Capps: Going nitro racing in lake country

We're back at it again. After a well-deserved weekend off following the Western Swing, the grind begins again this weekend in Brainerd. Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but did you know that the state actually has more than 12,000 lakes? You see, these ESPN.com diaries can be informative.

I always get excited about going to Brainerd. It helps that I've won there twice (1998, 2001), but when you get to Brainerd, you know that Indy is just around the corner. Of the 23 races on the circuit, none is bigger than the U.S. Nationals. It is the NHRA's marquee event. It's our Super Bowl, our Masters, our Wimbledon. You can resurrect a career by winning Indy. I've been fortunate to win the Skoal Showdown three times since joining Don Prudhomme Racing, but none of my 14 race wins have come at Indy. Next to winning a championship, that's one other goal I want to accomplish before I hang up my helmet.

Last Friday, the family all piled into the Monaco motor coach for the 2,000-mile trek from Carlsbad (Calif.) to Brainerd International Raceway. I've never made that drive before. Now I understand why so many drivers live in Indiana. It was a tough few days. I'm glad I'll have a few days to relax with the family after that grueling trip. I'm used to going a quarter-mile at a time. I forgot what it's like to drive across country.

Brainerd is a very pleasant place to relax -- it's very outdoorsy. You're near thousands of small lakes and surrounded by trees everywhere. It's very tranquil. Brainerd is a famous little resort town where people come to relax, camp and enjoy the water. It reminds you of the tracks at Seattle and Reading with all the trees around. Surprising enough, it's not supposed to be very hot this year. It's supposed to be in the 70s, which is great for the crew guys who work their tails off. We know it'll be like a sauna next week in Memphis (Tenn.). You can count on two things in Memphis in August, heat and humidity.

Camping is the highlight of the Brainerd race. Thousands of fans camp out at the track. You wouldn't believe how many people come from Canada and the northern U.S. to watch us race. It's like Seattle where we're the only major motor sport around. There is no major stock car or open-wheel racing in Minnesota. The town really lights up when we get to there. It's nice to roll into a city and feel appreciated. The people are very warm and hospitable.

Saturday night after we finish up qualifying, we usually load up in a golf cart and go cruise through the campground. It's hard to describe all the things that go on. I guess festive would be a good word. It's kind of like Mardi Gras, except in the woods, not on Bourbon Street. You really have no idea how big the camping area is until you drive around. It keeps going and going. There are stages with bands playing and bonfires and bar-b-ques. It's a lot of fun. And don't be surprised if you see a racer or two mingling with the fans.

In the last two events of the Western Swing (Seattle and Sonoma), we were on the short end of two very close races. We lost by six-thousandths of a second and one-hundredth of a second, respectively. While it's tough to lose such close matches, it's also encouraging to know that we have a car that can run with the best of them. When you run right with Whit Bazemore, you are racing against the best. That's a quality race car; the kind of car you like to measure yourself against.

When Roland Leong came back on board as the tuner, our goal was to improve our consistency and to get the car to go quicker. We've done both. Soon enough, those close races will go our way and we'll be on the winning end and going rounds on Sunday. The green Snake Racing Chevy Funny Car is running strong and I'm very encouraged for the later part of the 2004 NHRA campaign.

With that in mind, after Indy, we're off to Reading (Pa.) where having lots of horsepower will be key. The final few races on the schedule are known for producing some really stout numbers and if Roland and the guys keep progressing with the tune-up of our car, don't be surprised if we post some impressive times.

Ron Capps drives a Funny Car in the NHRA for Don Prudhomme. He is providing a diary to ESPN.com throughout the 2004 season. The team's Web site can be found at www.snakeracing.com.