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Ron Capps Not Backing Down Heading to Gainesville

It was a historic season in many respects for Ron Capps last year, as the veteran Funny Car standout won his second straight world championship in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Season.

But it was also his first as a team owner, becoming the first back-to-back world champ in Funny Car in 20 years. It gives Capps plenty of momentum going into 2023 in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra, where he remains as motivated as ever to succeed at the legendary Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Fresh off a season that included five wins, six No. 1 qualifiers and nine final rounds, there were plenty of incredible moments for Capps, a three-time world champ, to enjoy in 2022. But in kicking off the new year, Capps remains driven to succeed, in part because of the stellar competition around him in Funny Car.

“It’s just been a lot of fun and we’re really looking forward to 2023,” Capps said. “It was to enjoy all those moments as they happened, but you have to find a way to motivate yourself or else you’re going to fall down that ladder in the class. There’s a lot to wake up and be motivated about and it’s not hard for me to get motivated. We’re going to have our hands full and there’s a lot of teams that have been working hard. It’s going to be the toughest year ever, without a doubt.”

Tripp Tatum (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock), and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all picked up victories during a record-breaking weekend in Gainesville last year. This year’s event will be broadcast on both Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and the FOX broadcast network, including eliminations coverage beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday to open the season.

Capps got off to a great start last year in his first race as a team owner, qualifying No. 1 and advancing to the final round. He would be thrilled with that this weekend in Gainesville, where Capps has put together four victories in his storied career. Sitting on 73 career wins, the standout is also closing in on his milestone 75th victory. That will be a big goal during his 2023 campaign, but Capps is eyeing a Gainesville victory and the chance to compete for a fourth world title as well.

The class, though, remains loaded, as Capps will take on the likes of Robert Hight, who won eight races last season, defending event winner Hagan, John Force, J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, Alexis DeJoria, Bob Tasca III and Cruz Pedregon.

“I’m excited about being back in the car,” Capps said. “I’ve been seeing all of these other drivers on social media making hits in their cars during testing all off-season and I’m excited we’re finally back at it now too. The weather is looking awesome; it’s going to be warm, it’s going to be tricky. The Gatornationals is a historic race, so I’d love nothing more than to win this weekend and get the season started off on a good note.” 

In Top Fuel, Brittany Force will begin her title defense with hopes of winning for the second time in Gainesville. Other top contenders include Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher and Justin Ashley. The Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout will also take place on Saturday, with Force, Torrence, Ashley, Mike Salinas, Doug Kalitta, Josh Hart, Austin Prock and Clay Millican all competing for a huge payout in the one-day specialty race.

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Defending world champ Erica Enders will try to win in Gainesville for the first time, facing off against Pro Stock stars Greg Anderson, Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Glenn. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith, who has won three straight world titles has his sights on a third Gatornationals victory, but he’ll have to get past Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith, Jerry Savoie, Steve Johnson and Joey Gladstone.

In addition, the Gatornationals will set the field for the first #2Fast2Tasty Mission NHRA Challenge. The semifinalists from Gainesville will rematch during qualifying on Saturday at the next event in Phoenix, with bonus money and points on the line as part of the special new program for 2023.

The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, along with the season debuts for the NHRA Pro Mod Series and Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown. Total Seal Tech Talk will take place on Friday and Saturday in Matt Hartford’s pits, while an autograph session will take place on Friday at the Dodge Display with Dodge-sponsored drivers. Fans can also look forward to the exciting cacklefests taking place at the Hot Rod Junction on both Friday and Saturday.

Leading into the race, a special Gatornationals Fan Fest will take place on Wednesday, March 8 from 6-9 p.m. at Josh Hart’s Burnyzz Speed Shop in nearby Ocala. The Top Fuel standout will host an event featuring a car show, live music and a driver autograph session from 7-8 p.m. A special championship press conference and season kick-off event follows the next day at the Hilton University of Florida in Gainesville, honoring 2022 NHRA world champs Force, Capps, Enders and M. Smith, and also featuring Hart, J. Force and legendary driver “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

Garlits will be featured guest throughout weekend and six of his historic dragsters will be included in a special “Swamp Rat Alley” section inside the Hot Rod Junction, giving fans the unique chance to check out the cars that made history. Garlits will also be on hand for autographs with fans and he will be making an exhibition pass during the race.

More NHRA legends will be part of a special autograph and Q&A session in the Top Eliminator Club on Saturday, while all fans are invited to the first-ever Nitro Alley Stage, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into the nitro pits. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets, music and much more.

Race fans at Gainesville Raceway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk, which benefits the Darrell Gwynn Foundation in Gainesville. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners of the season-opener.

As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Gainesville. This opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday, March 10, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 11 at 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 12. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 10:00 a.m. ET. on Saturday and 9 a.m. on Sunday, leading into live eliminations on FOX at 12 p.m. ET.

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The opening round of the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place on Saturday at 1:20 p.m. ET, with the semifinals to follow at 2:45 p.m. The finals are slated for 4:25 p.m., and the callout will be given a featured broadcast on FS1 at 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.

This story was originally published on March 8, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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