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Capps Finally Gets His Funny Car Championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 13 2016
Ron Capps is no longer Mr. Second Place. He picked up enough points in qualifying on Saturday at Pomona to win his first NHRA Funny Car championship.

Ron Capps is no longer Mr. Second Place. He picked up enough points in qualifying on Saturday at Pomona to win his first NHRA Funny Car championship. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

Ron Capps was crowned 2016 NHRA Funny Car world champion Saturday in Pomona, Calif., and has the unmistakable bling to prove it.

“This is epic,” Capps said after receiving the Mello Yello champion’s jacket and dinner plate-sized nhra logogold medal he dubbed “My Mr. T starter kit” at the conclusion of qualifying for the 52nd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Capps and the team led by crew chief Rahn Tobler delivered the 16th NHRA world championship and $500,000 bonus to Don Schumacher Racing after finishing as point runner-up on a record four occasions. Capps will start Sunday’s eliminations with leads of 92 and 112 points, respectively, over DSR teammates Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr., with the most a driver can earn on the final day of the Countdown to the Championship is 80.

A protégé of NHRA Funny Car and Top Fuel legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Capps began the weekend at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona Friday as the winningest driver, with 50 victories, to never have won a championship. That tagline now is out-of-date.

“I really haven’t slept well since the Countdown started after Labor Day,” said Capps, who lost a lead of  202 points for clinching the regular-season title following 18 races. Points were reset to start the six-race Countdown playoff among the 10 championship contenders.

“We got to the Countdown with a big lead and I thought, ‘OK, now we really have a shot at it,” said Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. “It really came together, but man, what a fight. To be a Mello Yello Series champion and take the crown from Del Worsham _ who I thought represented NHRA as well as anyone could _ I’m really proud to take this and carry it on.

“My stomach has been in a knot since Indy. I’m not sure I’ll sleep tonight. It hasn’t sunk in. I have to tell you that the trophy should be broken into a trillion pieces and given to all our fans. We have the best fans and this is definitely for all of them.

“I’ve been afraid to do anything all week. I was like bubble-wrapped _ I didn’t want to hurt myself. I didn’t want to start a speech. I was afraid to jinx anything. Yeah, it was tough to get that close to the championship so many times before. I hadn’t given up; I just gave up trying so hard and really worrying about winning a championship. But we were really in contention for the championship every year, and I don’t think there is a Funny Car driver out there who can say that they’ve been in contention every year of their career like I have.”

Tobler, meanwhile, secured his fourth world championship as crew chief and first with DSR after winning two with Shirley Muldowney in Top Fuel and one with Cruz Pedregon in Funny Car.

“We kept digging and digging, and Rahn Tobler had that eye. I can’t even tell you how focused Tobler has been this year,” said Capps, who was the series runnerup in 1998, 2000, 2005 and 2012. “With everything we got this year _ my 50th career win, passing some people I really looked up to in the sport with wins _ that’s mind-boggling for me.

“This was the toughest Funny Car class ever and the 50th anniversary of the Funny Car, which was awesome. What a great, great season, and it’s epic to do this here at Pomona, where I sat in the grandstands growing up and watched all of the greats.”

Capps’ championship went into the books two weeks after teammate Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team clinched its second straight and third overall Top Fuel title in five years. This is the fourth time since 2005 that DSR has won both nitro world championships _ Brown and Capps this year, Tony Schumacher and Hagan in 2014, Brown and Jack Beckman in 2012 and Schumacher and Gary Scelzi in 2005.

“On behalf of everyone at Mopar, congratulations to Ron Capps and the Don Schumacher Racing team on achieving the ultimate goal in NHRA drag racing,” said Pietro Gorlier, head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global. “This has truly been a tremendous season, and we extend our gratitude to everyone involved in the achievement of bringing another NHRA championship to Mopar. We are very proud of the entire team’s extraordinary accomplishments throughout the season and the collective effort at Don Schumacher Racing that made this a very memorable year for all of us.”

Capps made his NHRA debut in 1995 in Roger Primm’s Top Fuel dragster, and earned his first career Wally that season in the national event at Kent, Wash., near Seattle. Competing in a limited six-race schedule in 1996, Capps caught the eye of fellow-Californian Prudhomme. Capps made the move to Funny Car in ’97 and finished fifth in points. He became the first Funny Car driver to exceed 315 mph when he posted a quarter-mile lap in 315.45 mph at Baytown, Texas, near Houston, en route to being named Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner as the series’ top rookie.

A 51-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif., Capps launched his bid for the 2016 championship with a win at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, where he defeated 2015 world champ Worsham.

Capps and his NAPA team were a dominant force during a seven-race span this season which began in Epping, N.H., and ended in Sonoma, Calif. During that time he posted victories at Epping, Englishtown, N.J., and Norwalk, Ohio; runnerup finishes at Joliet, Ill., and Sonoma and a semifinal appearance in Bristol, Tenn.

In other qualifying action, J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Beckman (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were pole-winners in their respective categories at the 24th and final event of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

While Brown clinched the Top Fuel world title two weeks ago in Vegas, the Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle championships will be decided Sunday. Eliminations are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Fox Sports 1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage Sunday at 11:30 a.m. (EST) and three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m.

Beckman posted the second-quickest Funny Car pass in history when he covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.825-seconds at 332.10 mph in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge to claim the No. 1 qualifier. Beckman has six poles this year and 21 in his career. He will face John Bojec in the first round of eliminations. 

“We were the last car down the track but you heard how fanatical the people were who stuck around,” said “Fast Jack,” the 2012 world champion. “I think what made it really special was when we pulled back into our pits, the fans were six-deep there and cheering and going crazy because they knew we did something really special. I was just one-tenth of a team that did something really special here.”

Courtney Force of John Force Racing qualified second at 3.869-seconds and 324.83 mph in her Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS. Courtney, who has one win in four final-round appearances this season, will go up against Jim Campbell to open eliminations. Johnson Jr. is third and paired with Dave Richards while 16-time world champion John Force is fourth and set to battle two-time world champ Pedregon. Capps qualified fifth and will face Chad Head in Round 1.

Top Fuel’s Todd navigated the 1,000-foot distance in 3.680-seconds at 327.82 mph in his SealMaster dragster to take pole position. Todd bagged his first top qualifier of the season, ninth of his career and first at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Todd won the event in Sonoma earlier this year and also has posted four runnerup finishes this season. He will go head-to-head with Troy Buff in the first round.

“I thought maybe we would see a run like that last night or in tonight’s session, but not in the middle of the day like that with the sun on the track and the temperature up,” said Todd, who will look to earn his 10th career victory Sunday. “It surprised me when I looked up and saw the scoreboard. This thing has been trying to run really well for a long time and here at the last handful of races it’s really come together. Hopefully we are going in the right direction for 2017.”

Doug Kalitta, Todd’s Kalitta Motorsports teammate, qualified second at 3.709-seconds and 327.90 mph in his Mac Tools dragster. Kalitta, a three-time 2016 winner, will open eliminations against Shawn Reed. Defending event-winner and 2013 world champ Shawn Langdon is third and paired with Tripp Tatum while Brown is fourth and matched against Morgan Lucas.

In Pro Stock, Line pushed his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro to a quarter-mile pass in 6.545-seconds at 211.33 mph to claim pole. This is Line’s eighth pole of the year, 49th of his career and fifth at the Finals. He will begin Sunday’s eliminations with a 23-point/one-plus round advantage over Ken Black Racing teammate Greg Anderson, a four-time world champ. Line will race Alan Prusiensky in the first round.

“I’d rather be up 23 points than 19 points,” said Line, a two-time world champion and eight-time 2016 event-winner. “The runs were nice. My first run this morning was very good and it was actually faster than we thought it could go. I think the track is going to be even better (Sunday). We’re pretty happy with everything. (Greg and I) are No. 1 and No. 3 in the two Summit cars and we have a chance to meet in the final. That’d be a storybook ending and it would be really fun to duke-it-out in the final.”

Bo Butner, teammate to Line and Anderson, is second at 6.553-seconds at 210.57 mph in his Jim Butner Auto Camaro. Butner will race Deric Kramer Sunday morning. Anderson is third at 6.555-seconds at 210.80 mph in his Summit Camaro and will go heads-up with Seattle-area winner and Rookie of the Year candidate Aaron Strong. Vincent Nobile, winner at Reading, Pa., is fourth while St. Louis-area winner Alex Laughlin sits fifth in his Gas Monkey Energy Camaro.

Savoie sprinted to his third consecutive pole in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a quarter-mile pass in 6.825-seconds at 194.97 mph aboard his White Alligator Racing Suzuki. Savoie posted the eighth No. 1 of his career and second consecutive at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Savoie, who raced to victory in Las Vegas two weekends ago, will open eliminations against Angie Smith. The Louisiana alligator farmer has a four-point lead over three-time world champion Eddie Krawiec and an 11-point advantage over his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines, the five-time/reigning world champ.

“Whatever happened here today and yesterday is all behind us,” said Savoie, who is chasing his first world championship. “Tomorrow is another day and we’ll take it round-by-round. With the points, basically what is going to have to happen unless we all lose in the semis together, we’re going to have to go to the finals. We’ve got to stay focused and not get nervous.”

Krawiec qualified second with a 6.828-second pass at 196.70 mph aboard his Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Krawiec is paired with Shawn Gann in the first round. Hector Arana Jr. is third at 6.856-seconds at 195.51 mph aboard his Lucas Oil Buell and will race Fred Camarena, while Hines is fourth and matched against Rookie of the Year candidate Cory Reed.

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Sunday’s first-round eliminations pairings for the 52nd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the last of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. J.R. Todd, 3.680-seconds, 327.82 mph  vs. 16. Troy Buff, 3.879, 305.49; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.709, 327.90  vs. 15. Shawn Reed, 3.849, 319.22; 3. Shawn Langdon, 3.713, 327.43  vs. 14. Tripp Tatum, 3.815, 313.95; 4. Antron Brown, 3.713, 326.56  vs. 13. Morgan Lucas, 3.800, 322.65; 5. Leah Pritchett, 3.715, 328.62  vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.792, 323.89; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.716, 328.14  vs. 11. Wayne Newby, 3.766, 326.79; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.723, 329.34  vs. 10. Clay Millican, 3.761, 321.88; 8. Brittany Force, 3.731, 323.27  vs. 9. Richie Crampton, 3.733, 320.66.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Scott Palmer, 3.953, 285.05; 18. Terry Haddock, 4.026, 235.39; 19. Steve Faria, 4.191, 212.16.

Funny Car _ 1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.825, 332.84  vs. 16. John Bojec, Toyota Camry, 4.029, 310.34; 2. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.869, 324.83  vs. 15. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.977, 302.82; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.873, 326.95  vs. 14. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 3.975, 316.60; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.879, 330.96  vs. 13. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.950, 319.37; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.883, 325.45  vs. 12. Chad Head, Camry, 3.945, 325.06; 6. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.889, 329.75  vs. 11. Paul Lee, Camry, 3.935, 324.83; 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.894, 330.72  vs. 10. Jeff Arend, Camry, 3.930, 317.19; 8. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.912, 327.35  vs. 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.920, 328.38.

Did Not Qualify _17. Jon Capps, 4.053, 307.44; 18. Gary Densham, 4.071, 268.33; 19. Bob Bode, 4.103, 268.44; 20. Anthony Begley, 4.145, 286.50; 21. Brandon Welch, 4.249, 246.03; 22. John Hale, 4.390, 214.93.

Pro Stock _ 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.545, 211.33  vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.659, 208.07; 2. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.553, 210.57  vs. 15. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.636, 209.04; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.555, 211.30  vs. 14. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.626, 209.01; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.570, 211.13  vs. 13. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dart, 6.610, 208.78; 5. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.570, 210.97  vs. 12. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.608, 210.05; 6. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.573, 210.57  vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.603, 209.95; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.593, 210.37  vs. 10. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.601, 209.82; 8. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.593, 209.92  vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.594, 209.82.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Joey Grose, broke.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.825, 196.19  vs. 16. Angie Smith, Victory, 6.965, 193.82; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.828, 196.70  vs. 15. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.952, 192.44; 3. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.856, 195.65  vs. 14. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.916, 195.39; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.856, 195.00  vs. 13. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.911, 192.80; 5. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.859, 195.73  vs. 12. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.909, 192.47; 6. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.862, 195.79  vs. 11. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.890, 195.48; 7. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.870, 196.82  vs. 10. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.889, 193.99; 8. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.872, 194.49 vs. 9. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.879, 193.71.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Karen Stoffer, 6.988, 194.63; 18. Chaz Kennedy, 7.004, 191.16; 19. Jim Underdahl, 7.007, 193.60; 20. Luke Crowley, 7.021, 192.00; 21. Gunner Courtney, 7.084, 186.36; 22. Scott Bottorff, 7.086, 187.99; 23. Lance Bonham, 8.322, 185.66.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 13 2016
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