Interview with the Pros: Ron Capps
By NHRA Communications
Since Ron Capps became a professional NHRA competitor, he has twice finished in the No. 2 position of the point standings. He was the first runner-up to John Force both times. Capps is hoping the 2003 season, however, can be the one in which the Skoal Racing Chevy Camaro team slips past Force to claim its first championship. Capps opened the season with a semifinal finish in Pomona, Calif., followed by a victory in Phoenix. After the first four events of the season, he sits in the No. 4 spot of the Funny Car standings. Capps' team owner is Don "The Snake" Prudhomme - the man who claimed four Funny Car titles as a driver, and one Top Fuel title as the team owner of the Miller Lite team in 2002. In this Q&A session, Capps talks about what he has in common with Prudhomme, why it is so important for them to earn a Funny Car championship and what scares him the most.
Q: What do you like about racing for Don Prudhomme?
CAPPS: I love the fact that he is competitive. He is competitive by nature and I am the same way. I am not good at losing, but thank goodness I am good at hiding it sometimes. I love the intensity and competitiveness that he has because he is never satisfied. He won a championship with the Miller Lite Top Fuel car and he is still not satisfied because he wants to win championships with the two Skoal Funny Cars. That is really cool. That is what I love most about him.
Q: Do you feel there is more pressure to succeed in that category because of what Prudhomme accomplished as a Funny Car driver during his career?
CAPPS: We talk about that a lot. He gets heartburn with these Funny Cars not competing at the top all the time. Just like our sponsors do. People don't realize how tough it is to run a Funny Car and how tough the category is right now. It is really difficult, not to say that Top Fuel is easy, but you have some pretty big guns in Funny Car. You see what everyone is doing and how everyone is chasing (John Force's crew chief) Austin Coil and people don't realize how tough it is to be the guy left standing at the end of the day. There is a little pressure. Every year we go through that. In 1998 and 2000 we battled Force for the championship right down to Pomona. In 1998 I left Indy with the points lead. That was my second year driving for Don Prudhomme. I got a taste then of what it is like battling for the championship. At that point, when you are involved with the chase for the POWERade championship, you really can't go for anything less after that. It is really tough. You know you have the tools and you know you are capable of winning and when you fall just a little bit short like that, you just try to find out how to make yourself just a little better to win the championship. You add a second car and all of the things that will help you. There is pressure, but I am also learning from (crew chief Ed McCulloch) "Ace" and Snake especially that I know I can't do everything on my own and that not one guy can do everything on their own. Everyone has to pitch in. Every year that we show up at Pomona, there is that pressure that you are starting from scratch and that this is the best chance to win a championship. You do that every year. If I go into my 10th or 11th year of driving without a championship trophy, then I will start to get a little nervous. Any pressure that Snake puts on me is good pressure. We have a great relationship and I know where he is coming from.
Q: What is it going to take to turn the Green Skoal Chevy Camaro team around?
CAPPS: We are close. I don't think we need to be turned around. I think it was really good for us last year about halfway through the year when Ace became the crew chief solely on my car. Before that he was split between two cars. Even Austin Coil doesn't tune more than one car over there. That was good for us. I have all of the confidence in the world that when I show up on Sunday morning I have a better chance than most at winning the race that day. Not a lot of people can say that and not a lot of teams can say that. One of Snake's favorite quotes is "You can't win the Kentucky Derby riding a mule." No matter what I do, it is how this car performs. We are close and I really think we have a legitimate chance at the championship. We have as good of a shot as Force does.
Q: What did you do during the off season to become a more consistent team?
CAPPS: We worked on our clutch setups and all of the stuff that mechanically makes this car run more consistently down the track. I think Ace and (assistant crew chief) Todd Okuhara and myself also had to focus on the mental part of it including how you approach different situations and how you look back on things that happened, why they happened and what you can do to make them better. That is a big deal for our team. Another thing that we dealt with last year was the new tire. You could pretty much throw out the whole season up until Atlanta. It was anybody's ballgame. So now we are starting off fresh this year and it is going to be a different fight starting from the very first race of the season.
Q: John Force has won 12 of the last 13 Funny Car championships. Do you think the Funny Car category is competitive or is it Force versus the rest of the category?
CAPPS: You have to imagine for a second that besides Steve Kinser in the World of Outlaws, John Force can be compared to any franchise, any sport, any stick and ball sport such as the Yankees, the Lakers, the 49ers, the Celtics, anything, Michael Schumacher. Compare him to the best of the best in any sport whether it is racing or not and he is at the top. He has dominated. He has purely dominated. He has made people look stupid for many years and people weren't that stupid in Funny Car. It wasn't until the last few years that we came into Funny Car and there was only four or five legitimate teams that had a shot at beating Force from the get-go and we were one of them. Now you look at it and you see Worsham's teams, Schumacher's teams, our teams, Force's teams, with just those multi-car teams, you have almost filled an entire field on Sunday. This year there will be some big names that will not be racing on Sunday. A lot of these multi-car teams are taking up a lot of spots and some of these guys are going to show up and run pretty good and they won't get in. Hopefully it won't be us. I say it every year, Funny Car gets more and more competitive and guys are coming over from Top Fuel trying to knock Force off. It is funny to hear some of the guys maybe in the Top Fuel class talk about coming over to knock Force off. You better pack a big lunch. Force is flat-out good and it makes us strive to get better.
Q: What is it going to take to keep Force from earning his 13th Funny Car championship?
CAPPS: A lot of help. Our sponsors are a big deal. A lot of people don't understand how hard this sport is. You see a lot of sponsors come in and they want to know why you can't beat John Force on Sunday. Well, that's not the way Skoal is. The people at Skoal understand and realize what a challenge the Force Racing team presents. What is so exciting about this year besides that Mac Tools and Lucas Oil are with is, is that General Motors is going to be a big part of our team. They are giving us a lot of wind-tunnel time, which we haven't done before. We are making an honest effort to do as much as we can with the Camaro body and the Pontiac next year to make us as good as we can be. If there is an advantage with Force's body style, we are going to make it so it isn't. We have everything. If you put all of those tools together and if I do my job and Ace does his job, we have as good of a chance as Force.
Q: Have you ever thought about going back to Top Fuel racing?
CAPPS: No. Unless I had to, I really wouldn't. I feel that I am a Funny Car driver. Every time someone asks me about what it is like to drive a Funny Car, it makes me smile. I love everything about the Funny Car class. I love racing against the competition that we have in the Funny Car category. We have Whit Bazemore, Gary Scelzi, Del Worsham, a lot of guys. It is so cool right now. What is really neat, years from now when I get old and I quit driving, I can tell my kids that I raced against John Force when he was in the middle of that championship run that he had and that we beat him at times and maybe even beat him for a championship. To look back and say that we raced him at his best will be pretty good.
Q: What career goals do you still need to accomplish?
CAPPS: I don't look at it as what I have left. But I do know that it wouldn't be complete without a championship. Without a doubt we have to win a championship. I wake up every morning thinking about having a championship ring on my finger. But I am very happy where I am. I just signed a five-year deal with Snake and I am very comfortable where I am. My goals are something I achieve everyday, which are to show up everyday and be as competitive as I can. The goals that I have are very day to day. The championship is the big one out in front and then you have all of these smaller goals. I feel like I can quit right now or that I can stop driving right now and I would be very content with what I have done. I feel like I am well respected by my peers and that a guy who has to race me will know that I will put up a good fight. The whole team does. I could quit right now and I would know that we have always done our best.
Q: If you are content, what drives you to show up everyday and be competitive?
CAPPS: Losing. Losing is the biggest fear that I have. I hate losing in qualifying; I hate losing especially on Sunday. I hate losing at anything. Failure, to me, is worse than death. I hate failure and I hate losing. What is cool is that the rest of the guys out here on this Skoal team feel the same way. That is cool when you have all 10 guys with the same goal. It's a great feeling when you are standing with those guys at the end of the day with a trophy in your hand, knowing you achieved your goals.
Q: Winston had to leave drag racing because of the Tobacco Settlement. Does Skoal have any plans to leave the sport?
CAPPS: Skoal is all about winning. That is what I love about them. We started with Copenhagen and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco. From the get-go they were never a sponsor that wanted to just put their stuff on the race car to get noticed and to get more coverage. They are about winning. When you think about Don Prudhomme and the Skoal Bandit car, all I think about of that combination is winning. When their Winston Cup program started to falter, they got out of it because they can't stand not winning, that's not fun for them. That is why this whole program fits well with Snake Racing. Snake is so competitive and he hates to lose, I hate to lose, Skoal doesn't like to lose. They are long-term when it comes to our program and they are excited about what we are doing here. I never have to worry about calling Skoal on Monday morning, whether we have a good day or bad day and have to explain myself. I've never been hassled about anything to do with tobacco. When Winston left it was a big deal but POWERade has jumped in and they have done a great job.
Q: What have you learned from Prudhomme?
CAPPS: That's funny because I do things sometimes and I recognize that I did it or somebody else will point out the fact that I have picked up on his mannerisms and the way he speaks or just little things like that. It is just human nature that when you look up to someone, you emulate them, whether you are trying to or not. It's not like when someone catches me doing that, I am embarrassed by it. I'm proud of it. I've learned so much more from him by what he does away from the track than what he does on the track. I've seen how he treats sponsors, how he deals with people, how he is respected in this sport. When I quit driving I want to be an owner. I want to stay involved with NHRA drag racing. What other person out here has had the longevity he has and has been as successful as he has? There is not a better representative for NHRA than Snake is.
Q: What do you do when you are not at the race track?
CAPPS: I play racquetball and I have been working out quite a bit for about a year and half working with a trainer that also works with a few supercross riders. I play golf when I can. I've been getting into that a lot lately. I used to teach racquetball and play in tournaments whenever possible. The thing I do most is play with my kids. They are a blast. My son Caden is 18 months old and my daughter Taylor is 6 and they are both balls of fire. Besides that I spend a lot of time playing video games. I love playing all the different racing games. I am just a big kid. My wife always gives me a bad time about playing the games until 2 or 3 a.m. but I live a great life. I am very, very fortunate to do what I do and get paid what I do. I still live in California and I get to fly in a Lear Jet to all of the races with Don Prudhomme and drive a race car for Prudhomme. How much better can life get than that? Then I get to go home and take my kids to school. It's a pretty good life.