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DSR Strikes Gold At Funny Car Swap Meet

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 25 2012

Ron Capps is in contention for the 2012 Funny Car championship – thanks, in part, to a decision made by his team owner. (RacinToday/HHP file photo)

When Don Schumacher Racing’s Jack Beckman and Ron Capps discuss “team orders,” it typically has nothing to do with orchestrating the outcome of an NHRA Funny Car race.

By order of their team-owner, Beckman and Capps swapped crew chiefs and teams in early April, four races into the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season. Half-a-year later, Beckman and Capps stand 1-2 in the Countdown to the Championship point standings on the return trip to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – the venue where this season-altering switcheroo began.

“Schumacher is a genius at doing this, and I don’t second-guess him,” said Beckman, who will take a 23-point lead over Capps into this weekend’s 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals.

“Don, you sometimes sit back and you sometimes wonder what he’s thinking, but everything usually turns out like gold,” Capps said during a recent teleconference with Beckman and third-place Mike Neff of John Force Racing. “All you can do is give him (Schumacher) your full support because he gives you everything you need to win, and you can’t ask for any more than that.”

After Capps failed to qualify for the NHRA Summit Nationals at Vegas on March 31, Schumacher was forced to reorganize when veteran crew chief Tim Richards resigned that night. A Funny Car pioneer, Schumacher opted to move Rahn Tobler, Beckman’s crew chief, over to Capps’ camp. Tobler, in turn, decided to take his crew and race cars with him.

The following week, Schumacher hired veteran Top Fuel crew chief Todd Smith _ who never had led a Funny Car

Jack Beckman has had a winning season for Don Schumacher Racing. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

team – to oversee Beckman and the crew that had worked with Capps for several years.

“From my point of view, I was shocked,” said Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts/Carlyle Tools Dodge Charger R/T. “I came back from the last qualifying run. I was doing an ESPN interview out in the pit area, and one of my crew guys came up right before we went on live and told me that Tim Richards was resigning and he was up packing his stuff up in the crew chief lounge. So I was floored.

“It was a rough weekend. It turned out we had some stuff wrong with that car we found out later, but he was just frustrated for whatever reason. So that’s how I found out. I went back to the hotel room…and I was devastated. So the next day when Schumacher told me what was going to happen, it is what it is, we had to do whatever was best for NAPA.”

Beckman, a 46-year-old resident of Norco, Calif., noted that Smith became the seventh crew chief he has worked with since launching his DSR tenure with the last five races of 2006.

“There’s been some turnover,” said Beckman, driver of the Battery eXtender Powered by Schumacher Electric/Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger R/T. “And it’s not turnover because of lack of security over there, it’s just because we’ve had so many different sponsors, so many different teammates, so many different Funny Car teams that Don has had to shuffle things around to keep everybody competitive. And I learned my lesson a long time ago. Yes, you get disappointed, yes, you get used to the continuity of staying with the same team and change can be difficult, but I’ve never driven for a bad crew chief. In fact, all seven of them have given me a car that’s won a race. So I knew that I had to just check my emotions and that things would eventually swing back to where they are now.

“It was difficult to go out there and end what at the time was the longest qualifying streak in Funny Car when we didn’t make the program at Houston (in late April) and watch us go from I think we were second or third in the points and we slipped down to sixth. That was tough. But we kept our chins up and we kept gathering data, we kept picking away at it. And I also want to say that Ron Culver and John Collins never let us go. They always were there to offer advice and help us and support us. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to be offering us any advice for the next two races, but as you can tell, the proof is the way things turned out for both teams.”

Only Las Vegas-2 and the season-finale at Pomona, Calif., from Nov. 8-11 remain on the schedule – a total of eight rounds of racing. Capps has won four of the last 15 national events while Beckman has won three. Beckman took the point lead from Capps after the most recent race on Oct. 8 at Reading, Pa., where “Fast Jack” earned 20 bonus points for setting the NHRA national ET record of 3.986-seconds over the 1,000-foot distance. Beckman then advanced to the semis after eliminating Capps in Round 2.

A three-time championship runnerup seeking his first world title, Capps has adjusted to his pairing with Tobler, who tuned Cruz Pedregon to the 2008 NHRA Funny Car world championship.

“I took a lot of flak on the message boards,” said Capps, a 47-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif. “People thought the first instincts are I am stealing Jack’s crew. People outside the ropes, they have their thoughts, and it was unfortunate to read a lot of that stuff. It kind of hurt me personally when they don’t know what’s going on inside the camp. I’ve always told Don, whatever your choice is, I’m going to do what you want to do with full support, and Jack is the same way. This is what we do for a living.”

During the summer, Capps advanced to six consecutive championship rounds and won two events. He also produced NHRA’s quickest Funny Car time ever with a run of 3.964-seconds. However, Capps did not secure the NHRA record as he was unable complete another run at Englishtown, N.J., within one percent of the 3.964.

“It was difficult because for me I felt like it was a no-win situation,” Capps said. “If we go out and we did what we did _ in fact went to six final rounds in a row _ I’m doing it in Jack’s old car. Set the quickest run in history, well, I did it with Jack’s old team. So it was almost a no-win situation I was going into, and it’s part of the deal.”

Capps noted that a recent test of his hot rod with veteran driver Tommy Johnson near Indianapolis has buoyed team morale. “We hadn’t tested all year long, so we put our old stuff back in it and the car went right down the track and Tobler figured out what the problem was,” Capps said. “He also found a steering box that was going bad, which could have been disastrous the first qualifying run in Vegas. So that test was, I think, huge for us. I think now we can put that behind us and go forward.”

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 25 2012
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