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Ron Capps Loses Bizarre Second-Round Matchup at NHRA Gatornationals

Three-time NHRA Funny Car world champion Ron Capps didn’t predict that a double-step and a red light in the second round would mark the end of his weekend Sunday afternoon at the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. When opponent J.R. Todd double-stepped while waiting for the tree to drop, Capps reacted early and turned on the red light in his quick and consistent NAPA Auto Care Toyota GR Supra.
 
Capps in his Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli-tuned hot rod qualified third after consistently going down the track and making the third-quickest pass in all three completed qualifying sessions; Saturday’s fourth session was canceled due to weather. He picked up one bonus point in each of those sessions. It was Capps’ 3.871-second pass at 333.00 MPH in Friday’s second session that put him third on the final qualifying order.
 
In the first round of eliminations on Sunday, Capps left the starting line first against Jim Campbell and charged to a 3.870-second pass at 332.18 MPH to get the win over a tire-hazing Campbell. It was the second-quickest performance of the round and Capps’ quickest of the weekend, extending his record over Campbell to a class-record 18-0 and giving him lane choice in the second round.
 
Capps met up with past world champion and fellow Toyota driver J.R. Todd in the second round. Todd double-stepped the throttle, leading Capps to smash the throttle pedal in his NAPA Auto Care entry. He hit it .037 seconds too soon, as the red light came on in his lane. The third-year team owner coasted to a 4.185-second run at 249.39 MPH knowing he was disqualified due to the red light.
 
“A heartbreaking Sunday race day, obviously, more so because we had such a great race car,” Capps said. “We were so well prepared for our NAPA Auto Care team to go down the track every single run we were here. Even the run that we lost, with all that went on at the starting line, this car still went down the track under power until they killed the ignition switch on me. It probably would have gone to the finish line, but we didn’t want to take a chance after the weird starting line scenario.”
 
Capps went into the weekend as a four-time Gatornationals winner who was attempting to tie former boss Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme’s record as the second-winningest Funny Car driver at the historic Florida track. He said the bizarre second-round incident spoke to the pressure that exists in the Funny Car class, especially at the season-opening Gatornationals.
 
“Obviously, we wanted to get another Gatornationals win, but that was so weird up there,” Capps said. “You’re so keyed up. It was a long delay for the starting line, which is great because I love that. It really makes everybody be on their toes. But when your right foot and your butt is strapped into 13,000 horsepower, you could cut the air with a knife. J.R. just made a mistake, and he felt terrible, but it’s nothing he did wrong. It’s just part of it. I tried to hold my foot, but I heard his car and reacted.”
 
Capps took comfort in the fact that he didn’t lose due to the performance of his NAPA Auto Care Toyota GR Supra. He’s confident the car’s consistency will carry over to the next race at one of his home tracks, In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.
 
“It’s upsetting because of how good a car we had, but it’s also a silver lining leaving here,” said Capps, owner of Ron Capps Motorsports. “It makes it a little less agonizing because I know how good we are right now. We’ll just move on to Pomona with a great hot rod.”
 
Capps and the Ron Capps Motorsports Funny Car team will be back on track March 22 – 24 at the NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in Pomona, Calif.

This story was originally published on March 11, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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