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Prudhomme Is Feeling Snake Bit

Times Staff Writer

This season was to be a celebration of Don Prudhomme’s 100th victory as a driver and team owner in the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series. “The Snake,” who is now 62 and has a Petty-like aura when he walks past, needed only four more victories.

Twenty-two races later, he is still two down.

“I thought we’d cruise right past and be looking at 110, 115,” Prudhomme said Friday in the staging lanes as funny car drivers Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., and top fueler Larry Dixon waited in their cars. They won nine races last season between them.

“It’s been a miserable year, rough on all the drivers and teams,” said Prudhomme, who made his legendary name as a four-time champion and 49-time winner as a driver, 35 in a funny car. “The trick is to bounce back.”

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Prudhomme’s two funny cars must bounce a long way. They have only 14 round victories between them. Capps, incredibly, is 6-20 head-to-head; Johnson is 8-20. Ten drivers have 19 victories or more.

Confronted with the numbers, Capps shakes his head.

Even if he wins the 40th Automobile Club of Southern California Finals at Pomona Raceway on Sunday, he will fail to match his career-worst total for round victories since becoming an NHRA regular in 1997.

“It’s truly amazing,” said Capps, who twice has finished series runner-up. “Sometimes, your wife wants you to leave the house because you’re so depressed and aggravated.”

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Capps ran a 4.887-second pass at 315.86 mph on Friday and is 15th through two rounds of qualifying. Johnson stood on his time from Thursday and is sixth. Del Worsham’s 4.737 pass on Thursday retained the provisional No. 1 spot.

John Force said Prudhomme’s struggle was a huge surprise.

“They have great drivers, qualified tuners and employees, and good funding, but sometimes it just don’t work no matter how hard you try,” he said. “Every time I raced them, I feared them. I never worry about the Snake. He’s been here too long.”

As bad as it has been, Prudhomme said he has had worse. In 1990, he didn’t qualify for nine events and flipped over backward in his top fuel car.

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Still ...

“Who’d ever think Larry Dixon, two-time champion, would finish sixth, have a DNQ and [seven] first-round losses,” said Prudhomme.

Then he snaps from his relaxed position on a golf cart. At the end of 2003, his wife, Lynn, had cancer surgery to remove part of her lung. “Now she’s clean of cancer, so I’m on top of the world,” he said. “It’s a great year. The rest of this stuff is child’s play.”

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Mitch Myers of Hermiston, Ore., ran the quickest time in top alcohol dragster history with a pass of 5.118 seconds at 271.08 mph.

The Darrell Russell Memorial Auction, with proceeds going to his widow, Julie, takes place today. A silent auction is from 3-6 p.m., and a live auction begins at 6 p.m.


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