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National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Drag Racing Topics:  NHRA

National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

Jack Beckman
Ron Capps
October 31, 2012


THE MODERATOR:  I believe we are now joined by Ron Capps and Jack Beckman.  As Tony alluded to, Jack Beckman leads this series by just a mere four points on the basis of his three wins and one runner‑up finish.  Ron Capps is second with five wins and three runner‑up finishes during the course of the year.  Both of you obviously made it to the final rounds in LasVegas.  You each had to do what you had to do in that event with Ron coming out obviously just a little bit ahead.
Start with Ron, talk about your weekend in LasVegas and kind of rebounding from the Reading event like you talked about.
RON CAPPS:  Well, obviously it was a great weekend.  I think I said it last weekend in the pressroom, I felt so bad for Ron Tobler in Maple Grove that we just didn't have our normal NAPA car that we've had all season.  After running what we did, a 396 in Englishtown, he was so poised to go there with the conditions that were going to be there that we were pretty sure we'd have a shot along with several other cars at setting the national record.
Didn't happen.  Obviously we struggled, and afterwards Tommy Johnson drove the car and they fixed the problem.
It's just one of those times where we tried to make up points in qualifying in Vegas and we struggled in qualifying.  We just didn't qualify as good as we wanted to, but neither did Jack.  He is been on a roll of No.1 qualifiers, so we were lucky that they didn't run as good as they have in qualifying and gained some more points, and it's basically come down to Thursday, Friday and Saturday trying to gain more than Jack and four more, at least, more than Jack, and it came in small qualifying points so that we can go into Sunday either tied or ahead.
You have to do that because if we happen to go out the same round, that's going to mean the world champion.  That's going to be crucial.  Qualifying is going to be as big as the race here probably.

Q.  Jack, can you talk about your weekend in LasVegas, please?
JACK BECKMAN:  Yeah, interesting stuff.  Ron, nothing personal, but if you make a U‑turn, head east for about 2500 miles; we'll call you in a week and half and let you know how the thing turned out.
Yeah, kind of like Ron and the NAPA team, at Reading our good car didn't show up at Vegas, and we were kind of behind the 8‑ball all weekend.  And when you get into the Countdown, you really can't afford to have an off weekend.  And our two teams have been pressing each other back and forth.  I think ultimately that makes for two better teams, but it was a little bit frustrating for us to not have a car that responded to the changes that we gave it.
I guess the silver lining to that is in our estimation I think we would rate ourselves about a C‑ for performance at Vegas, and we still got a runner‑up out of the deal, so we still actually preserved the points lead.
The way I read the rules is our team would win the tiebreaker.  I think the first tiebreaker is points earned in the Countdown, and since Ron was 40 points ahead of us going into the Countdown, if we tie, that means that we won more points during that period.  But I don't think either one of us wants a tie, and Ron hit it right on the head, it's going to make qualifying that much more of a premium.
The other interesting thing is Pomona is the only race on the season, the Winter Nationals and the finals, where you get one run on Thursday and then you sit around and twiddle your thumbs, and then you get all revved up and you get one round on Friday and sit around and twiddle your thumbs.  And then Saturday we go back to our normal tempo of getting two qualifying runs.
I don't think many people are going to be using their seats at Pomona.  I think a lot of people are going to be standing up watching every run that these cars make.  It could very well come down to a head‑to‑head meeting between Ron and I.  As long as we're within 19 points of each other, that head‑to‑head meeting is going to decide the race, and we're going to be within 19 points of each other going into eliminations.
You'd love to be able to race for this.  It would almost be like two boxers at the top of their game meeting.  Nobody wants to see one suffering, not doing as well as they're used to doing, and that would be the ultimate thing, I think, for the fans, and I think Ron and I would both like to see that, to race for the championship.
The problem is there's going to be 14 other cars that qualify, assuming our cars run well enough to qualify, and we're going to have to try to beat everybody in our way to get to that NAPA car.

Q.  This is for Ron and Jack if I could.  We hear so often ‑‑ you guys have really kind of touched on this a little bit, but we hear so often how important points are, but what's your take on the points now when the championship gets down to just a few points?  Do you dream about points?  Do you think about points?  Just what's the difference now?
RON CAPPS:  God, I don't know.  I went into last week, and I think I'm going to find out Thursday.  I went last weekend with a lot of time from Maple Grove before Vegas.  It seemed like an eternity.  We couldn't wait to get there and just see it; we got our hot rod back to make up some points.  I'll tell you, to be honest with you, I was real leery about making any points up at all on Jack's team because they qualified so well.
And so we were just looking at trying to make any amount of points we could in qualifying, and we just didn't, and we had to throw it out the window and Saturday afternoon was done and say, okay, we've got to make up some ground on Sunday, there's just no doubt about it.
I lost the championship the one year to Scelzi by eight points, and I think we all went out the same round that day, he was just eight points ahead, just some of the small points if my memory is right, and it was a little anti‑climactic because everybody went out and Scelzi won, but it turned out to be by such a small margin, I think that was the first time everybody kind of stood back and went, whoa, round wins are great but now all of a sudden you've got these small points.
I applaud NHRA for throwing these little small three points, two points and one point for the top three in each session.  It's really kind of spiced everything up as far as qualifying.
I'll tell you, I don't know about Todd, I would imagine he's the same way, and I know Jack is, but Ron Tobler is, he is like Pac Man.  When we go to the starting line, he wants to gather up those points.  It's like a game for him to out do these other crew chiefs.
You know, we're going to look at‑‑ we can't make this up on just Thursday.  We can whittle away at it on Thursday, we can whittle away on it on Friday, and hopefully get close enough that Saturday we can position ourselves ahead of Jack.
But again, you're talking about a car that has qualified top of the pack for a lot of these races, for the last‑‑ God, I don't know, Jack, 10‑‑
JACK BECKMAN:  Yeah, 10, 11 races.
RON CAPPS:  Top three in qualifying, so it's going to be tough.
JACK BECKMAN:  Yeah, and my take on this is I'm a huge fan of NHRA, and I appreciate their flexibility.  They've kind of evolved not only the points system but the oil‑down penalties, but I'm a little bit of a critic of this.  I agree with Ron that having qualifying bonus points has made it more exciting.  I think they're way too high in relation to a round win.
I think if you're going to have three, two and one points per session for qualifying, you need to take the round win points back up to 50 points a round.  At one point they were 200 points a round, and the qualifying points were only a tiebreaker.
Even though our team has benefitted more from these points than every other car in the Countdown, I need to be objective about this.  I still don't think it's a good proportion there.
Another thing to keep in mind is an oil‑down penalty can be devastating to somebody.  If you oil down on race day, that's 10 points.  The oil‑down policy has changed many times throughout the years.  It used to be that teams had credits, and if you used a credit you didn't lose the points.  Now that's not the case.
So let's say that our team went out there and Ron and I both went out the same round, but our team oiled the racetrack.  We'd be ahead by four points, oops, we just lost 10 points for oiling down and that was the championship.  So I would like to see NHRA address that specifically in the Countdown.  You don't want something like that to decide the championship.
And while I know they're trying to discourage oil downs, all the cars that are in contention for the championship are the ones that have done a fantastic job of not oiling the racetrack.  You can't have a points‑‑ a page 7 issue in the rule book decide the championship.  The cars should be able to do that on the racetrack.

Q.  On the last call, Jack mentioned that he began drag racing I guess in Abilene when he was in the Air Force with an ElCamino.  I wonder, Jack, if you can just give us a bit more background on that.  What got you hooked on drag racing, and I'd like to ask the same question of Ron.  What was your first drag race and what got you hooked?
JACK BECKMAN:  Well, I was seven years old, and my mom's brother, my uncle John, took my brother and I to Orange County International Raceway, so '73 or '74, and just the first time I saw those cars, felt those cars, smelled those cars, listened to them and watched them, everything about them was absolutely thrilling.  And from that day I knew that I wanted to drag race.
And my dad was a hot rodder.  He liked working on cars.  He wasn't a drag racer but he was always mechanical, so I got that from him, and I bought the ElCamino from my dad.  I took my driving test on my 16th birthday on it, and then I started tinkering with it, intake manifold, headers, cam shaft, stuff like that.  I went in the Air Force when I was 17, and I was stationed in Clovis, New Mexico.  I drove it 100 miles to Lubbock, Texas, and that's where I made my first run down the drag strip.  I still have my time slip somewhere; it was 15:06 at 90 miles an hour.
And from that day on, I got out in '88 and I started bracket racing pretty regularly.  It was all about getting a good time slip.  I just tinkered on the car and tried to go out there on the track to see if what I did had the right effect.  Then I saw that you could race for a trophy, and from that day on consistent and getting a trophy.
Then I saw these guys that were getting money for races, and then I started racing for money, and it's kind of come full circle.  I'm right back to the only thing that matters is that time slip and trophy anymore.
RON CAPPS:  I was in my mom's belly at my first race.  She used to drive.  She actually drove a front motor car when she met my dad, and my dad raced.  He was kind of the track champion at Santa Maria California track that was open.
As far back as I can remember we went to the March Games, whether my dad was racing or just in the stands in a camper, and then I was also at the Lions Drag Strip, so I've got a picture somewhere of the sky writer airplane above me writing the last drag race when I was six years old.
I grew up going to the drag strip.  And then I wanted to be obviously a racer some day but I didn't have rich parents or a sponsor or anything, and I learned how to work on them and grew up working on them with my dad, and I was a crew member on an alcohol dragster for several years and hung around Alan and Blaine Johnson, and they took me under their wing and taught me a lot of things working on their alcohol car.
So that's kind of how it was.  I was a crew member before I drove with aspirations to drive, and I finally got that shot to drive, and that's kind of where it happened.

Q.  So I imagine either of you winning this world championship is just the end of a long, long journey, right?
RON CAPPS:  Yeah.  Well, my dad, it's interesting because he lives through me.  And my mom does, as well.  It's funny to be in this position.  It's weird for me still to walk out of the trailer and see little kids out there at the ropes because I feel like it's yesterday being at the March Meet and watching Garlits work on his car and we were huddled around one and a half feet, I remember handing him a ratchet that he dropped on the ground.  I was maybe eight or nine years old.  And there was no ropes back then, and he had his fire suit on tied around his waist, and I leaned over and I handed him the wrench, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
It's strange to be in the position that I'm in to be paid to it what I love to do, get paid to do what I used to be such a huge fan of as a kid.
JACK BECKMAN:  Yeah, I totally agree.  When I got out of the Air Force in '88 I went on the road with the nitro Funny Car team, Tim Grose, and I thought that was going to be ticket to eventually get behind the wheel, and I was the bottom end guy on that car.  Unfortunately even back in '88 things were the same, it took money to run these cars, and after a couple months the sponsorship wasn't coming in and I had a good job offer from Westinghouse elevator and I wound up going and doing that as a career for 10 years and racing my own car.
But like Ron, my dad wasn't famous and he didn't have a lot of money, so there's a lot of different paths to getting to where we are.  But when I go sign at the ropes, it's still a little bit surreal to me because to me I am looking at a seven‑year old, and that's me 39 years ago.
It's just hard for me to put myself in the frame of the drivers when I was a kid because I thought they were 30 feet tall and could do no wrong, the James Warrens and the Don Prudhommes, so I think Ron would agree, too, we both have a lot of these pinch‑me moments.  We get a paycheck to do what we absolutely love to do.

Q.  To both of you, I think that's absolutely marvelous how you talk to intently using the word team and how it's so important what the whole team does.  Narrow it down just a little bit if you can.  Both of you have been able to sit and look and see what the future holds, and what does this time period between LasVegas and the final race of the season mean to you at this point in time?
RON CAPPS:  I don't know, I'm in a weird frame of mind right now.  I was going into Vegas, I knew what we had to do, and to come out with a win like we did was great.  But I found myself with a really strange calming effect on Sunday.  I think it had a lot to do with Ron Tobler and my team and just we found our car again and we were back to what we did earlier in the season, all those final rounds and just the confidence that was built, that it helped me as a driver.  I really found myself in a good place on Sunday driving the car.
It was kind of strange because I'm always talking‑‑ a lot of drivers kind of hide the nervousness that we get, and I've been pretty vocal and not afraid to say, look, I was throwing up this morning before first round or whatever it took, and I've always done my job in the cars even though I was‑‑ either had anxiety or as nervous as I was.
But I'll tell you, I felt so good, I woke up Monday morning and I just couldn't wait‑‑ I can't wait for Pomona.  I kept telling myself yesterday the same thing, I can't wait, I feel so confident that we're going to be able to at least show up and give the fans a run for this against Jack's car and make it fun.  Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.
Tobler is, Jack can tell you, he's brought a lot of confidence to me, and I find myself just‑‑ I've been through this, and somebody told me this yesterday, look, how many times have you had a shot at a championship.  This one feels different for some reason, and that's a good thing.
JACK BECKMAN:  Yeah, and for me we were right here last year.  We ran Matt Hagan in I think it was the second round in Pomona, and that could have been the championship had we been able to beat him, and they outran us, and they got a well‑deserved championship, but fortunately we're right back in a position to win again it this year.
I totally agree with Ron.  I taught at the Frank Hawley school for 11 years, still teach there on occasion, and students used to ask me how come you don't get nervous.  And I said, what would make you think I don't get nervous.  I'm human and I absolutely get those butterflies and that feeling.  It's what you do with it and it's how you manage it.
And you'd like to think that when you get in that moment that you'll perform okay.  But unless you've been tested, you don't know for certain.
And I would say the same thing.  Sunday in Vegas it was‑‑ every round was absolutely crucial, but I felt pretty confident.  And the interesting thing is we didn't have the car that we'd have the last nine races.  So I'm not quite sure‑‑ the confidence did not come from knowing we had the best car that day.  I think it came from knowing we had a good car, we had a good chance of winning, and that no matter what, based on all the changes earlier this year and us dipping down to sixth in the points, we're right back in the hunt on this, and that's all anybody can ask for.  It's a very satisfying type of emotion to know that at the end of the year‑‑ people always ask in the off‑season what's your goal for next year, and my answer is always the same:  I'd like to win at least three races and roll into Pomona with a shot at the championship, and bingo, here we are again.  So it's hard to be upset and worked up about that.
I've also got a five‑year‑old and a one‑year‑old, so it's not like I can get home and start meditating and thinking about things.  I'm going to go mow the lawn when I'm done talking to you guys.  I was working on the motor home all day yesterday.  There's normal, everyday things to get done here, so I'm not dwelling on the Funny Car championship 24/7, which is a nice thing.

Q.  I know both of you guys are rockers.  I was wondering what song you're listening to right now to get yourself psyched up, and Jack, I was wondering if your crew still has a rule that you can't sing.
JACK BECKMAN:  It's not so much a rule, it's just a fact of life I can't sing.  You know the deal, it's classic rocker, it's long‑haired metal music.  We just got back from a 6,000 mile round trip, and with the kids, there's not a lot of opportunity for me to listen to music.  If Leila is riding up front with my wife and she wants to take a nap, I'm not going to be the guy that wakes up the one‑year‑old with the music.  But my son Jason is five, and I'm kind of trying to indoctrinate him into the classic rock thing, so I brought along all my .38 Special and Journey and Boston CDs, and I was so upset when he told me he didn't like one of the songs by Boston, I was going to disown him or do a DNA test on him.  But then when he said, when "Long Time" came on there, he goes, Dad, I really like this song.  And then I started thinking about the words to that song, without getting way into it, I thought, that kind of sums up a lot of this journey and where we're going here.
RON CAPPS:  I've been a little more on the harder side.  Stone Sour is what we were listening to in Vegas that got me pumped up.  Hopefully I get some of my rocker friends out in Pomona to get us in the right frame of mind.  Usually that's the case.  They all come out for Pomona, so it's always a good time.
But yeah, I need to have something to get my blood boiling before I get in the car for sure.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, and this will conclude our conference call for the day.  Thank you to all of the racers for joining us, and especially Jack and Ron, thank you for joining us, as well.

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