Ron Capps Wins NHRA Funny Car Title in Midst of Don Schumacher Racing Upheaval
Credit: JERRY FOSS NHRA / NATIONAL DRAGSTER
Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for Don Schumacher Racing, won the NHRA Funny Car title on November 14th in Pomona, California.
A year ago, DSR had six championship-caliber cars in their Top Fuel and Funny Car stable.
That year, after a major sponsor retired from the sport, two of those drivers - funny car drivers Jack Beckman, a former champion, and Tommy Johnson Jr. - were gone. Two more - Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett and former champion Matt Hagan - were on their way out the door after announcing they would join a new team led by owner Tony Stewart in 2022.
A fifth DSR driver - three-time top fuel champion Antron Brown - is leaving DSR to start his own team for 2022.
If you have accidentally sent Ron Capps a text, email or social post congratulating him on winning his second NHRA Camping World Funny Car Championship and hoping for a response, be patient.
Capps was pretty busy partying.
"I have to start answering all of my text messages," laughed Capps two days after the driver of the NAPA Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat won the title for Don Schumacher Racing on November 14th in Pomona, Calif. get some news. I have to sit down and work on it. "
Photo credit: NHRA / National Dragster
All right, we're excited to give the champion a break - especially less than 48 hours after winning a title in what he described as the most competitive NHRA funny car season in at least a quarter of a century.
"It's hilarious because you ask every driver all year round," said Capps, "even before the last races, seasoned drivers who have been in this fight - Robert Hight, of course Matt Hagan, JR Todd, you go the list - they all said the same thing as me, and that was that this season was by far (the most competitive).
"But I hadn't heard everyone say what I thought it was the most competitive, balled-up, who-knows-what-happen-funny-car division ever - for me anyway. And I was doing it (in Funny Car) since '97. "
How competitive was it? Well, it was so different from Capps' championship run in 2016. Five years ago, Capps dominated the field with five wins, five runner-ups, a career high with 10 finals and four top qualifications.
This time, Capps, 56, won the title with two wins, three runners-up and three top qualifiers.
The championship was the 19th for Don Schumacher Racing.
Another reason this felt different was the changing face of DSR itself. A year ago, DSR had six championship-caliber cars in their Top Fuel and Funny Car stable. That year, after a major sponsor retired from the sport, two of those drivers - funny car drivers Jack Beckman, a former champion, and Tommy Johnson Jr. - were gone. Two more - top fuel driver Leah Pruett and former champ Matt Hagan - will join a new team in 2022, led by owner Tony Stewart. A fifth DSR driver - three-time top fuel champion Antron Brown - is forming his own team for 2022.
This sixth driver, Capps, is expected to announce their plans for 0wn 2022 on December 9th.
Capps too had his part in the upheaval until 2021. He lost the long-time crew boss Rahn Tobler, who retired and was replaced by co-crew bosses John Medlen and Dean "Guido" Antonelli.
It was one season with one dark cloud after another over the DSR paddock.
"It really was," said Capps. "And for me it was strange because I was put together with this new team. The comfort that you have to have the same team every season and no change like since 2012 (wasn't there). Before that, I was five years in the same team, there is something to be said about that in winter and in the off-season, when you know that you have the same staff, the same guys who strap you into the racing car, the same crew chief pointing to your windshield before the run. "
Tobler's resignation meant a new voice in the garage yelling over the roar of the engines.
Credit: MARC GEWERTZ
"And (to) hear that so far in my career," said Capps, "I was thrown a bit like a curveball and hooked up with this other team. But I grew up friends with the crew chief (Antonelli) when he was was a crew member at John Force years ago so we've been friends for a long time and it was cool to finally have the chance to work together, but so many different things came up this year.
“I had to learn to drive completely differently again. You did a lot of different things with this racing car than I was used to. It was a learning curve and it was kind of exciting. It kind of took me back to my rookie year and some other stuff that really took you to adjust and get used to, how amazing these cars are, how fast they are, because I kind of had to learn how to drive again. "
Capps and the new NAPA Funny Car lineup wasted no time getting into the discussion among competitors with three No. 1 qualification attempts at the start of the season in 2021.
"I was pushed into this car, we're coming to the first race and lo and behold, the number 1 in qualifying, so it was a great start," said Capps. "It really showed a lot of promise and we worked very well together. But as we have seen so often, the lead had changed in terms of points and different teams moved up and dominated here and there.
"But we kind of kept tapping. We didn't win a race until the middle of the summer, but we were in a few finals and had a lot of low qualifications - probably more low qualifications for me in my career in one season than ever before."
Capps qualified outside the top eight only once throughout the season.
"We were always top three, top four qualifiers," he said. “We knew we had the performance. You have to prepare for the playoffs and countdown, you just have to be in position. And we were better than just being in position - we had the scoring that was a great, great thing to have a little bonus in points for the countdown. "
Capps won the championship on the last day of the season at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, 37 points clear of Hagan. Hagan beat Capp head to head in the second round of the season finale in Pomona before losing to Alexis DeJoria in the semifinals. After beating Capps, a Hagan Event victory in the final would have given Hagan the championship and resulted in a long what-if offseason for Capps.
2021 NHRA Funny Car final score
Ron Capps 2,676
Bob Tasca III 2,586
Cruz Pedregon 2,555
John Force 2,543
Alexis DeJoria 2,526
J. R. Todd 2,498
Robert Hight 2,478
Tim Wilkerson 2,361
Jim Campbell 2,238
"We rolled in with a 58 point lead in Pomona," said Capps. "We had to get (the lead) over 60 to create a scenario where Hagan would have to go another whole lap no matter what happened in the end. That was huge. Even if he lost the next lap, he would have it have to do." Go ahead and win the race (to win the title). It's a great team - and I thought they were going to win - but doing another lap really put him under pressure. "
In the end everything worked out, but the last day did not go quite as Capps had hoped.
"You can ask any other driver," said Capps. "You hate to have to rely on someone else to do your dirty work. For me, we had to win the second round, (and then) we would have prevailed and we'd be done and not have to sit around and worry.
"Well, it didn't work that way because we lost a cylinder in 2.9 seconds. Unfortunately (Hagan) drove around me. It all worked out fine, but at the time I was devastated. I thought, 'Oh Boy, let's go. '"
The Capps championship was a nice icing on the cake for Don Schumacher Racing before the organization goes through its next major overhaul. Eight-time Top Fuel Champion Tony Schumacher is returning to the DRS group on a full-time basis next year, but Pruett, Hagan and Brown will be gone. The NHRA world will know about Capps' plans in December.
Capps, who said it was easy to be a little shocked thinking about last year's sales, is philosophical about the dramatic changes at DSR.
"We just added the 19th championship to DSR," said Capps. “We are the most successful organization (with more than 350 wins for the organization). You can look at it in two different ways. Things change so much that people go away to do other things, or you can look at it and say, man, they could go out and do something on their own, because of their surroundings and because of the professionalism, everything, championships.
“What Antron has done over the last year to prepare for his own start has obviously learned a lot from Don. If the Antrons don't do what they do, there will be no drag racing sport. ”10 years from now.
"There is something to say about all of the banners that we have put up at DSR."
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