Top-Fuel Championship with one of his drivers and he's still not happy, that just tells you the commitment he has of making our team the best."
   Capps is right now focusing on winning his second title at Bristol. It's a track that he has a lot of fond memories of.
   "When I see Bristol on the schedule or when I land in Bristol, I kiss the ground at the airport," he said. "I've always done well here. There are certain tracks you always feel like you do well at, and there are certain tracks where you don't seem to have the success. But Bristol has always been great. The fans have been unbelievable. You go to dinner at night and the fans come up to you and congratulate you and wish you luck. That's a big deal. It makes you feel good when you get to the track. Winning here was unbelievable, because the fans were great. They all stood around the winners circle and we had a big time. It was a big deal."
   Capps may be a former winner at Bristol, and it may be one of his favorite tracks, but when it comes to being the man to beat next weekend, Capps knows who the favorite is.
   "It cracks me up to here these other drivers say 'Oh Force is struggling, we've got him where we want him.'" Capps said. "I've almost won a championship from him two times. I learned a lesson in '98. I led the points going to Indianapolis at the end of the year, and everybody said 'Capps has him.' We got a little bit cocky and thought we had something and he came back and beat us at the end.
   "I've always said since then, don't ever underestimate John Force."