Tobler puts Capps, NAPA AUTO PARTS Funny Car on track as team takes momentum to NHRA event near Houston


This weekend's NHRA Spring Nationals near Houston should return normalcy to the racing lives of Ron Capps and his NAPA AUTO PARTS Funny Car team.

The past two NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events provided enough ups and downs to thrill a rollercoaster addict.

A routine can fall into place during the NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston, where Capps won event titles in 2006 and 2007. He also became the first Funny Car driver to reach 315 in 1997 at Baytown.

"It gives you a feeling of confidence knowing you won there before," said Capps, who has won 33 event titles. "There are certain tracks where a certain driver or crew chief does well. I've always loved going there especially when I look back and remember winning twice, and going 315 with Roland Leong as my crew chief. That was cool. Some things stand out in your mind."

Capps added to his vast memory bank at a Full Throttle event two weeks ago in Concord, N.C., even though he didn't win the championship race.

After not qualifying for the NHRA event at Las Vegas to start the month that led to the resignation of his crew chief, Don Schumacher Racing restructured half of its four-car Funny Car lineup by pairing four-time NHRA world champion crew chief Rahn Tobler with Capps.

Crews were adjusted and race-car transporters reorganized.

Just getting the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T to the starting line for the first qualifying session on April 13 would have made for a successful Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the unique Four-Wide NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

But that wasn't enough for the NAPA AUTO PARTS team.

The Tobler-Capps combination completed its first run together in 4.105 seconds at 301.81 mph and Friday ended with the duo on the provisional pole.

"That day I remembered how much fun it was to drive one of these hot rods," Capps said.

"I couldn't believe how smooth our NAPA Dodge drove and how quick it was. That was a pretty good barometer on how the rest of the season will go."

Although Robert Hight, who has won four of this year's five Funny Car titles, entered eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier, Capps was able to run 4.092 (311.99) on Saturday to earn the second position.

Capps advanced to the championship round and officially finished third at the fifth of 23 Full Throttle events and moved from eighth to seventh in the Funny Car points standings.

"Ah, man, that weekend was exciting. I can't explain how much fun I had running the Four-Wide Nationals with Rahn and (assistant crew chief) John Collins and the NAPA guys.

"I feel so confident with Rahn Tobler. He looks down the road and plans so far ahead. The way the car is running now I'm confident how well it will run at the end of the year in the Countdown to the Championship.

"I have no problem saying we'll be in the winner's circle soon. That's a fun position to be in as a driver."

The realigning, however, has thrown Capps a few curves.

"It was a big transition at Charlotte with the team because they wanted me to do some things differently like how we warm the car and do a burn out.

"But the hardest part for me was when somebody yelled "Ron (or Rahn)" in the pit area ... Tobler and I would look every time. And then to get the names down for our new crew guys and a lot of them have nicknames."

At Charlotte, Capps joined the team for a NAPA AUTO PARTS customer pool tournament.

"The guys who work on these cars are like family to me. Throughout the year I spend as much or more time with them as I do with my family at home. They build the cars that get us on TV and make me look good. They make it happen."

Capps' name-learning could get a boost 6 p.m. Thursday when he and his crew join NAPA AUTO PARTS customers for a bowling outing at Main Event Entertainment Center in Webster, about 20 miles south of Baytown.

But that's only if his team wears bowling shirts with first names on the front.

"To be honest, I need name tags. I've been on ShoeRacing.com to become more familiar with the new guys."

CAPPS ON DIRT

Capps spent Saturday night getting dirty racing an IMCA Modified open-wheel car at Kingsford Speedway in Hanford, Calif. He started 18th and was up to fourth after 10 laps before another car damaged the left-side of his Modified.

Capps used the seat time to help prepare for Tony Stewart's Prelude to the Dream on June 6 at Eldora, Ohio.

TOBLER: Houston years spark crew chief's drag racing fire

Tobler might not have become part of four NHRA world championship teams had his mother not been transferred from her job in Southern California to one in Houston in 1970.

It was in Houston where Tobler discovered a garage behind a filling station that housed the front-engine Top Fuel dragster owned by legendary racers Stevens & Venables.

From volunteering with the team to traveling to his first NHRA national event, Tobler later would join Connie Kalitta Motorsports and eventually win two NHRA Top Fuel titles as crew chief for Shirley Muldowney and the 2008 NHRA Funny Car title with Cruz Pedregon.

Tobler joined DSR as crew chief for Jack Beckman in 2010 where the duo finished second in championship points last season.

In a DSR realignment three weeks ago, Tobler became crew chief for Capps and the NAPA AUTO PARTS Funny Car and continues to assist with Beckman and Todd Smith, the new crew chief for the Valvoline NextGen team.

CAPPS AT HOUSTON
2011: Qualified 11th; lost in second round.
Career: Wins (2), 2006, 2007; runner-ups (0); poles (0).

FULL THROTTLE SCHEDULE:

FRIDAY: 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m., Qualifying
SATURDAY: 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., Qualifying
SUNDAY: 11 a.m., Championship Eliminations

ESPN2 SCHEDULE

SATURDAY: 5-7 p.m. (EDT), Qualifying coverage (delayed)
SUNDAY: 7-10 p.m. (EDT), Championship Eliminations (delayed)

Race Facts

(through April 15; wins in parenthesis; DSR drivers in BOLD)

  1. Robert Hight, 520 (4)
  2. Mike Neff, 375
  3. Jack Beckman, 333
  4. Johnny Gray, 301
  5. John Force, 292 (1)
  6. Cruz Pedregon, 278
  7. Ron Capps, 274
  8. Bob Tasca III, 262
  9. Courtney Force, 213
  10. Bob Bode, 198
  11. Matt Hagan, 171