30-Year-Club: 3-Time NHRA Champ Ron Capps Reaches a Racing Milestone

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Capps Reaches Milestone at NHRA Arizona NationalsIcon Sportswire - Getty Images
  • Ron Capps made his first NHRA Drag Racing Series pro start in 1995 at the site of this weekend's Arizona Nationals.

  • These days, Capps is still winning and happy to help others who might want to follow in his racing boots one day.

  • A simple meeting with veteran Ed "Ace" McCulloch three decades ago helped shape in large part the way Capps look at up-and-coming racers today.

Where has the time gone?

Three-time NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Funny Car champion and team owner Ron Capps is making his 30th annual start at Firebird Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., and the Arizona Nationals this week.


For the 58-year-old Capps, kicking off his 30th year in the NHRA pro ranks is a time to take a breath and maybe even reflect on what advice he might give to a 30-year-younger Ron Capps now that he's been around the block a few times.

"It's funny to look back and try to tell yourself don't do this, don't do that, because I think those moments and the mistakes I made define me as well," Capps said during a media conference call this past week.

These days, Capps is still winning and happy to help others who might want to follow in his racing boots one day. One way he does that is by passing along some of the lessons that he feels have helped keep him in the pro game for three decades.

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Ron Capps starts his 30th year in the NHRA pro ranks this weekend in Arizona.JERRY FOSS NHRA/NATIONAL DRAGSTER

One conversation Capps remembers from his first year on the NHRA pro circuit was with Ed "Ace" McCulloch—a drag racing legend who was an established winner in both Top Fuel and Funny Car classes. Capps was in his first year driving a Top Fuel car for car owner Roger Primm—an owner who helped Capps to his first event win at Seattle in 1995.

"Nobody on my crew (that first year) had ever driven, and I needed to seek advice on something," Capps said. "And I approached Ace McCulloch. Looking back, most people said that he's not a guy you want to go just talk to. That's not a guy that's got the personality that you want to just go up and approach."

Capps is glad he made that first move.

"He took me under his wing," Capps said. "As soon as I walked up, he put his arm around me, I think he made me a drink, gave me a red Solo cup, and sat me down. I'll never forget that. That (conversation) transitioned to him being my crew chief later and a mentor. Ace McCulloch—he was at Kalitta's at the time—he had driven everything, and that's why I went to him."

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Ron Capps won the NHRA Funny Car championship in 2016, 2021 and 2022.MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images - Getty Images

That meeting proved to be a game-changing event and provided a life's lesson that he'd be happy to share with his 30-year-younger self.

"Looking back, I think I would just tell myself to stay on course," Capps said. "And like my dad always said, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. And the mechanics of that is that if you're talking, you're not listening—that was the biggest and greatest advice I ever got.

"And, boy, I've had a heck of a lot of great people around me to listen to throughout the years."

These days, Capps is finding himself more on the other end of that elder-statesman-giving-advice equation. It's a role he relishes.

"Yeah, I get them," Capps said, when asked if younger drivers stop by for a little sage advice. "I came up in an unconventional way. I worked on (the cars), I was a crew guy wanting to be a driver. So I latched on to Del Worsham. I latched on to Larry Dixon—guys who had also come up that same way.

"That's what I tell people. Just stay focused, and try to listen more than you talk. I'm never going to go and give somebody advice."

But if a driver reaches out, the old guy in blue NAPA drivers' shirt is happy to give back. And one day, Capps hopes that drivers might even talk about how he helped them make a career out of this competitive and sometimes wacky NHRA life.

"I'm always keeping an eye out for what Snake (Capps' second team owner Don Prudhomme) saw in me, and (I hope to) put somebody else in a (second) team that we can have down the road," Capps said. "I've learned that lesson going back a long ways.

"I've had juniors from the Junior Dragsters class come up to me every race, and I just say, 'listen to your parents.' It sounds cliche', but you've got to listen to what people are telling you—and not be a know-it-all."