(Photo courtesy NHRA)

Whats next for new NHRA Funny Car champ Ron Capps? ‘Already thinking about next year’

1 Comment

After knowing him for 20 years, I can unequivocally say that Ron Capps is one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

It seems like he almost always has a smile on his face.

But that’s all a façade … kind of.

While Capps appears to be Mr. Happy Go Lucky away from a drag strip, the real truth is that behind the wheel, Capps has ice in his veins, making him one of the toughest competitors in NHRA Funny Car racing.

People talk a lot about 16-time champion and 147-race winner John Force as the toughest guy to beat in the class. That may be true, but Capps unquestionably is a close second.

Until he won his first career Funny Car championship this past weekend in the season-ending race at Pomona, California, Capps was stuck with a moniker that was both a blessing and a curse:

“The winningest Funny Car driver in history to never win a championship.”

But now, with that elusive first championship finally earned, he’s actually happy to be known as the second-winningest Funny Car driver in history.

“Yeah, it is a huge relief,” Capps said of finally winning his first title. “It did get old hearing that. … It’s easy to get a little quirky when that’s brought up by a reporter every time, and you start to get tired of hearing it. I’m glad to have that gone.”

Right around the midpoint of the 24-race season, Capps began looking like the favorite to win the championship. Of course, he still had to go through the six-race Countdown to the Championship, and that has become a playoff where championships are more often lost for the majority of competitors than won.

Capps worried that the he wouldn’t even win one race in the Countdown.

Ironically, he didn’t. But to compensate, he was the most consistent Funny Car pilot in the Countdown, reaching the final round in each of the first five races. He then clinched the title during qualifying Saturday.

“It was a bummer for me to think if we come up short after the season we had this year – by far the best I ever had with five wins, all the track records set and the killer runs we made – then it was going to hurt a little more this year if we didn’t do it,” Capps said. “Yeah, I did question could we keep up this pace, because this year was by far the toughest in Funny Car. I know we say that every year, but it was so tough this year.

“So, yeah, I was prepared if we didn’t get through it. But I don’t have to worry about that now.”

In a sense, Capps is still getting used to the idea of being a champion. Most other drivers in his position would too, given that 2016 was his 20th season as a full-time Funny Car driver.

But it was also a season that saw him win the season opener at Pomona, only to uncharacteristically fail to qualify three races later at Las Vegas.

It was also a year that he finally earned his 50th national event race win, shortly after his 51st birthday – and in the 50th anniversary year of Funny Car racing in the NHRA.

“Every day, it’s been just a little bit of kind of reality sinking in,” Capps said of winning the Funny Car crown. “The big one was getting up on the stage Monday night in Hollywood (at the NHRA season awards).

“I’ve been on the other side of that, out in that audience. To be up there talking to all the other racers, my peers, my family in the front row, that was kind of a big reality check there. So it’s starting to sink in.”

While he races with ice in his veins, Capps admitted he became very emotional when last season’s Funny Car champion and close friend Del Worsham got most of their fellow competitors to stand in line to welcome Capps when he formally accepted the championship at Monday night’s banquet.

“I walked out on the stage for driver intro … all of my competitors, not (just those in the) Countdown, but everybody was standing on the stage waiting and shook my hand,” Capps said. “I almost lost it. It was crazy. That’s hard to do.

“For those guys to come up there and do that, that was unbelievable. I can’t even tell you. Just thinking about it again kind of gets me a little worked up. But that was huge.”

Even though the end of the 2016 season is just a few days old, Capps is already building on his second championship starting three months from now when the 2017 season begins.

“I’m already thinking about next year,” Capps said on a NHRA teleconference Wednesday. “I was at dinner last night with (several fellow drivers). Everybody was already talking about what’s going on for Silly Season for 2017.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to have any time to enjoy this because everybody is starting to talk about next year.’”

But there’s still plenty left to talk about this year still. Capps, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, made sure to give credit for his championship to everyone associated with his team, particularly crew chief Rahn Tobler.

“I’m pretty lucky because I’m not as good as I was made to look this year with my racecar,” he said. “I wanted to go out there and do my job, but the racecar that was given to me by Tobler this season was unbelievable.

“It really would have taken a lot of messing up for a driver just to go up there and not win in this car. So it was just a good team effort.”

As for next season?

“I can’t wait,” Capps said. “It was such a relief to win, have the season over, get that monkey off my back with that.

“I can’t wait to defend it. I can’t wait to hear (NHRA announcer) Alan Reinhart announce, ‘Here is the defending world champion’s car coming up next.’ Things like that haven’t sunk in yet.

“It’s not just winning now and enjoying it, it’s representing the sport next year, wherever I go, being announced as the 2016 Mello Yello champion. Del (Worsham) said that made him so proud every time his name was mentioned this year as last year’s champion. I’m looking forward to soaking all that up.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
1 Comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.