Entering the pandemic-delayed Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, only four drivers had won the event four times or more. Let the record reflect there’s now a fifth driver joining the exclusive group — Ron Capps, a fan of the sport since his childhood.
Capps, in winning the 66th national event of his career, and the second of the season, pulled himself into fourth place in championship points when he stopped Tim Wilkerson in the finals of the first NHRA national event staged outside of Indianapolis since the series resumed in July.
“To think about all these things that come along later that really make your ears perk up,” said Capps, who was forced to change cars following a semifinal victory. “To be able to win four with the different crew chiefs I’ve had in the past is pretty wild.
“Honestly, these are the days when you roll in in the morning, you feel comfortable, you’re confident as always but you’re just not sure you’ve got the best car to go the full distance on Sunday. Maybe something here or there and we had to shut the car off after Q2 on Saturday night, so we didn’t have a lot of just oozing confidence, but we’ve always got our own inner confidence. But these are those wins where you overcome that and then you have an explosion.”
Capps showed his mettle as a diversified driver by bringing the wounded race car to a stop in a slide that resembled more of a dirt track car than a fire-breathing Funny Car. The performance caught the eye of at least one of his drag racing idols – Ed “The Ace” McCulloch, another four-time Gainesville winner.
“Getting a text from Ace after the semis, before the final, telling me how bitchin’ that slide was at the other end to keep the car off the wall – that’s beyond cool,” Capps said.
The engine explosion following his semifinal victory over teammate Matt Hagan forced crew chief Rahn Tobler, who was celebrating his birthday Sunday, to pull out a spare car, one which had only been run at the Summit Motorsports Park Night of Fire last August at Norwalk, Ohio.
The replacement car was nearly identical to the trashed car, which split the body in two following the momentous race with Hagan. There was no warning as the devastation came when the NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored driver stepped off the throttle.
“Did a lot of damage and so I thought the chassis is okay, Tobler and I had a quick argument about it because I thought we could fix it quicker than switching out,” Capps said.
The replacement Dodge had only one run on it, albeit a half-pass, in similar conditions and saved it for another day.
“We had about 40 minutes to get a car ready, and we had every Don Schumacher racing employee over here, other guys over here, we had team members from other teams and put a spare car together that went out there and made the first full run ever.,” Capps said.
Capps was given a reminder of what he’s known all along, Tobler knows his cars. He legged the unproven Funny Car to the stripe in rapid fashion in the final round, carding a 3.937 elapsed time at 323.12 miles per hour to edge Wilkerson’s challenging 3.945, 325.92.
Capps extended the success of Don Schumacher Racing in Funny Car, a streak that dates back to last season, and effectively interjected himself into a championship cycle dominated by teammates Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Hagan.
“Those guys, they bring out the best in me. Honest to God,” Capps admitted. “I’ve always said we’ve got to go through our teammates to go to a championship, and my three teammates scare the crap out of me having to race them every time. It was a big round, not even thinking about the points. We needed to come in here and every team, all these PR people put these press releases out before the race coming in saying we’re looking to make a run in the points and we need to turn around; they all had the same cliché, but it’s an honest-to-god truth, we had to make points up.
“In order for us to make points, you don’t wish bad on anybody but we had to have guys in front of us go out and that happened. Sometimes you got to do it on your own, and we were able to do against Hagan, who has him and Dickie who’ve had the best car here for a long time.”
One thing for .certain, Capps understood that Wilkerson would make him work hard for whatever they could get.
“I said it a while back, watch out for Wilkerson, he’s a guy that is always there and he will get hot in a heartbeat. He could run as good as anybody here,” Capps explained. “He joked with me in the second round and came over my car before I got suited up, and he said, ‘Hey, you and me in the final, huh, let’s do this.”
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