Capps, NHRA Embark On 2023 Season At GatorNats

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 10 2023

Ron Capps will be looking to begin another Funny Car championship run this weekend. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Ron Capps will launch defense of his back-to-back NHRA Funny Car world championships in Florida Friday with some sage _ and sanitary _ advice courtesy of drag racing legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme.

Don’t drink your own bath water, Ron.

“It’s one of those Yogi Berra-isms, I guess you call ‘em,” said Capps, whose professional association with Prudhomme dates to the 1997 season. “One cool thing about Snake is he would fire those off when you weren’t expecting ‘em. We were at dinner with Mario Andretti and he (Prudhomme) talked about somebody coming in brash and bragging and cocky and when you start winning, basically, don’t read your own press clippings, right? Don’t believe everything you read about yourself because when you ‘drink your own bath water’ you start believing in stuff that may be not all true or maybe is.

“I mean, you just got to stay focused and stay humble.”

Capps’ 2022 Ha-Ha Car title was his third overall since 2016 but first as owner/driver of Ron Capps Motorsports following his exit from Don Schumacher Racing. Capps will roll into Friday’s first of two rounds of qualifying for the season-opening and 54th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals as first repeat Funny Car champ since icon John “Brute” Force 20 years earlier. 

“It’s easy to have instant success in something and be a different person,” said Capps, who finished a miniscule three points in front of Robert Hight of John Force Racing in the final 2022 standings. “I think anybody who’s been around me throughout the years, especially my people and my crew, will tell you I’m the same person in 1997 who jumped in the Copenhagen car driving for Don Prudhomme. I don’t think I’ve changed a lot in that respect.”

Capps’ 2022 campaign featured five wins, six No. 1 qualifiers and nine final rounds in his Toyota GR Supra. Capps fully expects fellow three-time world champs Hight, driver of the his Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car, and Matt Hagan, driver of the Tony Stewart Motorsports Dodge, to rekindle their rivalry at famed Gainesville Raceway.

“It’s just been a lot of fun and we’re really looking forward to 2023,” said Capps, a 57-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif. “It was to enjoy all those moments as they happened, but you have to find a way to motivate yourself or else you’re going to fall down that ladder in the class. There’s a lot to wake up and be motivated about and it’s not hard for me to get motivated. We’re going to have our hands full and there’s a lot of teams that have been working hard. It’s going to be the toughest year ever, without a doubt.”

Hagan, Tripp Tatum (Top Fuel), Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) earned event victories during a record-breaking weekend in Gainesville last year. This weekend’s event will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and the FOX broadcast network, including eliminations coverage beginning at noon (EDT) on Sunday.

Coming off a career-best eight wins during the 2022 season, Hight held the point lead for 15 of 22 NHRA  events. Included was a stretch of 12 consecutive before the season-finale at Pomona. Hight won two of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Capps matched those two Countdown wins and was able to overhaul Hight via a 3-2 advantage in runnerup results.

“Last year was amazing, it really was,” said Hight, a 53-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “I’m so proud of this team. They worked hard, and they continued to work hard in the offseason. We were all pretty disappointed with how things ended, and it’s been a long couple of months. We’re more than ready to get back to racing. I can’t wait to be back in the seat of this Chevy Funny Car. Hopefully, things go our way and we get Flav-R-Pac their first Funny Car win.”

The series champion in 2009, 2017 and 2019 and a top-eight finisher every year he has contested a championship, Hight has been especially successful at Gainesville with wins in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2019. 

“The Gatornationals have always been a big race on the schedule. This year, it’s even more prestigious because we’re opening the season here,” Hight said. “That comes with a lot of other stuff, media day and filming. We’ve also got the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame this year with John being inducted. It should be fun. I’m looking forward to going and supporting the boss _ he deserves this, he’s earned it.”

Capps was stellar in his first race as team-owner at Pomona last season, qualifying No. 1 and advancing to the final round. Capps has scored four of his 73 career wins at Gainesville, where Hagan returns as defending event champ. Hagan recorded four victories in 2022, his 10th straight season with at least three wins.

“A lot of teams tested the last month or so, and this week was our first time back on the track in 2023,” said Capps, who has won at least one race every year since 2009. “Leading into the race we had a little more time this season, and obviously we’re going to be at a different track to start the year, so a lot of things different but a lot of things still staying the same. With (crew chief) John Medlen retiring, it’s not easy to replace someone like that but I think Guido (Dean Antonelli) did a great job of putting everyone in different positions and bringing on a couple new crew members to our NAPA team.

“I’m excited about being back in the car. I’ve been seeing all of these other drivers on social media making hits in their cars during testing all offseason and I’m excited we’re finally back at it now, too. The weather is looking awesome; it’s going to be warm, it’s going to be tricky. The Gatornationals is a historic race so I’d love nothing more than to win this weekend and get the season started off on a good note.”

On a personal note, a victory this weekend would allow Capps to tie former boss/mentor Prudhomme’s five wins at Gainesville, which would make him the second-winningest Funny Car driver in the track’s history. Capps has won at Gainesville in 2006, 2007, 2015 and 2020.

In Top Fuel, Brittany Force will begin defense of her second title with hopes of winning for the second time in Gainesville. Other contenders include four-time world champ Steve Torrence, three-time world champ Antron Brown, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher and Justin Ashley. The Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout also will take place Saturday, with Force, Torrence, Ashley, Mike Salinas, Doug Kalitta, Josh Hart, Austin Prock and Clay Millican competing for a huge payout in the one-day specialty race.

Five-time/reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders will try to win in Gainesville for the first time, facing off against five-time world champ Greg Anderson, Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Glenn in a battle of Chevrolet Camaros.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith _ who has won three straight world titles _ has his sights on a third Gatornationals victory. Smith’s competition will include four-time world champion Eddie Krawiec, 2016 world champ Jerry Savoie, Angie Smith, Steve Johnson and Joey Gladstone.

In addition, the Gatornats will set the field for the first #2Fast2Tasty Mission NHRA Challenge. The semifinalists from Gainesville will rematch during qualifying on Saturday at the next event in Chandler, Ariz., with bonus money and points on the line as part of the special new program for 2023.

The Gatornationals also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, along with the season debuts for the NHRA Pro Mod Series and Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown.

NHRA Top Fuel legend and Florida resident “Big Daddy” Don Garlits will be a featured guest throughout the weekend, and six of his historic dragsters will be included in a special “Swamp Rat Alley” section inside the Hot Rod Junction. Garlits will be on-hand for autographs with fans in addition to making an exhibition pass during the weekend.

Qualifying will begin with two rounds at 1:30 and 4:00 p.m. (EST) Friday. The final two rounds of qualifying are set for Saturday at noon and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10 a.m. (EDT) Sunday. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 10 a.m. (EST) Saturday and 9 a.m. (EDT) Sunday, leading into live eliminations on FOX at noon.

Opening round of the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout is scheduled for Saturday at 1:20 p.m. (EST), with the semifinals to follow at 2:45 p.m. Finals are slated for 4:25 p.m., and the Callout will be given a featured broadcast on FS1 at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) on Sunday.



March 9-12 _ 54th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway. The event also will include the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout.

March 24-26 _ 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz.

March 30-April 2 _ 63rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com, Pomona Raceway, Pomona, Calif.

April 14-16 _ 23rd annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

April 28-30 _ 13th annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.

May 19-21 _ 23rd annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance, Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Ill.

June 2-4 _ 10th annual NHRA New England Nationals, New England Dragway, Epping, N.H.

June 9-11 _ 22nd annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn.

June 22-25 _ 17th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Summit Motorsports Park, Norwalk, Ohio

July 14-16 _ 43rd annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals, Bandimere Speedway, Morrison, Colo.

July 21-23 _ 34th annual Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals, Pacific Raceways, Kent, Wash.

July 28-30 _ 35th annual DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway

Aug. 11-13 _ 34th annual Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor, Heartland Motorsports Park, Topeka, Kan.

Aug. 17-20 _ 41st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway

Aug. 30-Sept. 4 _ 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Ind. The event also will include the Pep Boys NHRA Funny Car All-Star Callout.


Sept. 14-17 _ 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa.

Sept. 22-24 _ 15th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.

Sept. 29-Oct. 1 _ 12th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.

Oct. 12-15 _ 38th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Oct. 26-29 _ 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Nov. 9-12 _ 58th annual NHRA Finals, Pomona Raceway, 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 Friday, March 10 2023
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