During his latest Auto Club NHRA Finals run, no one expected Ron Capps to drive his stunt car to the finish line.
By Sunday’s final championship pairing in Pomona, Calif., the NAPA Auto Parts driver had the Funny Car moniker in his grip—all he had to do was avoid crossing the midfield on his way to the track, or else he would. He is subject to a points penalty and then loses the tournament.
“I was preparing the car for the final, thinking, Do I throw away everything we’ve worked on all season if something goes wrong?” Capps said.
On paper, it had been a picture-perfect weekend for Capps up to that point.
The 26-year-old funny car veteran entered the event 61 points behind Robert Hight, but Capps rallied in Saturday’s qualifying and took several major bonus points. He ran one of the fastest runs of his career, clocking in at 3.837 seconds, and secured the pole position in the heat.
“To get that done, this was probably the year for us,” said Capps. “That definitely made getting up on Sunday morning a little better. We had a little more computational opportunity.”
It was 57 points—or two rounds, since that gave Pomona one-and-a-half points—that the Cubs clinched in their opening fight against Jeff Arend. Cubs stormed out to win, while Height defeated Chad Green.
The two Funny Car competitors proceeded to the second round, with Capps facing Tim Wilkerson and Height lining up against Bob Tasca III.
Capps got rid of Wilkerson and was preparing to return to the hole when the ball fell for Haight.
When Robert [Hight] My guys were strapping the car to the tow vehicle and were going on a rampage,” Capps said. “I was like, ‘Guys, calm down.’”
The title belonged to him, but Capps did his best to stay composed.
Although his situation had changed compared to previous seasons, specifically with him being a first-year team owner, Capps was familiar with the broken road that almost many champions travel.
In years past, the Cubs have lost the title by frustrating margins – two points to Jack Beckman in 2012 and eight to Gary Shelze in 2005. The 57-year-old has learned the hard way that overconfidence can lead to a quick demise. .
Loss may have been one of his greatest teachers in this regard, but as Capps’ career matured, he became fond of a Don Prudhomme phrase he once shared with him: “Don’t drink your bath water.” Meaning, the driver’s time on top will always expire. So stay focused, stay humble, and “don’t believe everything you read about yourself,” Capps added.
Capps found himself in position to claim his third Funny Car Championship heading into the semi-final round of qualifying at Pomona, and there was no smug smile or pre-round celebration in the NAPA pits.
He’s back in action to prepare for his semi-final match against Tasca.
“Every round, I was a mess. It was the biggest moment of my life. And then another hour and a half later, I was having the biggest moment of my life,” Capps said with a laugh.
The Toyota Supra tore the drag strip at 334.65 mph, besting the Tasca for turning the light for the win. But when Capps exited the funny car at the finish line, thinking the title was his, NHRA officials told him he still had to make one last run.
“It was an emotional turn,” said Capps.
Capps and his chiefs of staff, Commodores “Guido” Antonelli and John Medellin, met in closed meeting to make the necessary decision. Are they going to leave everything on the table and do a full run, or are they going to play it safe and lock the car halfway down the track?
“Guido looked at me and said, ‘You’re one of the best I’ve ever seen in a funny car,’ Capps recalled, ‘I say you go down until you don’t feel comfortable. ‘” His apprehensive response to Antonelli was, “These funny cars can go down and in a heartbeat, turn left or right, And you put out a cylinder or two, and if that happens, we lose everything.”
In the end, the choice was left to Capps. But as he entered the final track for the last time this season, he still didn’t know what to do. Cruz Pedregon pulled into the right lane, and eventually the clock ran out.
The light turned green, the Funny Cars got off to the start with a flash of flames and Capps chased Pedregon to the finish line. Pedregon may have claimed the win, but Capps put an exclamation mark on his new name — the 2022 NHRA Funny Car Champion.
The Cubs claimed the title by three points over Haight. Capps scored five wins and four pole positions in the season with his Ron Capps Motorsports team. He now has 73 career victories and 67 second-place finishes.
He is also the first Funny Car driver in 20 years to win two consecutive championships, cementing his title in 2021.