Commentary

Topeka rolls out the red carpet for POWERade Series

Ron Capps writes about Heartland Park Topeka, his new Murf McKinney car and Tony Stewart's Prelude to the Dream in this week's diary.

Updated: May 29, 2008, 7:53 PM ET
By Ron Capps | Special to ESPN.com

Ron Capps
Capps

We're in the Heartland of America this weekend, literally. We're racing at Heartland Park Topeka, and it's always a great place to visit. The fans are awesome and the track does a good job of taking care of us.

We're getting to what we call the meaty time of the season, with one-third of the races completed. Things are going to start happening fast, races are coming at us fast and, before you know it, we're going to be done with the West Coast swing (Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., July 11-27). Topeka always falls in line where the weather really starts to warm up, and especially this year. I see by the weather report that there's no rain predicted and temperatures are going to be in the 80s and 90s.

The last few races we have been to were run under cool conditions. I really believe that Topeka will show us the first sign of triple-digit track temperatures. It's going to be a very tricky race weekend.

We've won in Topeka a couple of times and that's always a good thing, but the biggest thing that motivates me right now is the fact that we brought out our new Murf McKinney car in Bristol on a very gutsy call by Ace (my crew chief Ed McCulloch), not being sure if the rain was coming or not, and took a chance.

For the car to run as good as it did and for us to go a couple of rounds there was just a huge boost of confidence for everybody on the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge team, me included. So that really makes us feel good. Because going forward from here is just all icing on the cake. We have a new car that's mandatory by Denver and we can start really finding out what it likes and get a better handle on the car.

And the fact that we've done it this soon gives us a chance to get used to the car. One thing you have to remember, last year we were leading the Funny Car standings by over 100 points going into the Topeka race, and with the new Countdown format this year, the urgency just isn't there to be a points leader or to be No. 2 in the points. Yes, we want to move up and, yes, we want to make sure we'll be solid, but right now it's all about peaking at the right time. And that's the goal.

We learned a valuable lesson last year about going to Indy (the U.S. Nationals, after which the Countdown begins). The big points lead we had did us absolutely no good as far as leaving Indy. The points reset, and that was it. So I think the most important thing right now is for our NAPA team to really concentrate on being the best we can when it counts. And that's going to be when we get to Indianapolis.

We want to make sure we're in the top 10 for the Countdown, but from then on -- and we learned this last year -- we need to be better later in the year.

When you come into a town like Topeka, the people embrace you and really make you feel like you're wanted. In some cities, and I won't name them, you don't hardly read about drag races in their local papers. Other cities just embrace you with every bit of newspaper coverage, TV coverage for that race weekend. And that really makes you feel good.

I remember winning on a rain delay in Topeka in 1998 and beating Al Hoffman in the final, and it was about midnight and we went to the truck stop in town to celebrate with the crew. Everybody in the truck stop celebrated with us. It's things like that that you remember.

The people who own the Topeka track do everything they can to make you feel like you are the best thing that happened to that city when we roll into town. It's a great feeling. We race where we have to race, but the fact that we get to go to tracks like this where they make you feel that good is just something that stands out every year.

The Prelude to the Dream is coming up on June 4. I can't wait. It's going to be very exciting.

For me the excitement of being a part of the Prelude since its inception and watching it grow has been fun. To watch each and every year the talent pool grow and grow is incredible. It takes every bit of courage you have to go around that track in one of these cars, and to do it with some of the best NASCAR drivers in the world makes it that much better.

I've done well there. Tony Stewart was kind of my mentor, since I started racing in dirt when I wasn't racing on the drag strip. I think I was ninth the first year, I was fourth the second year. Last year on the second lap we broke a crankshaft so I never got to finish the main event. I did lead my heat race for most of it. I'm excited. I always have a good car that Brian Ruhlman gives me. He's raced at that track a lot. I would try to bring the car back in one piece, but the goal is to raise the money for Victory Junction and the Tony Stewart Foundation, and to see the smile on Kyle Petty's face. That's what makes it all worth it.

But I can tell you one thing, when the helmet goes on for the main event and the green flag drops, everybody's got their horns sticking out of their helmets and everybody is wanting to win the race. This year should even be better.

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.

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