Capps eager to start NHRA season with Richards and drive NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge at Pomona

Southern California and Bangor, Maine, are about 3,200 miles and 70 degrees apart this time of year.

But the distance and climate change wasn't going to keep Ron Capps from heading to the Northeast last week to spend time with his NAPA AUTO PARTS family along with a few hours riding snowmobiles.

"It was cool, really cool," he said of the excursion. "The hanging out with the NAPA folks and riding snowmobiles was cool ... the weather was freezing."

Capps will get to thaw out this week when the California native and resident of Carlsbad, Calif., spends a few days at home before heading to this week's NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.

The 46-year-old member of Don Schumacher Racing has been driving Funny Cars since 1997 and enters this season cautiously optimistic.

At the end of three seasons - 1998, 2000, 2005 - he was so close to winning an NHRA season championship when he finished runner-up that he could taste it.

But coming close did not leave a bitter taste.

"There are a lot of guys who never come that close," he said.

He expects his NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T to do better than last season's sixth-place finish largely because he gets to start the season and Thursday's first qualifying session at Pomona with veteran crew chief Tim Richards, a six-time NHRA world championship tuner.

"Tim is so competitive," Capps said. "I think Tim is more competitive than I am."

Richards took over tuning Capps' NAPA AUTO PARTS Funny Car after last year's fourth NHRA event.

Richards couldn't refuse the opportunity to get back into the sport after a two-year hiatus.

"It's always been about the competition, a contest of being successful," said Tim, whose wife Kim oversees the NAPA racecar's clutch management system.

Richards is Capps' latest legendary tuner including Ed "Ace" McCulloch and John Medlen.

"I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by experienced, successful people from crew chiefs to car owners," said Capps, who drove a Funny Car for Don Prudhomme before joining Don Schumacher Racing in 2005.

Richards won five championships with Joe Amato and one with Kenny Bernstein. The two event titles Richards won last year with Capps raised his career total to 83.

Six races after Richards took over, the team advanced to the championship round and three races after that it won the title at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

Another NHRA title was added in the season's penultimate race when Capps won from the pole at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his 33rd title.

"It's been wonderful working with Ron and the NAPA team," said Richards, who turned 68 on Jan. 21 during preseason testing at Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter, Fla.

"The whole situation at DSR from the whole team to the sponsors has been as good as we could ask for."

And Capps wants this season to be as hot as his trip to Bangor was cold.

Ron Capps Fast Facts

At Pomona in 2011:

  • NHRA Winternationals (Feb. 27, 2011): Capps qualified eighth and lost to Robert Hight in the semifinals.
  • NHRA Auto Club of Southern California Finals (Nov. 13, 2011): Again lost to Hight, but this time in the second round.

At Pomona in 2011:

Winternationals - 2009, 1998
Finals - 2010

Pomona runner-ups:

Winternationals - 2006
Finals - 2008

NHRA Winternationals Schedule
Auto Club Raceway - Pomona, Calif.

THURSDAY, February 9 - Sportsman qualifying, 8:15 a.m., Funny Car, Top Fuel session: 2 p.m.
FRIDAY, February 10 - Sportsman eliminations, 8:15 a.m., Funny Car, Top Fuel session: 2 p.m.
SATURDAY, February 11 - Sportsman qualifying, 8:15 a.m., Funny Car, Top Fuel sessions: 11:30 a.m., 2:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, February 12 - Pre-race ceremony, 10 a.m., Funny Car, Top Fuel eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

Saturday, February 11 -- ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, February 12 -- ESPN2/ESPN2HD will televise 3 hours, 30 minutes of coverage starting at 7 p.m. (ET).

For tickets: (800) 884-NHRA (6472);