Commentary

Teams still grieving from tragedy will get red-carpet treatment at Norwalk

After the tragic death of Scott Kalitta at Englishtown, N.J., the NHRA POWERade Series gets a much-needed distraction this week in Norwalk, Ohio, Ron Capps writes in his diary.

Updated: June 25, 2008, 9:03 PM ET
By Ron Capps | Special to ESPN.com

Ron Capps
Capps

We are returning to one of my favorite tracks on the NHRA circuit this weekend, the quarter-mile track in Norwalk, Ohio. This will be only our second visit there, as this event was added to the NHRA schedule last year.

We're always talking about the Bruton Smith-owned tracks and how great they are. Norwalk is another great facility. We all had heard stories about the big events they would have on the Fourth of July and just how many people would show up, and we saw that last year. This year we're not running on the holiday weekend.

What the Bader family did to accommodate the NHRA's coming there for the first time last year was awesome. There was a smile on every driver's face and every crew chief's face. It was a neat place, so we're excited to go back.

Last year when we showed up, they had paved the entire pit area on the other side of the track and moved things around. You can go on and on about the nice things you like about going to a new track, and they had it all there. And they did everything they could to make the track surface the best it could possibly be. It was a great weekend of racing. I had a good time.

They put a little grandstand near the finish line on the pit side, and after we ran we were able to just walk over and have a view of the big screen, and a lot of crew guys and drivers were crawling up there and watching the rest of the Top Fuel session. It was a neat deal. We don't get to do that very often.

We didn't do well last year in Norwalk because we lost in the first round. I can definitely tell you we are all looking forward to going back there for the second time, and especially with the new NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger.

I've said this time and time again. This has been a strange season. Guys at the top of the points like Tim Wilkerson are just rattling off wins. It would seem to the fans that a lot of really good teams are struggling, but the prime example of how tough this year has been was last weekend in Englishtown, N.J., when we lost that first round to Mike Neff. Up until that point our car would have set the quickest run of that round and one of the quickest of the overall round, yet we got beat by somebody who stepped up and ran a low elapsed time.

It's those little tiny bits of luck that you need at times. But what I also think plays into it is the reputation that Ace -- my crew chief Ed McCulloch -- and the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge guys have of going up there and going down the track, and teams know they have to be on their best game.

I have also said this before: It's a compliment to our team, but it has also painted kind of a target on our backs because of how well we did last year. Don Schumacher is very involved with all of his teams and he knows we have a great car with Ed McCulloch tuning. I feel very comfortable that we can win at any time, and I also feel comfortable that we have a chance of low elapsed time no matter whether it's the Friday night session or especially in the heat of a Saturday session.

We don't like to talk about streaks, but we have qualified for 26 straight events, the most for anyone except Tony Pedregon, who is tied with us. The reason I bring it up is to show how consistent our car has been. And then you start to look at the Showdown points (U.S. National bonus race), and we're fourth in that.

The consistency is there. Ace has qualified us in the top half of the field at the past three races, and it's given us a boost because obviously it gives us lane choice in the first round. Where we're at in the points (ninth) just doesn't seem indicative of how our car is running.

I joked with Ace after Englishtown. I told him to turn the computer off, don't even look at it because that run would have won almost every other round. I still think he made a great call that first round.

I told him let's just concentrate on going to the next race. Let's try to sweep the "summer swing," let's just focus on the next few races. And we're going to have to. We don't want to be going to Brainerd, Minn., and be nervous about getting into the Countdown. We're only a few rounds from jumping up two or three spots.

Our NAPA Dodge is there, believe me. When we win here, pretty soon I'll be able to tell you again how comfortable I am driving the car and how good Ace is tuning the car.

We are all grieving over the death of Scott Kalitta in Englishtown last Saturday. With his dad, Connie Kalitta, being who he is and Scott having been around him all his life, you clearly couldn't find a more versatile and talented nitro driver than Kalitta. The guy has won races in both Funny Car and Top Fuel and championships in Top Fuel, and was driving a fuel Funny Car at a very young age. He is somebody I have definitely always looked up to. One thing you always knew is where you stood with Scott. He always had some kind of smart-aleck comment to give you a bad time about, and it was always fun to look forward to see what he was going to say to you.

We miss him so much. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and the entire Kalitta team.

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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