It has been a long time since Ron Capps last qualified first at an NHRA national event.
Long enough that Capps couldn’t even remember the last time he had donned a green hat.
In fact, it had been more than two years and 60 total races since Capps last sat atop a Funny Car field, but he ended that streak in a big way on Saturday, throwing down a massive number to wrestle the top spot for his first No. 1 since Bristol in 2016 at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“I was joking on our way up here that I was actually pretty giddy about the green hat and I said, ‘man, you would think I’ve never gotten one before.’ I didn’t realize just how long it has been,” Capps said. “I was excited, but I was so happy for (Rahn) Tober. When they came on the radio, I couldn’t believe it first of all. I thought he had misspoke when he told me it ran that quick. But I am so happy for him and my team.”
Capps laid down a blistering 3.848-second pass at 331.53 mph in Q4 on Saturday in the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to earn his 25th career top qualifier award in one of the quickest and fastest passes of the season. And for Capps, it was also one of the most fun passes he’s had in a long time.
“That was the most e-ticket ride I’ve had in a long time,” Capps said. “Back since they were real Funny Cars and they had the headers laid back and you really had to drive them, that is what that run felt like. I hadn’t felt that much excitement and had that much driving in the car in a long time.”
Capps’ teammate Jack Beckman qualified second in the Infinite Hero Dodge with a 3.867 at 330.96 mph, while Friday’s top qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. qualified third with a 3.867 at 326.40 mph. Championship contenders J.R. Todd (3.897) and Robert Hight (3.915) rounded out the top five.
While Capps doesn’t have a say in the championship on Sunday, he is excited about the possibility of a strong finish to 2018, especially coming off of the strength of the team’s first No. 1 in more than two years. And the funny part is, Capps said this performance was predicted almost two months ago.
“In Charlotte we really showed what this team could do. Everyone talks about how good a racer Rahn Tobler is, especially in conditions that warm up. He’s always been a guy that is considered one of the best on a tricky track, but he’s worked really hard with the five-disc since we put it back in to get that performance in cool conditions. In Charlotte we showed that,” Capps said. “We ran great, won the race, and showed that performance in the cool conditions. After the race we said, Pomona is going to be just like that. We knew we would see that on Saturday and it is almost like he saw it coming. I’m just glad I didn’t mess it up because the car was all over the place.”
Capps, who still has an opportunity to climb in the championship standings up to second if things fall his way, will face Ray Martin in round one on Sunday. Meanwhile, in the championship showdown, points leader J.R. Todd draws Jim Campbell in round one, while Hight will face Bob Tasca to open eliminations.
So what does Capps hope to see on Sunday? Well, he hopes to play spoiler.
“I am envious that they are going to go at it tomorrow, but we will see. Hopefully we can get in the middle of it and we mess it up for both of them and we will just see where the chips fall,” Capps said. “The fans are in for unbelievable racing tomorrow. It is going to be a little warm, but it is going to be good track conditions. We are battling a lot of people to hang on to that third spot and try to overtake Robert Hight for second. It is important. It is a long offseason and we would love to go to the banquet with a yellow hat.
“A lot of stuff has happened at this place. Whether it is No. 1 qualifier or we win the race, it doesn’t matter. This is a really historic place and the racing gods are here. It is always fun to do well here.”