Ron Capps overcomes challenges to win second Funny Car world championship – NHRA.com
It’s no secret that driving a Funny Car can be daunting even under the best of conditions. A short-wheelbased, 11,000-hp nitro roller skate known to shake or smoke the tires, veer wildly around in its lane, or erupt in a volcanic engine explosion — and sometimes all four on the same run — a Funny Car can be a handful for even the most experienced wheelman. Now imagine having to step into an unfamiliar car, with new crew chiefs, new driving procedures, and reversed controls and you get some idea of the challenges that Ron Capps faced and overcame en route to winning his second career NHRA Funny Car championship.
Capps began his 25th consecutive year of driving a Funny Car with a gutpunch when his longtime crew chief and friend Rahn Tobler unexpectedly resigned from Don Schumacher Racing just weeks before the start of preseason testing. Schumacher quickly pivoted, assigning Dean Antonelli and John Medlen — who were expecting to be idled or worse after their Jack Beckman-driven car lost its funding — to tune Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Dodge. It proved to be a perfect combination.
“I was heartbroken to lose Tobler, but I’ve known ‘Guido’ [Antonelli] for a long time, so the chance to work with him and Medlen was exciting,” said Capps. “I’ve always respected John and have a picture of Eric [Medlen’s late son] on the back of my injector that I always use as an aiming point for the car.
“My first conversation with ‘Guido’ he told me that they do things differently on the car, not just for driving but also leading up to a run, but that he already was looking over our car and was gonna start switching things over on their car, and I said, ‘No, stop. You guys have had a great car, leave it alone, and let me adapt to you.’ The biggest thing for me was that they use a push [hand] brake and all I’ve ever driven for 27 years is a pull brake.
“In testing, I almost ran over a crew guy because I went to pull the brake to stop, and it also changed the way I stage the car. It took me a couple of races before I started getting used to it, and believe it or not, my reaction times were as good or even sometimes better. We went to West Palm [Fla., for testing] and hit the ground running right then and then went to [the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals] and grabbed the pole.
“We were using a six-disc clutch — Tobler always ran a five-disc — and it’s completely different how the car locks up, the way it feels, the way it drives, even the way it sounds, but I noticed instantly how much power they were making. I knew right away we had a great car if I could just drive it the way it needs to be driven. We had a small issue with cylinders dropping downtrack and lost several rounds that way early, but I knew then when — not if, but when — ‘Guido’ found out how to fix that it was really going to be good, so it was just a matter of time.”
After losing in round two in Gainesville, the team reached the final round of the Las Vegas four-wide event but finished fourth despite a 3.97 pass. Three races later, they were back in the final round in Houston but smoked the tires against Robert Hight.
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