Capps Hoping To Get Last Laugh in Funny Car Finale

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 13 2022

NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps is looking to add to his trophy stash on Sunday. (File [hoto courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The serious business of determining NHRA’s 2022 Funny Car world champion will play-out in Southern California Sunday afternoon among three drivers boasting a combined eight titles.

Two-time/reigning Ha-Ha Car world champ Ron Capps went “max-cackle” in pursuit of point-leader Robert Hight with a clutch qualifying pass during Saturday’s final round of time trials at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Capps tied the quickest run in his career to qualify No. 1 at the 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, where fellow three-time world champions Hight and Matt Hagan lurk as potential speed bumps.

Capps covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.837-seconds at a track-record 337.33 mph to earn his sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season and 35th in his career. Capps will start Sunday’s eliminations 57 points _ less than two rounds of racing under the event’s unique points-and-a-half format _ behind Hight in a bid to become the first Funny Car driver to win back-to-back championships in 20 years.

Capps will face No. 16 qualifier Jeff Arend and his Chevrolet Monte Carlo in Round 1, with a possible marquee matchup looming in the semifinals against Hight, who qualified fourth at 3.849-seconds and 334.48 mph.

“This is what I talk about when you get into a race car like this and you wish you could make those big runs at the big moments,” said Capps, owner/driver of his Toyota GR Supra. “I know we can go out and throw down with the best. It’s a great feeling, so what a way to end qualifying.”

Capps began the weekend 61 points behind Hight with the goal of capturing as many bonus points as possible. Capps sliced four points off Hight’s advantage to ramp up the budding rivalry between Ron Capps Motorsports and John Force Racing.

After watching Capps struggle through Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying, crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and John Medlen tuned Ron’s Toyota to a 3.864-second elapsed time at 334.15 mph in Q3. That pass launched Capps from 17th and outside the field into fifth. Safely qualified, the co-crew chiefs dialed-in a combination that sent Capps rocketing to P1.

“Man, what a turn of events,” said Capps, a 57-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif. “I was fighting for my life to keep (my car) between the guardrail and the centerline and it was just hunting-and-moving. A lot of times, you think that would take E.T. away, but I felt the clutch come in sooner than normal and I could just tell. (Friday) we had issues; it turned out it was ignition issues, and we found it.

“Today it just had that ‘max-cackle’ that (former Funny Car racer) Gary Scelzi always talked about _when your car is just banging-and-popping and sounding good at idle and you do the burnout and you think, ‘This might be too much.’ It sounded like that all day today.

“We started the season with the No. 1 qualifier at the Winternationals as a new team-owner, and I thought that was crazy, and how much better could it get? Then, we go on to win five races and get the pole here at the end. We’re not going to see these conditions again this year so it’s great to end this way.”

Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Troy Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the 22nd and final event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and sixth race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Sunday’s television coverage will begin with two hours of qualifying highlights on FOX Sports 1 at 2 p.m. (EST) leading into three hours of eliminations at 4 p.m.

Hagan remained in the mix in third after his pass in 3.844-seconds and 323.58 mph left him 62 points behind Hight and five behind Capps. With Hight and Capps on the opposite side of the 16-car ladder, Hagan remains in position to hand rookie NHRA team-owner Tony Stewart the world title either by advancing to the final or winning the Wally trophy.

“It kind of comes down to if (Bob) Tasca can take Hight out in the second round, we still have a real shot at it,” said Hagan, driver of his Charger SRT Hellcat fielded by Tony Stewart Racing. “Then it could be a battle between me and Capps to see who goes the farthest there at the end of the day. We’ve still got a shot at it.”

Hagan reiterated his complete confidence in the tuning trio of Dickie Venables, Mike Knutson and Alex Conway. “Those guys always put an amazing race car underneath me,” said Hagan, a 39-year-old resident of Christiansburg, Va. “This (pressure) is just amplified a little bit more because it’s an opportunity for a championship. It always seems to come down to the last race and the last run and the semifinals or finals, so there’s nothing new there. It’s just knowing that we have to go every round and make every round count.

“Dickie’s a great racer on Sunday. He races the racetrack. He’s good with making the calls up there and the gut decisions to make the car go down the racetrack. I think that we just gotta go race the track, race our race and let the cards fall where they fall.”

If Capps defeats Hight, Ron would need to win the event in order to be crowned 2022 world champion. If Hight is eliminated in either the first or second round, Capps would need to advance to the semifinals or finals, respectively.

“It’s just an emotional rollercoaster,” Capps said. “I forgot all about the math and then someone said that got us three points under (60). Then, I find out that we’re on the same side of the ladder, and it just gets better and better.
“But, it’s a different day (Sunday). New track (surface), new people, new opponents, big moments. I’m going to wake up in my motorhome trackside and have a chance of possibly winning a world championship once again in NHRA. Possibly not, but there’s a good chance. There’s not a better feeling than to wake up and stand here and realize that as a kid, I used to watch the big moments, and now I’m part of some of them.”

Hight is trying to join NHRA legends Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein and teammate John Force as one of the sport’s only four-time Funny Car champions. An eight-time winner this season, Hight will start from the No. 4 position and opposite No. 13 qualifier Chad Green after a best lap of 3.849-seconds in his John Force Racing entry.

Hight has qualified inside the top four in 19 of 22 races this season in the national record-holding Chevrolet Camaro SS tuned by Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham. A 61-time tour winner, Hight has been especially critical of the points-and-a-half setup (30 points per round) in effect for Sunday.

“Two great runs today for this Auto Club Chevy team. It gives us something to work with (for Sunday),” said Hight, a 53-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “It’s going to be an exciting day of racing, that’s for sure. These Auto Club guys have worked hard all season; tomorrow it pays off. We just need to keep our heads down and focus. It’s ours to lose, we know that, and we know what we need to do. I’m ready to get it going and I know every single one of these guys is too.”

Looking to play spoiler, two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon qualified second with a career-best run of 3.840-seconds at 322.58 mph. In fact, “The Cruzer” made the four quickest runs in his career, all in the 3.84 range, in his Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Cruz will face No. 15 seed Jason Rupert in Round 1.

Top Fuel point-leader Brittany Force added a pair of solid passes Saturday, but it was her 1,000-foot run of 3.641-seconds at 338.94 mph from Friday that held up for P1. Force qualified on-pole for an incredible 10th time this season, the 22nd time during the past two years and 42nd time in her career to boost her bid for a second world championship.

Brit will open eliminations against No. 16 Steve Chrisman holding a 26-point lead over Justin Ashley, who will start race day on the opposite side of the ladder against three-time world champion Antron Brown. That means Force, the 2017 world champ, and Ashley could meet in a winner-take-all final. Force earned 13 of the maximum 16 bonus points available during two days of time trails in her John Force Racing rail.

Brit’s 42 career poles are third-most in JFR’s storied nitro-powered history, trailing father “Brute” Force (165) and Robert Hight (77).

“I feel very good going into race day,” said Force, a 36-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “We had four consistent runs, got that No. 1 spot and we picked up some bonus points _ so this Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac team is feeling good.

“When we won the championship in 2017, we came into the race in second place and now we have the lead, so it’s a whole different mindset. I’ve been here before, that gives me a little bit of confidence. We handled it before, it’s familiar territory and we came out on top. So really, it’s just pulling from past experience. This team is incredible what we’ve done all season long, what we’ve done this weekend. We just need to keep on hitting our numbers.”

Force is the last driver not named Steve Torrence to win the NHRA Top Fuel championship. Torrence, the four-time/reigning world champ, made the best run during Saturday’s final session to take the second spot at 3.647 and 332.10 in his family-owned dragster. Torrence, who trails Force by 93 points, will race Ron August in Round 1.

California businessman/racer Mike Salinas, who is 75 points behind Force, was third with a 3.666 at 331.46. Team-owner/driver Brown qualified seventh and is 92 points out of first.

Rising Pro Stock star Troy Coughlin Jr. raced into the No. 1 spot for the first time this season with a quarter-mile pass in 6.508-seconds at 210.80 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro. Coughlin earned his second career pole during a breakout season featuring a pair of victories and five appearances in the finals.

Coughlin, of Elite Motorsports, will open eliminations against Shane Tucker after making the quickest run in each session Saturday. Coughlin also could finish second in the point standings to newly crowned/five-time “Factory Hot Rod” world champion Erica Enders of Oklahoma-based Elite Motorsports.

“I made two clean runs today and that’s what counts,” said Coughlin, a 26-year-old resident of Columbus, Ohio, and son of two-time Pro Mod champion Troy Sr. “It’s special to be racing here in Pomona. There’s nothing like pulling through the breezeway in front of the tower and looking down.

“My hat is off to the guys at Elite Performance. They work hard and with a lot of passion and it shows. This means a ton. I’ve been coming to the races since I could walk and being the low qualifier here is right near the top of the list for my professional career. This class is stacked so you’ve got to execute on race day but I’m ready.”

Five-time world champion Greg Anderson will start from the second spot after his run of 6.509 at 211.00 on Friday. Dallas Glenn, Anderson’s Ken Black Racing teammate, is third after his pass in 6.514 at 210.77.

Enders, who clinched the 2022 world championship in Las Vegas on the strength of her career-best 10th win this season, will begin eliminations from ninth.

Angelle Sampey secured her sixth Pro Stock Motorcycle pole of the season via a track-record quarter-mile run of 6.703-seconds at 201.61 mph from Friday aboard her Vance & Hines Suzuki. Sampey earned her 59th career No. 1 qualifier and the opportunity to finish an uneven season with her second victory of 2022.

A three-time world champion, Sampey will open eliminations against No. 16 rider Katie Justice. Sampey could end the season ranked in the top five in points with a huge performance on Sunday.

“We’re feeling confident heading into race day,” said Sampey, a 52-year-old resident of Matthews, La. “Everyone out here would like to win the final race of the season, so that’s going to be our focus. Our mission is going out here to win the race and end the season on a great note.”

Sampey’s 42 career Pro Stock Bike victories are most for a female rider in NHRA history. Angelle, who made her NHRA debut in 1996, won consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002.

Point-leader Matt Smith stayed second on the ladder with a pass in 6.719-seconds at 202.70 mph aboard his Denso Auto Parts Buell to remain in position to clinch a record-tying sixth world championship. Smith can earn his second straight title with a first-round win over Michael Phillips. Joey Gladstone took the third spot after his pass in 6.720-seconds.

Smith _ who celebrated his 50th birthday Friday _ has managed to win the race at Pomona and clinch the world title during the same weekend three different times. “It’s huge to win the race and win the championship all in the same weekend,” said Smith, a resident of King, N.C., and son of NHRA Pro Mod world champion Rickie Smith.

“I feel comfortable and confident on a track where we’ve done really well,” said Smith, who has five career wins at the legendary facility. “I’m coming in with the mindset of running my race and try to stay focused on winning. If I do my job, we’ll be OK. There can be a lot on your mind, but I’m going to rely on my experience and we’ll see what happens.”

A sixth championship would tie Smith with retired Andrew Hines and the late Dave Schultz for most in the two-wheel category in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series history. Smith began the weekend with a comfortable 104-point lead over Gladstone.

Meanwhile, four-time world champ Eddie Krawiec failed to qualify for the first time in 15 years after struggling aboard his Suzuki during the four sessions.


First-round pairings for Sunday’s eliminations at the 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., the last of 22 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and sixth race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _1. Brittany Force, 3.641-seconds, 338.94 mph vs. 16. Steven Chrisman, 3.894, 311.70; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.647, 332.10 vs. 15. Ron August, 3.886, 315.71; 3. Mike Salinas, 3.666, 331.45 vs. 14. Krista Baldwin, 3.863, 306.95; 4. Leah Pruett, 3.669, 329.67 vs. 13. Alex Laughlin, 3.773, 319.14; 5. Austin Prock, 3.689, 330.31 vs. 12. Shawn Langdon, 3.751, 324.59; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.693, 329.42 vs. 11. Josh Hart, 3.712, 311.92; 7. Antron Brown, 3.696, 329.26 vs. 10. Justin Ashley, 3.706, 329.42; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.701, 331.77 vs. 9. Clay Millican, 3.705, 331.04.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Maurice Dupont, 4.199, 231.75; 18. Cameron Ferre, 4.409, 177.63.

Funny Car _ 1. Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 3.837, 337.33 vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.057, 313.44; 2. Cruz Pedregon, Dodge Charger, 3.840, 322.58 vs. 15. Jason Rupert, Ford Mustang, 4.030, 313.44; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.844, 323.58 vs. 14. Steven Densham, Mustang, 3.993, 287.05; 4. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.849, 334.48 vs. 13. Chad Green, Mustang, 3.957, 325.30; 5. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.856, 322.65 vs. 12. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.942, 328.22; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.862, 333.00 vs. 11. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.920, 320.89; 7. John Force, Camaro, 3.864, 333.49 vs. 10. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.919, 322.11; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.882, 333.58 vs. 9. J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.895, 333.41.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Terry Haddock, 4.264, 275.79; 18. Bobby Bode, 4.340, 218.58.

Pro Stock _ 1. Troy Coughlin Jr., Chevy Camaro, 6.508, 210.80 vs. 16. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.601, 209.36; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.509, 211.00 vs. 15. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.573, 208.20; 3. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.514, 210.77 vs. 14. Fernando Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.565, 210.34; 4. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.524, 210.41 vs. 13. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.558, 210.73; 5. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.526, 209.20 vs. 12. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.556, 205.60; 6. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.528, 210.47 vs. 11. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.553, 209.49; 7. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.528, 210.11 vs. 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mustang, 6.549, 209.72; 8. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.530, 210.87 vs. 9. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.540, 210.60.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Alan Prusiensky, 6.609, 208.14; 18. Kenny Delco, 6.625, 208.88.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.703, 201.61 vs. 16. Katie Justice, Suzuki, 7.107, 190.51; 2. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.719, 202.70 vs. 15. Michael Phillips, Buell, 7.097, 191.73; 3. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.720, 267.75 vs. 14. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.937, 200.23; 4. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.734, 201.34 vs. 13. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.924, 196.47; 5. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.761, 198.29 vs. 12. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.909, 192.22; 6. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.792, 197.31 vs. 11. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.872, 195.45; 7. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, 6.812, 194.69 vs. 10. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.871, 193.85; 8. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.840, 192.93 vs. 9. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.860, 195.00.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Eddie Krawiec, 7.214, 198.88; 18. Jianna Evaristo, 9.398, 93.99.


Sept. 15-18 _ Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa: Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sept. 23-25 _ Charlotte NHRA Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock).

Sept. 30-Oct. 2 _ NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 13-16 _ Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis: Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 27-30 _ NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Brittany Force (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Nov. 10-13 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

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 (1995) 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 includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 13 2022
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