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A Championship Would Cap Capps’ Career

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 21 2012

Ron Capps has come close to winning a Funny Car championship, but not as close as he would like. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Pope)

ENNIS, Texas – Ron Capps is to the NHRA Funny Car class what Mark Martin is to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series – arguably, the best driver never to have won a championship.

Capps’ pursuit of that elusive first world title recently prompted him to network with a driver familiar with the art of closing the deal, times five.

“I’ve called my buddy Jimmie Johnson up and talked to him,” said Capps, referring to the five-time Cup champion and fellow-Californian. Turns out that while Johnson wasn’t exactly the 14th Dalai Lama, he made sense.

“You kind of go, ‘Aaah. There’s no definite answer. You just show up and do the best at what you can do,’ ” Capps said. “I think what we’ve done in the past here with (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and my team, we keep doing that. If we keep doing that, we’re going to be fine.“

Seeded No. 1 among the 10 Funny Car drivers competing in the NHRA’s six-race Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, Capps posted his fourth victory of the season at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., last Sunday. Capps, of Don Schumacher Racing, defeated driver/tuner Mike Neff of John Force Racing in the rain-delayed final with a run of 4.067-seconds at 315.49 mph to extend his lead over Neff from 30 to 73 points (2,230-2,157).

Round 2 of the Countdown began with the first of two rounds of qualifying Friday afternoon for the 27th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex. Capps stood ninth on the provisional ladder after an aborted 1,000-foot pass of 5.016-seconds at 151.44 mph on a hot Texas afternoon with track

Ron Capps is coming off a victory at zMAX. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

temperatures measured at 124 degrees on the all-concrete surface.

The session was topped by Courtney Force, driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang, at 4.182-seconds and 295.92 mph. A Funny Car rookie, Courtney is seventh in Countdown points.

Meanwhile, Khalid alBalooshi of Al-Anabi Racing paced Top Fuel after a 1,000-foot pass of 3.882-seconds and 309.56 mph. Countdown leader Allen Johnson topped the Pro Stock ladder after a quarter-mile pass of 6.585-seconds and 211.26 mph in his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger. And two-time/reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec led the two-wheelers after a quarter-mile run of 6.906-seconds at 194.30 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod.

Capps has finished second three times in the final Funny Car standings since becoming a fulltime professional racer in 1997, an era dominated by 15-time world champion John Force. Capps won a career-best five races en route to finishing 135 points behind Force in 1998. Two years later, Capps advanced to seven finals and scored one win during a season that saw Force dominate with 11 national event victories.

Capps finished as runnerup to DSR teammate Gary Scelzi by only eight points in 2005, the closest Funny Car margin in NHRA history.

“Things just didn’t fall our way (in ’05),” said Capps, whose seven final rounds and 37 round-wins led the class. “We should have won it. We could have won it. So, yeah, I don’t think there’s any recipe or formula that I can say, Jimmie Johnson, any of those guys could say that was the reason they won the championship. I’ll let you know in November though.”

The Countdown will conclude with the 48th annual AAA Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 8-11. Capps believes Tobler already has the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T dialed-in.

“Everything Rahn has done with the car, really it’s made it one of the best cars in every type of condition that we go to,” Capps said. “That’s, I think, going to be the key.

“I’ve learned long ago, believe me, I don’t take anything for granted. When we’re running good, I’m the last guy talking smack. Those wins, you take them, put them in your pocket, you thank God you got to go to the winner’s circle because it’s so tough to do that nowadays. You don’t get cocky. The guys that are going to get cocky – jump up-and-down, celebrate the week after if they happen to do well at a race in this Countdown – those guys are going to fade quick because you can’t hesitate for a second. You can’t say, ‘Man, look at me.’ You just got to stay focused.”

Force, meanwhile, said he and his team are watching Capps and the DSR camp also featuring Jack Beckman, Johnny Gray and 2011 world champion Matt Hagan – who failed to qualify for this Countdown.

“First, Ron Capps I consider a friend,” said Force, owner/driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang. “He’s the perfect race car driver – good looking, smaller-framed person (5-foot-8, 150 pounds), he’s lightweight in the seat so he’s like a horse jockey. So he’s got everything it takes to win. He’s got good financial backing, and right now he’s the race car to beat. Let’s lay it out there – he’s been there a number of times, he’s had a shot against me and I’ve been able to win. But he has a better race car now. I never bet against myself but right now he’s got the car that we’ve got to beat and we’re coming after him with four Fords.”

Capps’ victory on Sunday was the 36th of his Funny Car career and moved him into third on the all-time list behind Force (134) and two-time world champion Tony Pedregon (43). Ironically, Capps now has one more Funny Car victory than his mentor and former car-owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, a four-time Funny Car world champion.

“Does he (Capps) deserve a championship?” Force asked, rhetorically. “I always say you’ve got to earn that right. But man, he’s been there so many times it’s just going to happen and he’s going to win. This could be his year. And don’t think we’re not focused on him.

“When you got Tobler – who kind of organized that whole Schumacher group and put all them cars on-track – he’s got a car that can win. It’s fast, it’s consistent and Ron Capps can drive a race car, know what I mean? In my opinion, the best ‘leaver’ in the business is Robert Hight. If you look at the stats, Robert Hight, he just doesn’t fail. Cheating a light, so to speak. But Ron Capps, he’s right there with him. So if there was ever a year for Ron Capps, this is the year. That’s why we’re watching his cars, what they can run.”

Force admitted his JFR armada that includes points runnerup Neff, 2009 world champion Hight and daughter Courtney Force are “a little bit behind the Schumacher cars right now” due mainly to a series of funding cuts.

“We’d fallen behind in technology but we turned that around,” said John Force, eighth in the point standings. “It was budget cuts but now things have changed, Ford gave us engineering studies and a lot of stuff back and we brought back John Medlen. We lost John (to DSR) because of budget cuts, and he was an innovator. As well as the Schumacher group is doing and Ron Capps, if you were a betting man, you’d bet on Ron Capps, OK? But when you’ve got 17 championships, like we have at JFR, I wouldn’t bet against us.

“We’re watching the opponent and we’ve seen how we’re going to get around him. How do we go after him? Who’s going to try to out-run him to get those points? Well, right now I can’t outrun anybody, so I’m going to throw nothing but hardballs and the Motorplex is the place to do it because it’s all-concrete. Instead of me going up there and try to just squeak in because I’ve got to make the Countdown, I’m going after every point that Ron Capps can’t get. I got to stop those points.”

Capps has one victory (1998), one runnerup result (2011) and two poles (1997, 2005) on the Motorplex’s all-concrete surface. Capps qualified seventh in the event last fall and was defeated in the final-round by two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon. This weekend’s event is the second of four in a row, leaving little wiggle room on the road to Pomona.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Capps, a 47-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to hiccup and win a championship this year. If you go back and look at the history of the Countdown, we’ve seen a lot of strange things happen. Guys like Robert Hight getting in, going on a tear, won the championship (2009). Right now the class is as stacked as it’s ever been. That’s why we were so bent on trying to get that No. 1 spot, those extra 30 points, because it could come down to it in Pomona.”

Capps, whose upbeat personality has been showcased via a series of TV commercials for NAPA, rates among the most popular drivers in the NHRA paddock. Seemingly all that’s missing from his family life is that championship hardware.

“I feel like I should have been champion, it’s just it didn’t fall our way in the past,” said Capps, whose resume includes one victory in Top Fuel. “I’ve done everything right. You have to have the breaks fall your way. I love that pressure. When there’s 10 seconds left, I want the ball. That’s the kind of team we have. You go through all the list of things that you need to do. You say consistency, horsepower, all this stuff. But to be honest with you, all 10 teams have that quality. It’s just a matter of putting it at the right time.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 21 2012
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