NHRA: Capps tops Head after remembering the past

Gary Densham had a sign on the back of his trailer asking for financial support for his racing operation. His car was black, devoid of the color livery of a sponsored team.

Same with Jim Head. No sponsor, no commitment to running the full NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing season.

Yet Densham and Head faced off in the Funny Car semifinals at the 49th Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. What does that say about the economics at play in professional motorsports when a couple of independents can get just as far as cars backed by NAPA Auto Parts and the Auto Club of Southern California?

Well, it says there are still sponsor bargains to be had. It also says that Densham and Head know what they’re doing, that professional racers have become notoriously adept and learning to steal from Peter to pay Paul, that they will manipulate parts and favors and do everything they can to squeeze every ounce of horsepower out of an engine that produces 7,000 of them.

Head’s Toyota Solara won the battle against Densham’s Chevy Impala but later lost the war to Ron Capps, who was happy to break a 40-race winless streak in the option year of NAPA’s contract with Don Schumacher Racing. Capps’ Dodge Charger laid down the law by beating Robert Hight’s Ford Mustang in the semifinals with a 1,000-foot run of 4.054 seconds to Hight’s 4.084. Head didn’t post a time in the finals as Capps easily won for the 26th time in his career.

Densham, 62, and Head, 59 — comprising one of the oldest pairings in NHRA history — would love to have team owner Kenny Bernstein’s problem. Bernstein is celebrating his 30th year with Budweiser sponsorship, but in this uncertain climate — he has Bud locked up only through 2009 — he has begun trimming the fat in his Top Fuel operation as a precautionary measure. “Anything that doesn’t have to do with the racecar,” he said.

Bernstein is as good a businessman as he was a racer. Even he must have appreciated what Densham and Head accomplished on their modest budgets.

If nothing else, they toyed with the psyche of Capps, who is among the favorites to contend for the Funny Car title.

As Capps sat in the cockpit and wheeled his car forward in the staging lanes, he started to think, which sometimes can do more harm than good. That was almost the case on Tuesday.

“I kind of looked at my crew guy and said this is kind of the finals for us, looking at the pair in front of us,” Capps said, noting that he was going up against another favorite in Hight. “And then I think to myself, ‘Wait a second, you have to take those guys seriously.’ Densham was ahead of us in points most of the year last year. So was Head for awhile, so those are two cars who can run with anybody. Head could run low ET each round himself.

“When we got ready to fire the car, we saw that Head had run in front of us and had run a 4.10 and it was like, ‘See, there you go, that’s what I’m talking about.’ He can run with anybody so you couldn’t just go up there and think you just have to run OK to beat him. That’s not the case.”

Capps then made an admission about last season’s final in Seattle.

“We thought we had it wrapped up and we got a little bit cocky and lost to (Tony) Bartone,” Capps said. “I was counting on that trophy. I learned a big, valuable lesson.”

So when he pulled ot the line against Head, he was dialed in. He and crew chief Ed “Ace” McCullough were the low ET in each of the first three rounds in putting down John Force, Bob Tasca III and Hight.

But the opening event of the 2009 season showed that all the spoils this season may not belong solely to the rich. Some teams are used to running without the fat, and it has made them awfully fast.


One Response to “NHRA: Capps tops Head after remembering the past”

  1. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    Are you tension? panic?

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