Defending NHRA Funny Car champion and new team owner/driver Ron Capps is coming off a weekend to remember.
After qualifying his NAPA Toyota Supra GR a modest ninth, Capps drove to the win at the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tennessee.
The win was his second of the season, first in his new Toyota Camry and 70th of his NHRA career. It came on Father's Day and one day before Capps celebrated his 57th birthday.
That’s six now that I’ve won at Bristol. Anytime you’ve won an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event at some place more than John Force, that’s a pretty good deal. He's got four there.
Except for last year, when the event got moved because of COVID to October, our race at Bristol has always been on Father's Day weekend. So, I've won a few times on Fathers Day. I’ve brought the Trophy home a few times to my dad. My birthday is on the 20th, and I think the the last time I won there, I think it was actually on my birthday and Father’s Day.
My family wasn't at the Bristol race this year. They haven't been in a long while. My wife went a long time ago, but it’s usually just me. Everyone else is back in California, and the way Father's Day goes, you kind of wait for them to get up and send me the 'Happy Father’s Day' messages on race day. And then we kind of have a thing where we don’t talk throughout the day. It’s kind of a ritual.
It’s not really lonely, but it's kind of weird not having the family there. I always fly home on Monday, even with back-to-back race weekends. It’s always cool knowing we’re going to do a belated birthday and Father's Day, which we did on Monday night.
Sometimes You Don't See It Coming
There’s some weekends when things aren't going your way and where you start looking at flights out on a Sunday night.
In your head, you’re thinking, ‘Maybe I should just check options.’ Sometimes, there’s just some weekends you just have little things thrown at you, and that’s just part of the challenge of NHRA. You put nitro in the fuel tank, and that’s just the nature of the beast.
We had plenty thrown at us at Bristol.
Our last qualifying run, we had a small issue with a parachute. It came out of one of the packs early, which is a product of that Bristol track. It’s definitely the bumpiest on our tour. It creates a lot of havoc for a lot of teams.
And so, to know that even though we qualified ninth and didn’t have lane choice and that we just had probably our worst qualifying of the season, we just knew that we were on a good run before we had that issue. We were hoping that it was going to transfer over to Sunday.
You hope, but you kind of know.
And sure enough, obviously it did. We were low ET of the first round of eliminations. We knew the potential was there. We’ve been working on, messaging this Toyota body since we got it.
One great thing about having our crew chiefs John Medlen and Guido Antonelli on our team is that they’ve spent a lot of time in the past working with bodies and with other teams and wind tunnels. At Toyota, we work with the other Toyota Funny Car team with Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria and JR Todd. And we work with Slugger Labbe, who’s an old NASCAR crew chief. He's been in charge of this Toyota Supra body since the beginning. They work real well with our guys.
Toyota has really done the small things over the last year and a half to make the body to where we were comfortable with it when we started running it earlier this season.
Still, we just haven’t had a lot of runs with it as compared to other teams.
We’ve also had a couple runs where I’ve told Guido, ‘Just delete that one from your files.’
We knew we’d have more heat on Sunday than we did in qualifying, and that bumpy race track at Bristol is such and equalizer. You can have the best car, the best running car from a good Friday night in qualifying, and it doesn’t matter on Sunday when the track heats up.
We always feel like we’ve got a chance, even if we qualify terrible. But you sure don’t sleep as well Saturday night when you don’t have lane choice first round. And on Sunday, in the first round, we raced against my old car that I won the last time at Bristol—the same chassis, parts, same everything. We knew that car was going to be tough.
Then you look at the ladder, and Robert Hight had a bye run because he was the No. 1 qualifier and we were going to have to race him in the second round after the way we qualified. All that put together, and you don’t sleep well on Saturday night.
You hope for the best. That’s what makes this weekend so much more rewarding. You have some weekends you just unload, you’re the No. 1 qualifier, you get through a bunch of rounds and you’re there late in the day on Sunday and you go “Man, that was a great weekend.'
And you still come up one short.
But weekends we had this last weekend, man, it feels like a championship almost, just in one weekend.
It's Starting to Come Together
Coming into this as a new owner, you hope for the best, obviously, but you’ve got to prepare for the worst.
You have to prepare for struggling, and not rely on income coming in from wins and things like that. You can’t rely on that. I’ve been told that over and over by some of the best out there as far as owners.
I was ready for that, but when I had a chance when I decided to become a team owner to hire Guido and Medlen, I knew I had to. It was imperative that I had that great team.
It's all about great decision-making, first of all. We’re very good on parts and we race well together. That was key. It makes me look a little better than I am—all the decision-making that goes on, everything we’ve done along the way. Then there is getting together with Toyota, having that backing.
Just the little things are slowly coming together, better and better.
Editor's Note: Ron Capps, 57, is a two-time and defending NHRA Funny Car champion originally from San Luis Obispo, California, now residing in Carlsbad. This year, the driver of the NAPA Toyota Supra Funny Car is fulfilling a lifelong dream of owning his own team, as he moves from Don Schumacher Racing to the NHRA's newest team—Ron Capps Motorsports. He's third in the Funny Car Standings after nine of 22 races. Capps will be letting Autoweek readers inside the ropes with columns about his transition to owner/driver throughout the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing season.