A new day dawned today for eliminations at the 41st annual NHRA Gatornationals, and Ron Capps and the NAPA Filters Dodge Charger Funny Car team emerged as a top contender for his third victory at this historic event.

Robert Wilson

Capps was on a tear en route to the semifinal round, first by defeating Del Worsham in the opening stanza with a solid 4.072-second lap at 310.63 to match his 4.070/306.81 No. 3 qualifying run, then took out 14-time champion John Force with an even quicker and faster 4.066/312.35.

Enjoying lane choice in each round, Capps and crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch then faced Bob Tasca III in the semifinal. Although Tasca nipped him at the starting lights, Capps quickly moved into the lead, which he held until just past the 330-foot mark of the 1000-foot race track, then struck the tires. Tasca passed him for the win, posting a 4.125/308.85 to Capps' losing 4.562/216.76.

With that, Capps moved into second in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings, and will head to zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, March 25-28.

"Running the NAPA Filters car, we wanted to repeat what we did in Topeka and that was win with the special Adaptive One Brakes car. I tell you, after that last qualifying run to get us third in qualifying, Ace made just a great call but, more impressively, the 4.07 the first round and then the 4.06 when it warmed up in the second round, gosh! I really felt like we had the car to beat, which we did.

"And talking with Ace, he feels like he didn't back the power down enough. It just got a little bit warmer and we felt like the car was safe enough to go down there.

"I always feel great driving this car, and this weekend was a prime example of how really good of a race car I get to drive."

As for the importance of having lane choice today: "It was important maybe first and second round," he said. "Everybody really thought the left lane was going to be the lane this morning. As we saw in Top Fuel, guys started smoking the tires so instantly that everybody started picking the right lane.

"Whatever happened with this morning's track prep, it threw some of the teams a curve, so everybody with lane choice relegated themselves to taking the right lane. And, in the semifinals, the lanes were both prepped very good, so it was pretty even.

"Just because of the bumps in both lanes we chose the left lane; it seemed to be a little easier. These Funny Cars can be upset by the bumps so easily so we felt like the left lane was a better lane. Like Ace said, he didn't think it was the track. We just missed it by a little bit.

"I tell you, we ran 312 mph on the second round. That's the top speed for Ace and the NAPA guys and that's an encouraging sign going into Charlotte where we very well could see cool conditions and record runs.

"Just a great weekend by the NAPA guys. We had a fun time with Michael Waltrip coming and hanging out on Saturday. Going into the four-wide race in Charlotte to be second in points is a big boost for the team.

“We understand how the Countdown is, so we're focusing on just winning races for NAPA AUTO PARTS and then see where the points may fall when the Countdown begins."

Race Facts


(after three national events)

  1. John Force, 280
  2. Ron Capps, 226
  3. Jack Beckman, 219
  4. Bob Tasca III, 205*
  5. Robert Hight, 181
  6. Matt Hagan, 181
  7. Tony Pedregon, 180
  8. Tim Wilkerson, 177**
  9. Ashley Force, 149
  10. Del Worsham, 128

* Runner-up Today
** Winner Today