Shorter distances, Western Swing make Denver a critical race
The beginning of the Western Swing outside Denver is always an important time of the season. Add new restrictions, including a shorter race track, and this weekend's contest could be downright critical, Ron Capps writes in his diary.
Updated: July 10, 2008, 9:47 PM ETBy Ron Capps | Special to ESPN.com
This weekend we will be at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., which is just outside of Denver. As its name indicates, we will be racing at a mile-high altitude, and that brings with it its own challenges -- along with having to run the new "safer" chassis, the new Goodyear tire and, of course, to only the 1,000-foot mark.Denver was already going to be a pivotal race because of these mandated changes. It is now going to stand out forever with an asterisk next to it because it will be the first drag race that we will race to 1,000 feet, and we are not sure what the NHRA has planned for the future as to whether it is just for this race track, or the tracks with the short shutdown areas, or all the tracks. The changes were brought on as the NHRA continues to investigate the death of driver Scott Kalitta last month in New Jersey.Going into Denver this weekend is going to be a very strange situation for a lot of drivers because we have to shut off before 1,320 feet, which is the length of a quarter-mile. We're all for it, and we're all happy that NHRA made this decision until we can find out how we can be safer in these cars and slow them down. For the drivers, the crew chiefs and the owners, the emphasis is always how fast can you go, how quick can you go, but we often forget about having to slow down. You're so determined to figure out how to be faster and quicker that getting the car stopped at the other end doesn't become so important until something happens like it did with Scott in Englishtown. It's just a reminder that you also have to slow these cars down.When the NHRA added the 100 pounds this year it sure made it a lot harder to slow the cars down. We noticed that in testing. But, looking at going into this weekend, you also have to remember that we are going on a three-race back-to-back-to-back tour known as the Western Swing. Denver is always a tough weekend because of the conditions. There's not a lot of oxygen. Anf it's very hard on engines; it's very hard on people. But then the next two races we go to are very close to sea level. And now with the mandatory chassis and tire on top of it, Denver is going to be a very, very important weekend.I hope we find a way to return to the 1,320-foot finish line. There is so much history in the NHRA about racing to the quarter-mile. I believe that there is no reason why we can't go back to quarter-mile racing. This sport was built on quarter-mile racing. And I'm not so opposed to looking at what NASCAR has done with a lot of different-sized race tracks they race on. If we have to go to a historic track like Pomona, which just doesn't have the land to build on to make an extra-safe shutdown area, and we have to go to the 1,000 foot mark there and at some of the other tracks, maybe that's what we'll have to do. You have to hold your hands out in front of you and weigh the situation. Do you want to go to a track like Pomona and risk the shutdown area being short, or go to 1,000 feet at a track like that?Then you look at a track like Indianapolis, which has a very long shutdown area. There's no reason why we can't go to a quarter-mile mile there, along with a track like Sonoma.I think that in the future, you will see where these tracks that cannot be built on because they have roads at the end or other limitations, the finish line will be at 1,000 feet. There is a possibility that we could be racing forever to 1,000 feet at a track like Pomona. That remains to be seen.I know that any driver you talk to will tell you he or she is all for stopping at 1000 feet, especially this weekend.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.