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

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.