Charitable event has unexpected twist

Originally Published: June 23, 2005
By Ron Capps | Special to ESPN.com

Ron Capps
Capps
We came off a great weekend last week in Englishtown, N.J., and now we're in St. Louis for this weekend's NHRA race at Gateway International Raceway, where it's really hot and humid.

But before we got here, Gary Scelzi and I went to Sedalia, Mo., to hang out with guys like Tony Stewart and Danny Lasoski at the Michael Ross Memorial Foundation Celebrity Race at State Fair Speedway and race on the dirt for this very important charity. This is something Gary and I have done for a few years.

It's a legendary event and included a golf tournament on Tuesday where no cameras or video cameras were allowed. Everybody was there just enjoying themselves and not worrying about what they said and who's recording or listening. It was a lot of fun.

After Englishtown, Gary and I jumped on Don Schumacher's jet and flew into Indy, where we piled into Gary's Monaco motor coach and drove Monday morning down to St. Louis. That night we did a little dirt tracking at a 3/8-mile banked track outside of Sedalia. It was cool because they brought out three of the modifieds that we were going to race on Wednesday night.

It was me, Gary, Dave Marcis, the legendary stock-car driver who wears wing-tip shoes, Tony Stewart and Craig Kinser. They brought out two sprint cars, one was a winged 305, and they brought out a new World of Outlaws car they put together for Tony, identical to Danny Lasoski's. I got to get in the car and ride some laps in it and it was just unbelievable.

For a guy who's driven cars with 8000 horsepower, it's about as close as you're going to get to one and be able to go in circles. It was pretty cool to see Tony's and Gary's faces when I came back in the pit area afterward.

I was ready for Wednesday night in Sedalia, even though I thought it would be a wreckfest.

It was awesome. The guys in the race were Scelzi, Dough Kalitta, Tony Stewart, Dave Marcis, (TV guys) Matt Yocum, Ralph Sheheen, Statt Mann Carruthers from SpeedFreaks, Craig Kinser and Sammy Swindell's son.

Scelzi started on the pole and I started outside the second row. Dave Marcis was on the outside pole next to Scelzi. I pretty much followed him. The half-mile track is very long, very difficult to drive, and very fast. And I knew Tony Stewart and Doug Kalitta were behind me.

We had a few cautions and I came around one time and Gary had spun out. And then another time Stewart spun out. So I was just fighting to stay with Dave Marcis. I followed him and stayed second for quite a few laps and I finally got around him and hung on for the win.

I couldn't believe it. It was pretty amazing. What a great group of guys. It was amazing to even finish. Last time we did this a couple of years ago there were so many wrecked cars. The guys were all over the place. I think this time hardly any cars got wrecked. It was a great race and it raised a lot of money for the Michael Ross Foundation. I had a great time.

The St. Louis NHRA race (actually, Gateway is in Madison, Ill.) this weekend is one of the unique races we have during the year, both for the drivers and especially the fans. It's an all-night race, which we've done a couple of years now. It started because of the heat in St. Louis in the summer. What ended up happening was the broadcasts on ESPN earned some of the highest ratings they ever had on TV because of the night race.

Growing up in California, for me it was all about Fremont at night, Orange County, Lyons and as a kid going and watching Funny Cars and Top Fuel cars race at night. I think it's something our sport has that no other motorsports has, which is the seven- or eight-foot flames coming out of these nitro engines that light up the night.

It's unique because all four qualifying runs are at night, and we start the first round of eliminations late afternoon, so it goes right into the night. I think I can speak for most of the drivers, that it brings back a lot of memories from being a kid, but it also makes the racing completely different.

It's going to be a lot of fun, I'm sure. And anyone who can't make the race in person can see it on ESPN2. It's going to be exciting to watch.

Ron Capps drives a Funny Car in the NHRA for Don Schumacher Racing. He is providing a diary to ESPN.com throughout the 2005 season.

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