This hasn’t been a Ron Capps-type season.
Through six races of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Series season, the 2016 nitro Funny Car world champion had only won five rounds in eliminations and had not won a race.
The driver of the Don Schumacher Racing NAPA Brakes Dodge changed all that Sunday at the 39th annual Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta.
Capps, on a holeshot, beat Tim Wilkerson in the final round.
Capps clocked a 4.068-second lap at 315.34 mph to Wilkerson’s quicker 4.052-second elapsed time at 310.05 mph.
The difference was at the starting line. Capps had a .064 reaction time compared to the .090 reaction time of Wilkerson.
“It was an eventful weekend,” said Capps, who has at least one win a season for 11 consecutive seasons. “We left Houston with so much confidence and we had that whole chassis thing throw us a curveball in Charlotte. We barely got qualified and probably should not have qualified and we just escaped to get out of there. We got here and struggled a little bit and so did a lot of other people. I didn’t realize until I stood back and watched the TV show Saturday night and said, ‘Wow, we are not the only ones.’ It was rain-shortened a little bit and the conditions were changing a lot and I could see (Rahn) Tobler (Capps’ crew chief). He looked like a beat-down dog and he had no confidence. He’s so big-hearted and he’s helped so many people out here and works very well with our other crew chiefs. (Saturday night) Eric Lane, Dickie Venables, and John Collins put their runs up and said what do you need? Because they have been helped so often by Rahn Tobler and that was neat. That made the hair on my neck stand up.
An average race car driver probably could’ve won in that car (Sunday). It was a car you dream about driving. You’re going down the lane when people are struggling and Rahn Tobler pulled out vintage Rahn Tobler and went 4.02 in the lane no one wanted in the second round and then went up there every run and went down the lane they thought was inferior and we won the race.”
This was Capps’ 62nd career NHRA Wally – one coming in Top Fuel. He beat Shawn Langdon, John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Wilkerson to reach the winner’s circle at Atlanta Dragway.
“I was in deep against Tim so it’s not a holeshot in my mind,” Capps said. “I hate to see somebody lose like that and I’m the biggest Tim Wilkerson fan in the world. It still hasn’t hit me yet (the win). I woke up (Sunday morning) and we didn’t have the best confidence in the world. We knew we could win from any position and on top of that we bring out the NAPA Brakes car, it is such a great program for the month of May. Great deals on brakes and putting money in people’s pockets and it is fun to be a part of that. Then you add the concept that we are in the backyard of NAPA Auto Parts. We had the highest of the high officers from NAPA Auto Parts out on Friday for the first time. It was really fun to see them witness our sport for the first time.
Then, to give this car a win you dream about as a sponsored race car driver to be able to win in your sponsor’s backyard and it just never happens. That’s the kind of thing you get excited about. The fans all day long talked about how they loved this point scheme.”
Capps arrived in Atlanta ninth in the points standings and moved up to seventh in the points six points behind sixth-place Wilkerson. He qualified No. 11 with a 4.149-second lap, but then stepped it up on race day.
“Ironically, I drive better when we are struggling a little bit,” Capps said. “The times you are going to win the championships, the moments you’re going to look back on and the fun part of winning and having really good seasons is when you get into the holiday season and you get together for the Christmas party and you talk about the low points and how you got through and what high points really won you the championship or set you up for the championship. In 2016, the DNQ in Vegas, we learned a lot, stayed on Monday, got better and won the championship.
We’ve been struggling and as a driver I’ve learned throughout the years driving for Roland Leong, Ed “The Ace” McCulloch and Snake and now Don Schumacher and Tobler. The crew chiefs need you more than ever when they are searching. Rahn Tobler has made it look easy a lot in the last decade and I’ve been the lucky guy behind the wheel. You have to be good when they need you the most. When the car is running great you just keep it in the groove the win light is probably going to come on. All the crew chiefs I have had are old school guys and I don’t look for the pat on the butt and for them to tell me I did good. If they don’t say anything to me that means I did good. Rahn Tobler just told me that he went up there and didn’t try and push the car. He said ‘let Ron drive the car.’”
Capps did discuss racing and defeating legendary John Force four times in a row in Atlanta and the respect he has for him.
“I came here as a rookie in Top Fuel in an unsponsored car driving for Roger Primm and made it to the final round, but prior to that week at the time John Force for some reason took a liking to me and took me under his wing,” Capps said. “I was driving Top Fuel and he was taking me out at night to dinner and I felt like I was out with Elvis. I had one of the funniest weeks I’ve ever had in my life and I was in awe to be hanging out with John Force. He taught me how to do a lot of things in the cockpit even though it wasn’t in a Funny Car and I will never forget that. I ended up in a Funny Car racing him and 25 years later for me to battle with him and second round against him it feels like a world championship at Pomona every time. I used to joke about that you wanted to beat him in the rental car back to the airport. You want to beat John Force so to do it (Sunday) was huge. He’s searching for that big (150th national event) win and I don’t want to be the guy in the other lane who helps him get it.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019