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NHRA: Capps cornering the market on wins

Ron Capps and his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger enter the Aug. 18-20 Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway with the Funny Car points lead.1 / 2
Ron Capps2 / 2

Ron Capps owns the market at Brainerd International Raceway.

The corner market that is.

"Capps Corner" in the BIR campground will be buzzing Aug. 18-20 for the Lucas Oil Nationals.

The NAPA Auto Parts team has enjoyed the one-quarter mile in Brainerd, but it's been awhile since he hoisted the Lucas Oil Nationals Wally Trophy in Brainerd. Capps last won in 2014, but that didn't happen in Brainerd—rather, it was one event later in Indianapolis because of inclement weather.

He did win the Seattle final last year at BIR after Saturday qualifying, but Capps is ready to end the three-year drought and have "Capps Corner" be the place to be Sunday night.

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Ron Capps

  • Division: Funny Car
  • Hometown: San Luis Obispo, Calif.
  • Crew Chief: Rahn Tobler
  • Sponsor: NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T
  • Career wins: 55

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"Brainerd, when you start looking at the schedule, for us anyway, and I know a lot of teams will tell you the same thing, it's sort of this beacon that flashes," Capps said. "Brainerd, for most teams, has always been this awaking that you better start getting Countdown-ready. The Countdown is only six races and you really can't afford to mess up. Last couple of years, including this year, we've had a pretty good points lead.

"And last year we ended up winning the Seattle final there and we advanced to the semifinals on the weekend and we were running very good. We were back to our racing mode. The tuneup was right where wanted it. The clutch disk was right where we wanted it.

"And sure enough, just like it does every year, Brainerd pops up on the schedule to start reminding everyone you better have your act together."

The five-time winner at BIR enters this weekend leading the Funny Car Division by 158 points over teammate Matt Hagan. His six wins this season are the most of his career and twice as many as any other driver in the field. However, Capps struggled during the West Coast Swing, advancing past the first round only once in the three events.

The big reason for that was because it was testing time for the NAPA team.

"Without getting too technical, these clutch disks are so important," Capps said. "It's like a cook having a good recipe for what makes him famous and that's what a crew chief has to have is a consistent number of clutch disks because they are all made on different days and months. You have to have enough to look at the schedule and say, 'If we go to the final round of all six races in the Countdown, this is how many disks I need.' If you don't have what you like, and you have to slip in some other ones in the middle of the Countdown, you're not going to sleep well as a crew chief."

Capps has manned the top spot in the Funny Car division since Charlotte—11 events ago. In that span, he's won at Charlotte, Atlanta, Topeka, Bristol and Chicago to go with an earlier win at Houston.

But don't confuse his recent winning ways to things becoming easy for him.

"Don't discount these other teams," Capps said. "The bull's-eye just got darker and bigger on our back. I always say this, right around Brainerd, you're going to have five teams that look like they've been struggling all year long and they're going to find it. Well, guess what? Look around. J.R. Todd just won his first race. Robert Hight is running unbelievable right now. My teammates T.J. (Tommy Johnson Jr.) and Matt Hagan are going to be good.

"People said I'll be running away with it, but I know better."

About the only thing Capps didn't win last year was the Lucas Oil Nationals. He captured his first Mello Yello Series Funny Car world championship. He posted a career best 10 final-round appearances with five wins and five runner-up finishes. He posted career bests in speed and time and moved to No. 2 all-time in Funny Car wins with 49. With his six wins this season, he's sitting at 55 career victories.

"It's funny because I got a pretty cool email from (team crew chief Rahn) Tobler after the season was over where he kind of reflected on the season," Capps said. "It was a pretty lengthy email and it was cool to read once we won the championship because there were certain times that we sort of looked back on the day or the weekend. We would be in the lounge after a run or after a certain race and you decompress and I tell him how I feel about the run and how the car felt to me and then they look at the computer.

"We have those moments, but there were times where we looked at each other and say, 'This is going to be a big moment if we can win the championship.' It was funny because obviously we had a great season."

Last year at BIR, Capps qualified fifth before falling to Hagan in the semifinals. His Lucas Oil Nationals wins came in 1998, 2001, 2002, 2013 and 2014. Along with those he has three runner-up finishes.

"Brainerd is a track where you don't have to worry about the track being iffy," Capps said. "This year we're going to see records fall. You're probably going to see the first 340 mph funny car run because the conditions are going to be very good and that track will hold anything you throw at it.

"It's going to be, for the fans, it will be one of those great race tracks that you can guarantee great side-by-side racing."

One thing that could be a distraction for Capps is his fan-friendly corner. This year Fox Sports will shoot the Capps version of "Walking 1,000 feet in the Capps Corner" instead of on the race track.

"There are other tracks where we've built up a legion of fans over the years, but nothing like Brainerd," Capps said. "I just had a discussion with one of my crew guys Sunday and we were talking about Brainerd and one of our crew guys has not been to 'Capps Corner.' All he hears about is this 'Capps Corner' thing so I explain to him the history of the 'Budweiser Corner' and how Kenny Bernstein and the 'Budweiser Corner' that was the place to hang out. I was a crew member on a dragster in Brainerd and I remember that was the spot where you could rub elbows with the big guys.

"When that went away and 'Capps Corner' came up, and like I say, we've won there so many times that it's just an amazing feeling."

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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