Ron Capps’ season ended with a Funny Car world championship on the outskirts of Los Angeles in Pomona, but not even a Hollywood writer could have scripted such a magical season for the veteran and first-year team owner in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
Capps became the first Funny Car driver in 20 years to record back-to-back world titles, claiming his third career championship in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra on the final day of the season at the NHRA Finals. It closed out a special season that included five victories and nine final-round appearances but doing it while taking the massive step to become a team owner just before the start of 2022 made it that much more special.
He relied on the expertise of his team, led by crew chiefs Dean Antonelli and the retiring John Medlen, countless phone calls to legends in the motorsports game, and a series of clutch performances down the stretch to slip past Robert Hight by a mere three points, with Sunday marking the only time all season where he led in points.
“We’ve had so many good people around us and I’ve leaned on some great people. All these people we race against have checked on me and helped me, and I just didn’t think it was going to happen,” Capps said. “Having to beat (Hight), all of it hasn’t even sunk in. It’s still crazy to me and it all blows my mind.
“The year has been phenomenal. I kept leaning on ‘Guido’ (Antonelli) and to win five races, it’s just crazy as a new team owner. I told ‘Guido ‘before the final round, ‘It’s crazy. We both grew up crew guys and we won a world championship in our first year together. I have the utmost confidence in my team and that’s what has made it work all season long.”
Capps switched to the new Toyota GR Supra early in the season, grabbing the first win for the innovative new body in Bristol. He never dipped lower than third in points, but came alive down the stretch, including a highlight-filled weekend in Indy. Capps won the Pep Boys NHRA Funny Car All-Star Callout and then added his first – and long-awaited – career victory at the prestigious U.S. Nationals, heading into the Countdown to the Championship second in points.
He advanced to the final round at four of the six playoff races, winning in Charlotte and Dallas, which proved to be just enough to slip past Hight, who won an incredible eight races this year, including two in the playoffs. But Capps and his team delivered with the run of the year – and perhaps the run of his career – Saturday night in Pomona. After struggling in qualifying and still three rounds behind Hight, Capps laid down an awe-inspiring run of 3.837-seconds at a track-record 337.33 mph, vaulting to No. 1, getting to within two rounds of Hight and jumping to his side of the eliminations ladder.
It was the run that changed everything and when Hight lost in the second round, Capps took advantage, clinching the title with a final-round berth. But it was a championship that might not have been possible without the phenomenal all-or-nothing run on Saturday.
“You talk about a rollercoaster of emotions. To throw down low E.T., gain all those points and get it under two rounds was huge,” Capps said. “I got on the radio and was screaming and yelling. It was like going down the road at Disneyland and getting on Space Mountain. I knew it was going to be one of those runs. We started the season as a No. 1 qualifier at Pomona in my first race as a team owner and then to steal the pole at the end, it was just a great feeling.”
It was a surreal moment that turned into a surreal weekend, as Capps claimed the championship against a star-studded Funny Car field. Hight had the season of his career, advancing to 12 final rounds and winning 58 overall rounds this year, while Matt Hagan also picked up four victories.
Bob Tasca III couldn’t recapture his red-hot summer that included three victories, but he still finished fourth, while John Force’s Charlotte four-wide victory added to his legacy. Cruz Pedregon’s dominant performance in Pomona – including a career-best run of 3.839 – makes him a legit threat in 2023, while Capps also had to deal with the likes of J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, and Alexis DeJoria throughout the season. It was a season filled with challenges, but Capps always proved to be up to the task.
“The Countdown was really crazy, it really was. It just tells you the amount of competition in this class,” Capps said. “To win a championship in the first year as a team owner, it’s insane. A lot of those moments (in previous years) made me better. There’s no retribution or anything. Coming in, you just want to have a shot at a championship. (But) anything you put your mind to you can do with great people around you.”
The 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season begins March 9-12 with the 54th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway. For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.