In less than a week, Funny Car racer Ron Capps’ emotions have gone from disappointed to elated with a series of cross-country events that string from his home at Carlsbad, Calif., through Las Vegas and Amarillo, Texas, and finally Miami. This past Tuesday his NAPA Dodge hauler – which contained two Funny Cars, his helmet, brand-new firesuits, and all his Don Schumacher Racing team’s tools and equipment – experienced a severely damaging fire. It occurred near Amarillo, Texas, on the way to testing at Las Vegas. It was unsettling to try to learn the extent of the loss, what the team was doing to recover from it, and how it will affect his start to the 2020 season next weekend at Pomona, Calif., at the Lucas Oil Winternationals. And Capps had to appear Friday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a DSR photo shoot and commercial filming.
But his week got better. He and brother Jon Capps, who lives at Las Vegas and competes occasionally in th e Funny Car class, flew Saturday morning to Miami for Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV, where they’ll work the sidelines carrying parabolic microphones (“sound dishes”) during the NFL championship game between their beloved San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. Ron Capps also performed that job – his first such gig with Bay Area radio station KNBR – at the Superdome at New Orleans at the 2013 Super Bowl. (Capps reminded that that was the Super Bowl at which the power went out, “and the big joke was that I pulled the cord so our team could catch up – which they almost did.”) He has helped KNBR at 49ers games, including once with daughter Taylor. This time he’ll share the privilege with his brother, who works as a motion-picture stunt driver and recently performed in scenes for “Ford v Ferrari” and most recently “Fast and Furious 9.” The invitation came once again from KNBR producer Mike Hohler.
“Right after the [San Francisco-]Green Bay game and they clinched the NFC championship, I saw my phone light up with his name, and I thought to myself, ‘No way’. I picked it up and he said, ‘Hey man, if you can get to Miami, do you want to work the sidelines?’ So going to go work the sidelines again with what should be a great game.
“Hopefully they win this time. I’ve been so excited not wanting to jinx them,” he said of the 49ers. “It’s going to be fun and [fun] to have my brother – it’s his 50th birthday on Tuesday. So this was sort of a birthday present, as well. He’s going to work the other sideline.”
Capps said, “The last time, Tommy Delago did it with me. He’s a longtime 49ers fan, big-time 49ers fan. So my brother and I are going to get to do that. My brother grew up a 49ers fan like I did, and obviously we watched Kansas City all season long and how good they were. So this is a great match-up. It’s going to be a great game.”
He said he’s as focused when he holds the parabolic microphone as he is when he drives the Funny Car: “I take my job seriously when I go there. I get close to the line of scrimmage and even when they’re play comes toward the sideline, I stay as long as I can until it looks dangerous.”
His first NFL sideline gig came after the NHRA had raced at Las Vegas and the 49ers were set to play a Monday Night Football game at Phoenix.
“It was the last game of the season. So Tommy D and I bought a [airplane ticket]. I think I won [the race] here,” Capps said. “The next day we flew there. [Hohler] asked us if we want to do it and we said, ‘Hell, yeah, a Monday night game.’
“Landed that afternoon, went in, and got to hang out down on the field for pregame. Then kind of learned everything about the mic that he taught us and what you have to do, where to try to be, and the no-nos – because you got to run where the line of scrimmage is. The big thing is around the bench. You got to make sure you hang that thing away. They’ll come after you if they think any of you are accidentally listening in. So you just got to make sure you aim it and be careful. And you got to run. This thing is huge, and you got it all strapped to you. That Monday night game we learned a lot, and then we did Super Bowl. We’d already done it once so we kind of knew it. Then my daughter Taylor did it with me in a Rams game around two or three years ago. And she’s tiny. So she got to be down on the field,” he said.
Because he doesn’t have a car to drive at the moment, Capps said Friday that it was “going to be strange” not to participate in the test session this year along with his DSR mates. Capps didn’t have the chance to test last year, so he had been eager for this opportunity.
“I’m a little jealous,” he said. “Everybody’s getting to make runs here. I’m going to watch, in total jealousy, watch some of my teammates make runs here. Matt Hagan said I could jump in his car, but I don’t think I could see over the dash in his car.
He said, “Last year we didn’t test and we went to Pomona. Testing is great for the teams and the crew chiefs, because there’s things to learn about new equipment. But it’s also really good for us drivers. You got to remember we’re strapping back into 11,000 horsepower. These are the most unbelievable cars on the planet Earth, and when you’ve been out of the car, unlike the season, even when you have a couple weeks in between races you get back on a Friday in a qualifying run and it still shocks you. This is my 26th year. It’s still a shock of what these cars put you through, g-forces and all that. So to have the three months off . . .
“And last year, I just remember I was more nervous than I’ve been in a long time, because here we are . . . we’re at Pomona . . . it’s the Winternationals. You have four qualifying runs if the weather is good and it’s easy to step on the gas and it’s one of the shortest shutdowns that there is,” Capps said. “So there’s a lot of things going on if you don’t get the test when you show up at Pomona. It’s the very first run I’m going to make in the car. It definitely made me nervous last year. I think I’m probably going to be that way this year on top of everything else.
“The good thing: I was a crew member coming up, and I’ve always bragged on my guys like every driver does. Everybody feels like their crew guys are the best – and they should. But there’s many times we put a new car together, even go a step further, we put the car upside down the net in Indianapolis. We pulled the car out that had never been run. It was put together and we went right back up there and went quicker with the backup car that had never been run and I went to the finish line on my very first lap on a brand new car put together by my guys in the shop over the winter,” Capps said. “So sometimes you’ll do that and it’ll be a couple days later and you think to yourself, ‘Wow, that’s incredible. Jump in a bunch of pieces of iron and bolts and nuts and something put together by a crew like that and go out there and go 330-something miles per hour and not even think twice about it.’
“So the good thing is we had the back-up car. I know that that car should be all right. We don’t know about the main car. The body is junk. We just don’t know what the heat did to that chassis. So the good thing is [crew chief Rahn] Tobler and the guys are going to go to L.A., park the rigs next to each other, pull everything out, and basically rebuild a brand new car,” he said. “I’ve been through this. I know the meticulous way that Tobler is, so I feel OK. Everything’s going to be heightened. It would be great to have a storybook ending in Pomona. Have all that happen and be standing there on Sunday night holding the Wally. That would be the utmost. But right now, the job is just to get qualified.”
Another positive from the situation, something Capps said “was cool,” was that he “got text messages from Clay Millican, Del Worsham, the list goes on of people asking if they could help, and that’s pretty cool, people that you battle against to call and want to know Tobler’s number to call him and see if he needs anything.
“I was at home, and Tobler called me at 4:30 in the morning at home when he got the word from 4:30 East Coast time from the guys when the accident happened.,” he said. “He was at the shop when I woke up in California and kind of broke the news to me. Everybody dropped what they were doing in the fab shop. Everybody at DSR, our front office, they pulled Tony Schumacher’s old Army rig inside the shop and started doing on the back and unloading everything out of that truck. Dustin Heim, our assistant crew chief, and another guy jumped in that and drove straight down to Amarillo with that rig all through the night to get it there and start swapping things out.”
Roads were snow-coated and icy.
Capps said, “That’s one of the reasons they couldn’t get it off the highway. It had been snowing, and it was icy. But Dustin and I talked to Tyler, who drives one of the rigs, and he said that local fire department was out there so quick it was unbelievable. So they saved a lot of that. So the first responders were on top of it. They’re going to be working all week. It’s going to smell bad. I’ve got to get my new helmet. Everything’s got smoke damage. But it’s a Funny Car, so we’re used to having smoked helmets. Brand-new uniforms, all the stuff that was in there, even up front in my closet, is pretty bad.
“Our main car is on top. Those two cars were built over the wintertime from scratch. One of them we ran already, but it was taken apart and front-halved, so it’s brand-new, basically started from scratch. So both cars that these guys have been working on all winter long to make perfect – and then this happens. So it’s great to have NAPA Auto Parts and having 6,000 stores with local NAPA Auto Parts in Amarillo, and that was just amazing how many people reached out.”