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Capps To Drive For Capps in 2022

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 14 2021

2021 Funny Car champion Ron Capps, center, will field his own NHRA team next season.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Ron Capps will pursue back-to-back NHRA Funny Car world championships in 2022 in the brave new role as owner/driver.

NHRA’s two-time/reigning Funny Car champ, Capps announced formation of Ron Capps Motorsports during the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis on Dec. 10. Capps, who clinched his second championship at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 14, had confirmed his rumored exit from Don Schumacher Racing via a social media post on Nov. 19. 

“It’s probably been the worst kept secret out there,” said Capps, addressing speculation about his future. “It’s hard to keep something secret that you’re so excited about, you just want to shout it from the rooftop. But I’m so thrilled that it’s finally out there.

“Team ownership has been a lifelong dream. I’ve been in the sport of NHRA Drag Racing for almost 30 years as a driver and being able to race for legends like Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme, and then Don Schumacher, it’s obviously been an incredible experience. I’ve been very fortunate to compete at a high level all these years and be successful, and it feels like the right time to take this next step.”

Capps has been a fulltime competitor in Funny Car since 1997, the year he won NHRA’s Road to the Future/Rookie of the Year award after making his series debut in a Top Fuel dragster in 1995.

Capps will contest the full 22-race NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule with a solid shot at adding a third championship. Capps’ entire championship-winning team from DSR will remain intact at RCM. Crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and John Medlen will continue to call the shots on a car that also has retained NAPA Auto Parts as primary sponsor.

Antonelli and Medlen guided Capps to two wins, five final-round appearances and four No. 1 qualifier awards in 2021, their first season together. Capps advanced to the semifinals or beyond 11 times in 20 events in 2021, led the category in round wins (36) and held the point lead five times throughout the year, including on three occasions during the expanded seven-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

In addition, RCM will continue to operate out of the Don Schumacher Racing headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind.

Capps finished 37 points (2,676-2,639) _ basically two rounds of racing _ ahead of DSR teammate and three-time world champion Matt Hagan in the final standings.

“Obviously, 2021 was one of the toughest Funny Car battles in NHRA history and it came right down to the wire,” said Capps, NHRA’s second-winningest Funny Car driver with 67 victories (and one in Top Fuel). “But for me, what stands out the most about this past season was working with longtime friend ‘Guido’ Antonelli, John Medlen and this great NAPA AutoCare team.”

Capps won his first championship with DSR in 2016. This title was a first for the Capps-Antonelli-Medlen triumvirate, which began working together in January 2020 after Rahn Tobler announced his retirement ahead of the 2021 season.

“We were put together last-minute in January, and it just reminds you that when you’re surrounded by great people that all share a common goal, great things can happen,” said Capps, a 56-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif. “We fought through a lot of ups and downs throughout the year and nobody ever gave up on anybody else, and that’s what made this championship season so great. Race cars are race cars but it’s all about the people that make that happen, and that’s something NAPA has instilled in me as well.”

NAPA has partnered with Capps since 2007. Capps and NAPA have shared 43 winner’s circle celebrations and his two world championships during that stretch.

“We have built a winning partnership over the years, so it’s natural for NAPA Auto Parts to continue working with Ron through Ron Capps Motorsports,” said Marti Walsh, NAPA’s vice president of marketing. “Ron is part of the NAPA family, and the sport of NHRA Drag Racing is in our DNA. We are excited to partner with Ron as he takes on the dual role of owner/driver.”

Capps will join former DSR teammate Antron Brown, a three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion, as first-time team-owner in 2022. Brown will field AB Motorsports with DSR support next season. In addition, the downsizing of DSR has seen Hagan and Top Fuel regular Leah Pruett join three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart Racing’s start-up NHRA organization. Those moves currently leave DSR as a one-car team featuring the return of seven-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, Don’s son.

“I’ve always kept my eyes and ears open and paid attention to these great team-owners that I’ve worked for, and always hoped that one day I’d have the chance to own my own team,” Capps said. “So, a huge thank you to NAPA Auto Parts for giving me this chance.”

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AB Motorsports will debut as a single-car operation in 2022 campaigning the Matco Tools Toyota Top Fuel dragster with Antron Brown at the wheel and crew chief Brian Corradi making tuning calls.

A 45-year-old native of Chesterfield, N.J., Brown won his Top Fuel titles in 2012 and 2015-16.

Additionally, Lucas Oil Products, Inc., has joined the team as its official lubricants partner. The associate-level partnership will include branding on Brown’s car, firesuit, crew shirts and race haulers. Lucas Oil also will manage AB Motorsports’ double-sided trackside VIP hospitality operation.

Brown’s relationship with the Lucas family extends to the start of his NHRA career in 1998 aboard a Pro Stock Motorcycle. “Family is very important to their operation, and it’s very important to mine as well,” said Brown, NHRA’s Rookie of the Year in 1999.  “We share similar values and I think that’s part of what has kept this relationship so close for so many years. The Lucases are good people and I like to be a part of good people.

“Lucas Oil played such an important role in the earliest part of my career, and I’m so glad we will get to team up again as I embark on this new chapter with my new team. They have been tried-and-true supporters of mine for many years, and I can’t wait to be able to return the favor both on and off the track.”

Indianapolis-based Lucas Oil will return to NHRA’s nitro ranks in a fulltime capacity for the first time since 2018 with Brown.

“We have been focusing our marketing efforts on the Sportsman-level racer and Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle categories for the last few years, but have always kept close tabs on NHRA’s Top Fuel and Funny Car competitors,” said Brandon Bernstein, director of partnership marketing at Lucas Oil, and a former driver of the Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster. “When Antron announced he would be forming his own operation starting in 2022, we knew that teaming up with him would be the perfect opportunity to return to the nitro folds on a fulltime basis and, once again, have a major presence in 11,000-horsepower racing.

“Antron has been part of the Lucas family for many years and is an incredible marketing force. We know he’ll be an excellent ambassador of the Lucas Oil brand, and we look forward to seeing the Lucas logo back in the Top Fuel winner’s circle.”

Steve Torrence, NHRA’s newly-crowned four-time/reigning Top Fuel world champ, said the current owner/driver trend is healthy for the California-based sanctioning body. 

I think our sport is headed in the right direction,” said Torrence, whose family-owned Capco Contractors dragster team includes his father, Billy. “We have multiple teams that are splitting apart and going their own direction. I’m not going to take credit for that but I think we did show that to be successful you don’t have to be part of a conglomerate, multi-car team. You can go out as a one-car or maybe two-car team and have success. You don’t have to do everything in-house, you can buy parts off the shelf. You surround yourself with good people and it gives you a solid foundation to build on.

“It definitely takes time. I think Tony Stewart is going to bring a lot of new eyes to the sport with the crossover from NASCAR, and it’s something that we need.”

Torrence, a 38-year-old resident of Kilgore, Texas, said he will be especially interested in the progress of AB Motorsports. “Antron’s like my brother and I’m super-excited and happy for him,” Torrence said. “He was telling me, ‘Brother, we’re going to have so much fun.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to have a lot more fun than you for, like, the first half of the season.’

“And it’s true. It took us a few years to get our feet on the ground, which we started from nothing. And he’s taking his entire team with him (from DSR); he has a foundation there but it’s still just a lot of work and resources and inventory you have to amass to go out and run these cars the way that we do run them.”

Torrence Racing announced in October it will join Team Toyota beginning with the 2022 season. The additions of Steve and Billy Torrence will expand Toyota’s nitro-powered partnerships to include five Top Fuel dragsters and two Funny Cars. 

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Third-generation drag racer Camrie Caruso has hired former NHRA Pro Stock world champion Jim Yates as crew chief on the Caruso Family Racing Chevrolet Camaro she will debut in February during the NHRA season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Yates, 68, is a two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion (1996-97) who made a virtually seamless transition from driver to crew chief after selling his auto parts business in 2000 and exiting the cockpit for the last time in 2009.

“I want to bring my knowledge and experience to this team to make them the best they can be,” Yates said. “I’ve worked with a variety of drivers with differing experience levels and it helps to have that background. Working with that variety of drivers and also having the experience with a diverse number of power packages is really important to a start-up team, in my opinion.”

Yates won 25 NHRA tour events during his 20-year driving career and was runnerup in 33 others. A graduate of the University of Maryland, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering, Yates proved himself to be as adept in business as in motorsports, building Yates Auto Parts into an enterprise with 23 stores in and around Washington, D.C., supplied by their own warehouse.

After disbanding his team, Yates worked with Johnny and Shane Gray. During Shane’s rookie season Yates directed the two-car operation that finished fourth in the Pro Stock point standings and won the final race of the season. The Gray Motorsports operation went to win the championship in 2018 with Tanner Gray.

Significantly, four of the 500 cubic-inch Gray Motorsports engines, refurbished and now maintained by Eric Latino’s Titan Racing Engines in Denver, N.C., will provide the power for Caruso’s Denver, N.C.-based, Jerry Haas-built Camaro.

“I’m thrilled to have Jim Yates as my crew chief for my rookie season,” said Caruso, 23. “We have a strong team and Jim’s years of experience will only make us stronger. Having a crew chief that has driven as well as tuned these race cars is a huge advantage and one that I’m looking forward to taking full advantage of starting at the Winternationals.”

Camrie is the daughter of former Pro Modified racer Marc Caruso and granddaughter of “Papa Joe” Caruso, who raced in Super Gas, Top Sportsman and Pro Mod.

Camrie Caruso began driving in the NHRA Jr. Dragster League before attending Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and earning her Super Comp license.  She has continued to move up through NHRA’s competition classes for over a decade. After three years of competing in the 8.90 index class, she went back to Frank Hawley and obtained her Top Dragster license, successfully competing in both the Professional Drag Racers Association and NHRA tours for three years.

“If you look at how there are so many young drivers in Pro Stock, I’m really excited about the future with Camrie,” Yates said. “You need personality, a good attitude and ability to drive one of these cars and Camrie brings all those things to the party in aces. I’m excited to be involved with a driver like that who has her family behind her 100 percent.”

In 2019 Camrie landed a seat with the championship Top Alcohol Dragster team of Randy Meyer Racing. In her second start in TAD at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, Caruso qualified second and captured her first win. She advanced from Top Alcohol Dragster to Elite Top Dragster and Pro Outlaw 632 on the PDRA circuit. The team’s 632 car was a naturally-aspirated, clutch-equipped former Mountain Motor Pro Stock Pontiac GXP that is very similar to an NHRA Pro Stock car.

“I feel like I’ll get up to speed pretty quickly,” Caruso said of her impending Pro Stock debut. “If it wasn’t for the 632 car, I might not feel the same way. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what to expect.”

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 14 2021
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