Capps heads to Las Vegas with NAPA Carlyle Tools Dodge in close battle for NHRA Funny Car world championship

Ron Capps likely would have been happy in April if he was told he would be within 23 points of the Funny Car points lead upon his return six months later to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with his NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T.

But he’ll be disappointed with that scenario when he gets to the track Friday for the start of the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals.

Capps mounted one of the hottest streaks ever in NHRA once Rahn Tobler became his crew chief after Capps’ team did not qualify for championship eliminations on April 1 at the Las Vegas race, which was the fourth event of the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.

After Tobler teamed with Capps, the NAPA AUTO PARTS team advanced to six consecutive championship rounds and won two titles then added another before taking the points lead after the 17th of 23 events that also marked the end to the regular season.

At the start of NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, the NAPA team won its fourth title of the year in the opening event of the playoff and advanced to the semifinals at the next race to take a commanding 96-point lead.

“We had a lot of people saying the championship was going to be wrapped up by us when we had that (big) point lead going into St. Louis,” Capps said. “It almost irritated me every time somebody would say something, whether it was media or just fans, because I think they forget how quickly things can turn around, which they have. I could almost tell you what was going to happen when we went out in St. Louis. Jack (Beckman) went on to win, and I just had a hunch that was the way it was going to go. It wasn't going to be an easy championship run for anybody.”

His words proved to be prophetic.

Beckman, one of Capps’ teammates at Don Schumacher Racing, moved within 30 points of Capps at St. Louis. At the next race, Beckman’s team eliminated Capps in the second round near Reading, Pa., where the series last raced, and set a national elapsed time record to earn 20 bonus points and move 23 ahead of Capps.

But it was clear something was wrong with Capps’ Funny Car, after losing in the second round at two straight races.

The team tested near Indianapolis two days after returning from Reading.

“We just had one of those hiccups in Reading,” Capps said. “We hadn't tested all year long so we put our old stuff back in it and the car went right down the track. Tobler figured out what the problem was, which is a great sign. He also found a steering box that was going bad, which could have been disastrous the first qualifying run in Vegas.

“So that test was huge for us. We can put that behind us and go forward.”

After six events this season, John Force Racing had won each of the first six Full Throttle events with Robert Hight winning four straight. Most assumed Hight would coast to his second championship.

But that, however, is why the championship trophy won’t be engraved until the season ends on Nov. 11 at Pomona, Calif.

It’s a three-man race with Beckman first, Capps 23 points back in second and JFR’s Mike Neff in third, 54 points behind Beckman.

“I remember last year when I was Jack’s crew chief and we left Phoenix with two races left as the points leader, and we didn’t win it,” Tobler recalled. “Anything can happen. We’re still in the game. It was great for Jack and that team to get 20 points for a national record, but it was more important to us to get our car straightened out. And I think we have.”

Career at Las Vegas: Wins 4 (2001-Oct., 2005-Oct., 2009-Apr., 2011-Oct.), Runner-ups 2 (2006-Apr., 2007-Apr.), Poles 1 (2011-Oct.)
2012 April at Las Vegas: Did not qualify
2011 October at Las Vegas: Qualified No. 1, beat Johnny Gray in final round


2012 Pts Races Titles Rup Poles DNQ Win/Loss
1st 21 3 0 4 1 33-17
Career Races Titles R-up Poles DNQ Win/Loss
385 37 39 13 17 465-331


Friday: 1, 4 p.m., qualifying
Saturday: 12, 3 p.m., qualifying
Sunday: 11 a.m., eliminations


Friday: High 72, 0 percent chance of rain
Saturday: High 77, 0 percent chance of rain
Sunday: High 79, 0 percent chance of rain

ESPN2 SCHEDULE (subject to change)

Sunday: 4-5 p.m. ET, qualifying
Sunday: 8-11 p.m. ET, eliminations

Race Facts

Countdown to the Championship

  1. JACK BECKMAN, 2,437
  2. RON CAPPS, 2,414
  3. Mike Neff, 2,383
  4. JOHNNY GRAY, 2,246
  5. Cruz Pedregon, 2,244
  6. John Force, 2,217
  7. Courtney Force, 2,216
  8. Robert Hight, 2,211
  9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,207
  10. Jeff Arend, 2,180
  11. MATT HAGAN, 1,129