The idea he’s driving a Fuel Altered in Bakersfield leaves Ron Capps sensing he’s in the midst of a don’t-pinch-me moment. The reality he could win the most prestigious of all old-school events, the Bakersfield March Meet, well that takes the thing to a whole another level.
Sunday at Auto Club Famoso Raceway, Capps made his dream a reality when he became one of the very few drag racers to win in three professional nitro categories.
Capps eased his way to the monumental victory, stopping the timers in 6.637 seconds, at only 158.93 when final round opponent Robert Winefsky turned on the red light.
“It’s blowing my mind,” Capps said, pausing to savor the moment. “It’s the 62nd annual. It’s crazy. I’ve been coming to this race … I’m 54 years old; I’ve been coming here every year as a kid. Either my dad raced, or we came to watch. Came here too with Del Worsham in the Blue Max Funny Car, and then drove for Steve Plueger in the L.A. hooker, and came close to winning, but never did.
“And I think it was almost meant to be when this Fuel Altered class got started. My favorite race car of all time is a Fuel Altered, and to be able to win the March Meet, the 62nd annual, driving a AA/Fuel Altered, it doesn’t get any better.”
Capps understands just getting to play the game was a miracle in itself, as two cars capable of pacing the field missed the cut when they couldn’t get their cars slow enough to qualify below the mandated 6.00 index.
For Capps, it was the ultimate game of rope-a-dope just making his way in the eighth and final spot in the field,
“The fact that [three-time winner] Dan Hix didn’t qualify, and we got in that last spot, that was something that just doesn’t happen anymore,” Capps explained. “That car is amazing. So you can win from anywhere. These are so unpredictable, and most of the time you’re going to win a round in Fuel Altered if you just get to the finish line, but these cars are getting more and more consistent, but you got to remember this has no spoiler on it, there’s no wings on it.
“Look at it. Thing’s going 190 plus miles per hour at half-track, and it’s got zero downforce on it. And these little bitty tires in the front, and all that power.”
Capps then stopped at stared at the Herzog Motorsports Fiat and just smiled in adoration, as a teenage boy admiring the prom queen.
“Look at it. Look how sexy this thing is,” Capps pointed out. “Is that amazing? This thing will go that quick. Six seconds. It’s crazy. I still can’t believe it.”
Speaking of crazy, Capps’ monumental race day nearly ended before it started. He faced No. 1 qualifier James Generalao Jr in the opening round, and if not for the heroics of Top Fuel driver turned wrench for the team, Bryan Hall, there could have been another storyline.
“I do the burnout, and I reach down on the reverse lever, and it breaks on me,” Capps said. “So I looked down, and now I’m trying to figure out on the transmission which way I would push the reverser knob sticking out. So I did it with my boot. And somehow got it into reverse.
“Then I started flagging Bryan down as it came back, and I’m pointing to him. He knew exactly, being a driver, what I was talking about, he leaned in. That was the other cool thing about an altered; it’s got no windows. So he just leaned in there and put it in forward, and we had a good feeling for each other. So it went from thinking I was not going to have a shot at getting to the final, because I didn’t have a reverse, and have to idle down the track.
“So it just all this stuff. And then to step on the gas. That’s the first time I’ve gone to the finish line. And to be honest with you, I didn’t feel like I had the talent to get it past 800 feet. I’d only been to 800 feet. And every time, it’s been like I was over my head. It’s the most unnerving feeling. But that’s what a Fuel Altered is.”
Winning in three different nitro classes could easily put Capps in legendary status; something he’s quick to deflect.
“Still feel like I’m a 25-year-old rookie,” Capps said. “I feel I’m blessed to be able to come out here and race like this. Listen, this weekend was incredible. The crowds were unbelievable. Every night we would go to dinner, and we’d run into people from the UK, Australia and England that flew over for this race.
“And it was standing room only every day here. Crazy, mad, crowds. It was just so much fun to watch people appreciate it. And they appreciate me coming out and racing. So it’s a lot of fun.”