This weekend is the second race of our first back-to-back set of events in the 2008 NHRA season. We're heading to St. Louis, or actually Madison, Ill., just on the other side of the bridge from St. Louis to Gateway International Raceway.
We like this track. We won it last year, and in total, I have won it three times: in 1997, 2005 and 2007. So, now that Ed "Ace" McCulloch has the NAPA Dodge back on track, we're looking forward to going there.
But everything is so different this year. You can't really count on taking any information from last year. It's great to go to a track where you've done well in the past, but the thing I'm most excited about right now is just how well we've been running the past couple of races.
You often hear drivers thank their team and thank people back at the shop. I mean, this NAPA team has worked harder than we've ever had to work as a team to get better this year with the rule changes and such in our category, and it feels that much better when you can reap the benefits of working that hard.
Ace has got this car turned around, and now we're running well, going rounds. For me as the driver, when you're going back to a place like Madison, where you won the year before, it gives you much more confidence.
We had a great season in 2007; we won a lot of races and led the points for most of the year. And we just didn't peak at the right time at the end. This season we started off a little bit slowly, but it's good to be going to a track where we've done well. I won the inaugural race there, which was my very first Funny Car win. I'll never forget that weekend.
It's always a pleasure to go back there, and, on top of that, Thursday night a bunch of us NHRA drivers, as well as my teammate Jack Beckman's crew chief Tommy DeLago, are going to race the dirt race at Tri-City Speedway, just a few minutes from the drag strip. That's going to be fun.
It's so much about business now and it's so demanding during the race weekend that it's nice to do some fun things away from the track like we're going to do Thursday night. And better than that, I bet a large number of fans probably will show up to watch drag racers on dirt.
These are crate-motored Late Models. It's like what I run in the Prelude to the Dream, but they have smaller engines. These are engines that you buy and can't touch, to keep the costs down, and they don't have as much power as the ones at the Prelude. It's going to be fun.
Last weekend in Atlanta was a historical race, of course, with Ashley Force winning Funny Car, and she has led the points the past two races, so she has proved herself. In preseason testing in her rookie year, some guys wouldn't line up against her. Guido Antonelli, her crew chief, is a good friend, and I told him, 'Pull her up there, I'll line up next to her.' I knew she had a great head on her shoulders, and it was really neat to see her win.
We lost to her in the semifinals in Atlanta. Some of these other female racers in some of the other categories could take a lot of lessons from Ashley. She's a great role model and she does a heck of a job in the car. I don't think there's one Funny Car driver who doesn't consider her an equal. So, it was a big race in Atlanta, historic I would say, because she's got a lot of pressure. She's got a big last name and a lot to live up to.
Having all the great NAPA Auto Parts folks watching us in Atlanta was a little nerve-racking. Throughout the years we always talked about teams being near their corporate sponsor headquarters at a certain race, and it never fails -- you just don't seem to do well when these people come out. That's the dream of anybody that gets sponsored -- to do well at a race that your sponsors attend. Some of the presidents and vice presidents don't really ever get to come out to a race or have the time, but when they do come out, it's a critical time to do well. And we had one of those weekends last weekend. We had the people responsible for NAPA's success in the marketplace, such as Bob Susor and Gaylord Spencer, Mike Rearden and guys I've visited at the corporate headquarters. They are very much behind our effort, but to get them to come to the track is very difficult. So, when they did come out, putting on a good show for them and doing what we did -- go to the semis -- was more than we could ask for.
As I've told everybody, you can watch drag racing on ESPN2 all you want, but nothing does it justice more than coming to a track and seeing it live. Getting those people out of the office and to the track really sells our sport.
Ron Capps drives the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and is providing a diary for ESPN.com during the 2008 season.