Capps Heads West To Re-Fire Some Momentum
This year, Ron Capps has been point man in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in recent racing memory. It’s been a turnaround that has shot him and his NHRA Funny Car team to second place in the standings and has the leader looking back over his shoulder.
But as the NHRA begins its annual Western Swing this weekend with three days of racing in the rarefied air of mile-high-plus Bandimere Speedway in the Front Range foothills of the Rocky Mountains, observers have to be asking if Capps’ the run to the top has stalled out.
Or, on the heels of back-to-back disappointing outcomes, is his momentum just taking a breather.
During a teleconference last week to talk about the Western Swing – which features the three events at Denver, Sonoma, Calif. and then Seattle – Capps sounded grounded when it comes to things like momentum and hot streaks.
“You know,” Capps said, “Snake (his old boss, Don Prudhomme) used to say you don’t want to start drinking your own bath water, and that’s what you don’t want to do is start reading your own press clippings.”
Capps started the year with very little water in his tub. In the first three events, he and his Don Schumacher Racing team were qualifying mid-pack. On race days, they were finishing mid-pack. When
they arrived at Las Vegas for the fourth event of the season, they were sixth in points and coming off of back-to-back second-round losses.
Hopes for a 2012 Funny Car championship had to be pretty thin because the Capps team had become a punching bag for John Force Racing: All three events ended with JFR drivers pounding on Capps as Mike Neff bounced the DSR team out of the first two events and then Robert Hight out of the third.
How much worse could things get for Capps? Much worse.
In race No. 4, at The Strip in Las Vegas, the blue-and-yellow NAPA car team failed to qualify.
Team-owner Don Schumacher had seen enough. Officially, crew chief Tim Richards resigned. Whatever the circumstances, change was made.
Brought in was veteran Rahn Tobler. And the reversal of fortune was immediate. Capps qualified second fastest the next three times out. And he began piling up elimination-round victories.
After advancing to the finals at the quirky Four-Wides in Charlotte, Capps and Tobler made it to the finals in Houston, before losing to Neff late in the day.
The next event, in Atlanta, Capps’ DSR team got the victory, beating Hight in the finals.
After Atlanta, the wonderful ride continued with runs to the finals in Topeka and Englishtown before another victory was posted at Thunrder Valley in Bristol.
Capps headed to Route 66 in Joliet second in points and with Funny Car leader Hight talking about having the DSR team nipping at his heels.
Capps and his team were smart enough to brush that kind of talk aside.
“You know,” the California native said, “I’ve been in this position before where I’ve led the points at a certain point in the season, and you just try to keep everybody on the team even keel, and you don’t want to get too excited about it.”
Helping temper Capps’ and team’s excite levels has been what has happened the last two times out. Capps lost to rookie Alexis DeJoria in the first round at Route 66, ending his six-race run of advancing to elimination finals.
And then he was knocked out in the second round by Bob Tasca III – and himself – at Norwalk when Capps DQ’d for crossing the center line. “That was just driver error,” Capps said. “We got a little out of the groove and the Dodge pulled hard to the left. It was my fault.”
But the Western Swing has been good to Capps over his career. He has won six titles at the three venues and has been a runner-up eight times.
Capps calls the Western Swing his home and says with the cars Tobler and his crew have put under him, a Swing sweep is not out of the question.
“I’ve gotten to win at Denver, I won Seattle my rookie year in Top Fuel and a couple times in Funny Car,” Capps said. “We’ve never done it all together, which would be cool, and I got the race car now with Tobler and John Collins and all the guys.”
Counting Colorado, there are five races left until the start of the Countdown playoff. Capps said it is that, and not hot streaks or cold streaks or crossing center lines which concern him as he heads west.
“Now we have a Countdown,” he said, “it’s completely different, and we’re chasing Robert Hight’s team for first place for the regular season, trying to gain those 20 points going into the Countdown. Just a lot of little things going on. It’s neat to come November when we’re off and I’m in Hawaii after the season is over and you can relax and reflect on the season and what we’ve done, then that’ll be cool, and hopefully we’re wearing a championship ring at the time.
“Right now I’ve been here. I don’t want to get too excited about what’s going on right now because you can be humiliated pretty quick. It’s part of our sport, but you definitely don’t want to start looking around and puffing your chest out.”
Especially with the next event being in oxygen-starved Colorado.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment