NASCAR & Auto Racing

Capps in position – again – to win first NHRA Funny Car points crown

There is a slight hesitation in drag racer Ron Capps’ self-assured voice.

He has a National Hot Rod Association rap sheet that many drivers would trade for in a nanosecond — 95 national-event finals appearances, 49 national-event victories and plenty of close head-to-head battles with 18-time Funny Car champion John Force.

Capps’ 48 career wins in Funny Car are second in NHRA history only to the immortal Force (145).

In short, the 51-year-old California native has been one of the world’s best professional drag racers the past two decades.

And yet, he is still the winningest NHRA driver to never capture a points championship in a professional class (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle).

But here comes Capps in 2016 in what might be his best season yet. He leads Funny Car in both race wins (four) and points (1,214, ahead of second-place Courtney Force at 1,084).

Against what arguably is the deepest field of Funny Car competitors in NHRA history, Capps has qualified his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger in the top five in nine of the 15 national races. He’s been top qualifier four times.

And on elimination day, he has gone at least one do-or-die round in 13 of those races.

Is he set up to finally win that elusive Funny Car points championship, or is he setting himself up for more late-season heartbreak?

“Of course I want it,” Capps said. “It is the last thing for me. If I don’t get it, I have had an unbelievable career.

“(At the end of it), I won’t sit in a dark room in a chair and ponder this at 70 years old if I was somebody in this sport, whether or not I win the championship.”

A few seconds later, Capps stopped the conversation, maybe realizing that not winning one would be a huge void in his career.

“Maybe I will be bitter,” Capps said. “This is one of those years it will be frustrating if we don’t win it.”

Capps has everything a professional drag racer should — talent, charisma and opportunity.

He burst onto the scene as an NHRA rookie in 1995 for the low-budget Roger Primm Top Fuel dragster team, and won the Northwest Nationals race in Kent.

Two years later, legend Don Prudhomme hired him to his Funny Car full time.

Over the next four seasons, Capps gave John Force all he could handle, taking the sport’s king down to the wire and twice finishing as the runner-up (1998, 2000).

In 2005, Capps switched to Don Schumacher Racing, and has twice lost the Funny Car points title on the final day of the season.

That first year with Schumacher, Capps finished eight points behind teammates Gary Scelzi in what was the closest finish ever in Funny Car.

If that wasn’t agonizing enough, what happened in 2012 was downright cruel.

Capps trailed veteran Jack Beckman going into the final race in Pomona, California. Both reached the semifinals.

Against Courtney Force, Capps hit a spot of oil left by a previous car, spun the tires and not only lost to Courtney — he forfeited the Funny Car points crown to Beckman.

“Ron has won a lot of races … but you’ve got to have luck,” John Force said. “It is just a matter of time. He is a great racer.”

For whatever reason, Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler — who helped Shirley Muldowney to three Top Fuel titles, and Cruz Pedregon to one Funny Car crown — have had this Dodge Charger dialed in all season.

Many think the NHRA specifically targeted Schumacher cars when it set a new exhaust rule for Funny Car teams last month, standardizing the angle of the headers.

It hasn’t impacted Capps’ performance at all.

And last weekend, Tobler and Capps completed their modernized five-disc clutch program.

“We put in the last disc … and we have enough to go to the end of the season,” Capps said. “We just want to get to Indy with the points lead. That is why Seattle (this weekend) is so pivotal — we don’t want to stumble but keep it rolling.”

If Capps still holds the Funny Car points lead heading into the six-race “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs, he will be awarded an extra 20 points before it begins.

“If we win a championship this season,” Capps said, “we will have beaten all of these teams at their best.”