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Capps hopes to make noise after quiet offseason

2/6/2008

We're back for another season in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series,
beginning this weekend in Pomona, Calif. And I am happy to be back here
on
ESPN.com writing this diary. I am hoping whoever reads this gets a
better
idea of what goes on inside the head of a driver whose job is to tear
down
the quarter-mile at more than 330 mph in less than five seconds in a vehicle that
produces nearly 8,000 horsepower. It's not for the faint of heart, but I
love
it.

We last raced in November, and it was a really great offseason. We have
a new sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, on board for the Dodge Charger
R/T
I drive for Don Schumacher Racing, and that is just awesome.

Sometimes, you don't go very far in the offseason and you're ready to go
racing again. But, after last season, after the entire team -- Ed "Ace"
McCulloch and I -- fought to get into the Countdown to One, I really felt I
needed some rest. It was pretty grueling at the end.

It was nice to spend a lot of time with the family and do a lot of
cool
things. When preseason testing at Phoenix rolled around last week, you
could
tell it was time to go racing again.

We had a great test session there. Every year, we talk about going to
Pomona,
the excitement of the new sponsors, the new paint schemes, and you
always can tell the drivers' anticipation for the new season by how the
preseason testing goes. And for the most part, the past few years we have
come
off our preseason testing in good shape and we have had a great showing at
Pomona. I think the two go hand in hand.

The conditions at Pomona obviously will be different from those
at
Firebird Raceway. On top of that, this year you have to throw into the
mix
the nitromethane percentage that NHRA upped from 85 percent to 90 percent,
which I
think is going to help the teams, believe it or not, with attrition and
parts breakage. Not only that, the cars sound so much better. They sound
like they did when I was a kid. You can really tell the
difference, and that's awesome.

The downside is the weight NHRA added to the Funny Cars. It added
100
pounds, which is a pretty substantial amount, and it's taken
its
toll already. At Firebird testing, guys were going off the end of
the
track and having a hard time slowing down their cars. The crew chiefs
still are focused on getting the cars down the track, but I think the NHRA
didn't do its homework by not taking into consideration that somebody
has
to slow down these cars with the extra weight on them.

That's going to be interesting to watch in these upcoming races,
especially
at Pomona, where we have one of the shorter shutdown areas. There were
teams
leaving Firebird on Wednesday that weren't quite happy with their
tune-ups. The extra weight is really throwing some curves.

I think it is likely a majority of the teams are not quite as ready as they
would like for Pomona, but we have no choice. However, we know the
track
will be great, and the conditions are going to be great for the
Winternationals. I'm looking forward to a good start, especially with
our
new sponsor.

As for added safety modifications, I had a new seat poured and some
head
padding done. And we have the car from last year that we had
retrofitted
after John Force's wreck, with the extra bars
in
it. Other than having to bolt all that weight all over the car, it's pretty
much the same car we finished with last year.

People are asking me if this is my year to finally win a championship.
It's
funny. After the first couple of times you get asked this question (like we were a few years back when we finished second), and when you have
certain media predicting in the preseason that this could be your year -- it
finally just goes in one ear and out the other ear. There is so much
that
goes on in a season. I've been in the lead by a substantial margin halfway through the season, and I still know better. There is so much that can
happen in this sport. That's what makes it exciting. You don't know if
you're the champion until the absolute end.

I really applaud the NHRA for changing the Countdown format this season.
At the end of last year, it was just not quite right. And I really
think everybody is going to benefit from the change. As for the change to
the
qualifying format, that remains to be seen. I think any change will be good, but I'm interested to see how that comes out as well.

Wish us luck.

Ron Capps drives the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger Funny Car in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and is providing a diary for ESPN.com during the 2008 season.