Pandemic not stopping Ron Capps from still racing every day

Photo: Ron Capps

Ron Capps was sim racing long before it was cool.

While many of his motorsports peers only recently have jumped on the iRacing bandwagon because of the COVID-19 crisis, the veteran NHRA Funny Car driver has been racing online for nearly a quarter-century.

“It was 1998, I had just signed to drive for Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme, and I finally could be able to afford an actual good computer,” Capps told “One of the first PC racing games that came out then was called ‘Grand Prix Legends.’ Still to this day, it’s considered one of the most realistic racing games ever.

“You could pick drivers like Dan Gurney and Jim Clark and race these old Lotuses and things like that. The physics, graphics and realism of these old Formula cars was so realistic, it was crazy.”

Capps became so proficient and well known racing online while also starting his pro drag racing career that he was one of the original beta testers of the first iRacing platform that debuted in 2004.

iRacing was founded by David Kaemmer, who was the original co-founder of the Papyrus Design Group that produced several popular racing games including NASCAR Racing 2003 and Grand Prix Legends. The other co-founder of iRacing was Boston Red Sox owner and Roush Fenway Racing co-owner John Henry.

“After college I heard that David was starting up a company along with John Henry, and starting an auto racing platform where people can race online,” said Capps, who studied software engineering in college. “I wound up racing with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., some road course racers and a couple Formula One guys.

“Since I had been lucky enough to drive different cars, I got on a list to beta test new cars and give feedback. I’ve been involved since then.”

The realism of iRacing — here’s Capps driving his sprint car — is uncanny. Photo: Ron Capps.

iRacing has proven to be a salvation for thousands of race fans, including virtual race broadcasts on Fox, FS1 and NBCSN.

“Unfortunately due to the coronavirus, everybody realized we’re on lockdown,” Capps said. “One morning, probably the third or fourth day of the virus here in the states, I logged on to iRacing, and there was over 12,000 users online. A couple of nights ago, I logged on and there were over 14,000 people racing, which is nuts.”

Capps has turned on several of his fellow drag racers such as Cruz Pedregon and Shawn Langdon into the iRacing fold.

And they take things VERY seriously.

One of Capps’ biggest competitors for several years was Tommy DeLago, former crew chief for Capps’ teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, Matt Hagan.

Like the Hanson Brothers in the movie “Slapshot” would take their toys with them on road trips, DeLago and Capps “would take our computers and gaming consoles on the road,” Capps said, adding with a laugh, “at night after dinner, we’d go and play games all night.”

Capps has become one of the top go-to guys when someone within the overall motorsports community wants to learn more about iRacing and sim racing.

“One of the coolest emails I got was this past December by Dave Despain,” Capps said. “He heard I was on iRacing and since he retired from broadcasting, he wanted to get on iRacing.

“I pretty much gave him the setup I had for less than $1,000. Timmy Hill won that NASCAR race a few weeks ago with the same wheel setup that I had. It was a Logitech wheel for like $200 or $250. You just need a decent seat, clamp it to the desk and have a computer monitor, just like Timmy Hill had.”

While drivers like Denny Hamlin have sim racing rigs that can cost several thousands of dollars, Capps said success in iRacing and other variations isn’t about how much money you spend on a rig, but the talent you develop.

“I finally got a new setup last September,” Capps said. “The one I had before that I probably had since 2000, and it was a used one from someone graduating from UCLA.

“It was nothing fancy, probably cost me $200 with a frame and a little racing seat. The one I just got cost me $600 for the frame and seat, and I think the steering wheel was $400 for the wheel and pedals and everything, and the monitor probably cost me about $700. It’s nothing like you see what Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch have.”

Capps’ rig is set up in his suburban San Diego garage, parked next to his classic street rod and a drag racing simulator built from one of his old Funny Cars to practice his launches for his day job.

“I’m on it every day,” Capps said of his iRacing setup. “I’ll just log a few laps of seat time and before I know it, four hours has gone by. I go into the house and it’s already dark outside.

“Whenever we have parties at the house, it never fails that the girls are in the kitchen and the guys are all around the simulator in the garage, watching somebody race and take turns at it. The garage is just a guy’s place to hang out.”

While Capps sim races primarily in stock cars, sprint cars and the like, all the time he spends online has helped him with his drag racing exploits.

Capps takes his sim and iRacing seriously. Photo: Ron Capps.

“Since the beginning of my career, I feel me being involved in sim racing, it’s helped the hand-eye coordination more than anything,” Capps said. “There’s so much going on, a lot of people don’t realize that in 3.8 seconds what your brain and your hands and eyes have to look at and do, all while you’re looking down the track trying to see where you’re going and keep the car straight, and also like every time I’ve jumped into another car in real life and go race like at Prelude to the Dream or formula cars.The

“The difference is with my NAPA Funny Car, everything is built for me, my seat is formed to me and everything is perfect for me and I know exactly where it is without thinking about it it’s so home. When I go drive something else, I’ve got to really think about what’s going on. Everything is in a different place, the shifters are different.

“It’s just a matter of adapting to it, that’s why guys like Mario Andretti or A.J. Foyt back in the day were so good just at adapting at different cars. There’s no doubt my time on a sim in a dirt car or whatever else has definitely helped driving a Funny Car, no doubt.”

The 54-year-old Capps has helped other drivers and teams realize the nearly limitless possibilities in sim and iRacing. He was one of the first drivers/sim racers who decided to deck out their virtual rides with representation of his primary real-life sponsors, NAPA and Pennzoil.

“On the flight back from Gainesville (the first NHRA race cancelled due to the virus pandemic a month ago), I asked myself, ‘What can I do to keep myself relevant to my sponsors?’” Capps said. “The first thing I thought about was iRacing, but I had no idea how it would blow up until they put the first NASCAR race on TV.

“So I had a bunch of my cars on iRacing, sprint cars, trucks, road race, Indy cars, a bunch of them painted up like my NAPA car. So when I got on to race, it’s all my sponsors, NAPA, Pennzoil and all of them. This iRacing thing has been seamless. NAPA even put my and Alexander Rossi’s in-car shots on their YouTube pages.”

Capps is currently helping develop several new racing games, including one for drag racing and another for sprint cars. But he admits he really is hungry to get back on a real-life dragstrip.

“I really am missing drag racing a lot,” he said. “When the season ends and all the grind that happens through the playoffs and into our final race at Pomona, it takes about a month until you really want to get to a drag race. You just try to calm down and decompress. Then in about January, you’re ready to get back in it.

“With this coronavirus thing, the first week, it was great to spend more time with the family, but now, I’ve been talking to other drivers, if we didn’t have iRacing, it’d be much worse.”

He then added with a laugh, “The good thing about iRacing is that if I crash or something, I don’t have to worry about spending time in a hospital and missing my next drag race if something happens.”

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‘Baby Borgs’ bring special Indy 500 bonds, memories for Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi

Ganassi Ericsson Indy
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner

THERMAL, Calif. – Winning the Indy 500 is a crowning achievement for driver and car owner, but for Chip Ganassi, last May’s victory by Marcus Ericsson had meaning even beyond just capturing one of the world’s greatest sporting events.

When Ganassi was 5 years old and growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his father, Floyd, attended a convention in Indianapolis in 1963. Floyd went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to tour the track and visit the former museum that used to stand next to the main gate on 16th and Georgetown.

Ganassi’s father brought young Chip a souvenir from the gift shop. It was an 8-millimeter film of the 1963 Indy 500, a race won by the legendary Parnelli Jones.

“I must have watched it about 1,000 times,” Ganassi recalled. “More importantly than that, something you did when you were 5 years old is still with you today.

“I was 50 years old when I celebrated my Thanksgiving with Parnelli. It dawned on me that something I did when I was 5 years old took me to when I was 50 years old. That’s pretty special.”

Ericsson and Ganassi were presented with their “Baby Borgs,” the mini-replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy, in a ceremony Feb. 2 at The Thermal Club (which played host to NTT IndyCar Series preseason testing). The win in the 106th Indy 500 marked the sixth time a Ganassi driver won the biggest race in the world.

Ganassi will turn 65 on May 24, just four days before the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28. The 2023 race will mark the 60th anniversary of the victory by Jones, who is now the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500 at 89.

Jones wanted to do something special for Ericsson and Ganassi, so each was given framed photos personally inscribed by Jones.

Parnelli Jones (Steve Shunck Photo For BorgWarner)

“Congratulations Marcus Ericsson and my good friend Chip Ganassi on winning the 2022 Indianapolis 500,” Jones said in remarks conveyed by BorgWarner publicist Steve Shunck. “There is no greater race in the whole world and winning it in 1963 was by far the biggest thrill in my life.”

Ganassi’s relationship with his racing hero began 60 years ago, but the two have shared some important moments since then.

It was Jones that signed off on Ganassi’s first Indianapolis 500 license in 1982. Jones was one of the veteran observers who worked with Ganassi and other rookie drivers that year to ensure they were capable of competing in the high-speed, high-risk Indianapolis 500.

When Ganassi turned 50, he got to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with Jones.

“We’ve been friends over the years,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “He wrote me a personal note and sent me some personal photographs. It really says what this race is all about and how important it is to win the biggest auto race in the world.”

Michelle Collins, the director of global communications and marketing for BorgWarner, presented the “Baby Borgs,” first to Ganassi and then to Ericsson.

“More special is winning the Indianapolis 500,” Ganassi said during the presentation. “It’s been a big part of my life. I want to call out my buddy, Roger Penske, and thank him for the stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to us. It’s about the history, the tradition and, to me, it’s about the people that have meant so much in my life.

“Thanks for the trophy, Marcus.”

Marcus Ericsson and Chip Ganassi hold their Baby Borgs while posing with the Borg-Warner Trophy (Bruce Martin).

The Baby Borg presentation also came on the birthday of sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the Bas-relief sterling silver face of each winner on the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1990. The “Baby Borg” presents each winner with a miniature of one of the most famous trophies in sports.

“I have to thank BorgWarner for everything that has happened since winning the Indianapolis 500, including the trip to Sweden,” said Ericsson, who took a November victory lap in his native country. “I’m very thankful for that because it’s memories that are going to be with me for the rest of my life.

“To bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to my hometown, seeing all the people there on the city square on a dark day in the middle of November. It was filled with people and that was very special.

“I’m very proud and honored to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing. To win the Indianapolis 500 with that team is quite an honor. It’s a team effort and a lot of people worked very hard to make this happen.

“Our focus now is to go back-to-back at the Indy 500.”

If Ericsson is successful in becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Indy since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02, he can collect an additional $420,000 in the Borg-Warner Rollover Bonus. With Castroneves the last driver to collect, the bonus has grown to an astronomical amount over 21 years.

Ericsson is from Kumla, Sweden, so the $420,000 would have an exchange rate of $4,447,641.67 Swedish Kronor.

“It’s a nice thing to know I could get that if I do win it again,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “But the Indianapolis 500 with its history as the biggest and greatest race in the world, it doesn’t matter with the money, with the points, with anything. Everyone is going to go out there and do everything to win that race.

“It’s great to know that, but I will race just as hard.”

Marcus Ericsson points at the newest face on the Borg-Warner Trophy (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

A popular slogan in racing is “Chip Likes Winners.” After winning the 106th Indy 500, Ganassi must really love Ericsson.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than that, does it? I’m very thankful to be driving for Chip,” Ericsson said. “He likes winners and winning the Indianapolis 500, it doesn’t get better than that.”

When Ericsson was presented with his Baby Borg, he stood off to the side and admired it the way a child looks at a special gift on Christmas morning. The wide-eyed amazement of his career-defining moment was easy to read and met with delight by executives of BorgWarner (an automotive and technology company that has sponsored the Borg-Warner Trophy since its 1935 debut).

“I noticed that immediately and I was watching him look at it wishing I had a camera to capture that,” Collins told NBC Sports. “But maybe not because we always have our phones in front of us and it’s nice to take in that moment as it is. That is what makes the moment well worth it.”

Marcus Ericsson (Bruce Martin)

Said BorgWarner executive vice president and chief strategic officer Paul Farrell: “It’s very special to have the big trophy that has been around since 1935 and to have a piece of that. Hopefully it’s something that (Ericsson) cherishes. We think it’s special, and clearly, Marcus Ericsson thinks it is very special.”

The trophy process begins shortly after the race as the winner has the famed Borg-Warner Wreath placed around his neck, and the Borg-Warner Trophy is put on the engine cover. The next morning, the winner meets with Behrends, who has been sculpting the faces on the trophy since Arie Luyendyk’s first victory in 1990. Later in the year, the winner visits Behrends’ studio in Tryon, North Carolina, for a “Live Study.”

The process takes several more steps before the face is reduced to the size of an egg and casted in sterling silver. It is attached to the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy and unveiled at a ceremony later in the year. Ericsson’s face was unveiled last October during a ceremony in Indianapolis.

That’s when it hit Ericsson, a three-time winner in IndyCar after going winless in Formula One over 97 starts from 2014-18.

“Until then, it was strange because you are so busy with your season right after the Indy 500 you don’t really get much time to sit back and think about what you had accomplished,” Ericsson said. “It was the offseason before I really realized what I had done.”

The permanent trophy remains on display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but has been known to travel with the winning driver on special tours, such as the Nov. 3-7 trip to Sweden.

“It’s been incredible to see the amount of interest in me and the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500,” Ericsson said. “The trophy tour with the Borg-Warner Trophy we did in November really made a huge impact in Sweden. I was on every TV show, morning TV, magazines, newspapers, everywhere. People are talking about IndyCar racing. People are talking about Marcus Ericsson. It’s been huge.

“I was back in Sweden last month for the Swedish Sports Awards and I finished third in the Sports Performance of the Year. Motorsports is usually not even nominated there, and I finished third. That says a lot about the interest and support I’ve gotten back home in Sweden.”

Ericsson continued to reap the rewards of his Indianapolis 500 victory last week at the lavish Thermal Club, about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, California.

Earlier in the day before the Baby Borg presentation, Ericsson, and Chip Ganassi were among the 27 car-driver combinations that completed the first day of IndyCar’s “Spring Training” on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course. The next day, Ericsson turned the test’s fastest lap.

The 32-year-old still seems to be riding the wave, along with his girlfriend, Iris Tritsaris Jondahl, a Greece native who also lived in Sweden and now lives with Ericsson in Indianapolis.

“Today, receiving my Baby Borg, it was another thing of making it real,” Ericsson said. “It’s not a dream. It’s reality. To get the Baby Borg and bring it home. My girlfriend, Iris, and I are house hunting, looking for a house in Indianapolis. It will definitely have a very special place in our new home.”

Marcus Ericsson and girlfriend Iris Tritsaris Jondahlc share a kiss at the Baby Borg presentation (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

Ericsson told NBC Sports his most cherished trophy before getting his Baby Borg was for his first NTT IndyCar Series win in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2021.

“It was such a huge win for me and such a huge breakthrough for me and my career,” he said. “After that, it catapulted me into a top driver in IndyCar.”

The Brickyard win was another level for Ericsson, who moved to Ganassi in 2020.

“Marcus kept himself in the race all day,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “Anybody that ran a race like Marcus ran, maybe you deserve the race win, but you don’t always get it. Marcus did everything that it took, and we are really, really proud of him.”

Ericsson also proved last year to be one of the best oval drivers in the series, a much different form of racing than he experienced until he came to the United States.

“Racing in Europe and around the world, I always liked high-speed corners,” he explained. “It was always my favorite. I always had this idea if I go to IndyCar and race on the ovals, it is something that would suit me and my driving style. I was always excited to try that. When I came to IndyCar and started to drive on ovals, I liked it straight away. It worked for me and my style.

“The first few attempts at Indy, I had good speed, but it was always some small mistakes that got me out of contention. I learned from them. I’m very proud I was able to pull it off, but it was a lot of hard work behind that.”

Michelle Collins of BorgWarner presented Baby Borgs to Marcus Ericsson and Chip Ganassi at a ceremony also attended by Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

The victory in the Indianapolis 500 is etched in history, as is Ericsson’s face on the trophy.

“It’s such a special thing,” the driver said. “The BorgWarner people and IndyCar and everyone at IMS, I get to experience so many cool things since winning the Indy 500. It’s a win that keeps on giving. It never ends. It still does.

“I can’t wait to get back to Indianapolis, the month of May, as the champion. I still have to pinch myself. It’s a dream, for sure.”

Ganassi doesn’t have to pinch himself — all he needs to do is look at his collection of Baby Borgs.

His first Indy 500 win — as a team co-owner with Pat Patrick — came in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi’s thrilling duel against Al Unser Jr.

In 1990, Ganassi formed Chip Ganassi Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2010 and 2012 and Ericsson in 2022.

“It’s a feather in the team’s cap for sure just to have our representation on the Borg-Warner Trophy with five other drivers,” Ganassi said. “It’s a testament to the team, a testament to Mike Hull that runs the team in Indianapolis. I just feel really lucky to be a part of it. It’s great to work with a great team of great people.

“Just to relive that moment again and again never gets old; never goes away. I’m really lucky to be in the position I’m in. It’s an honor to represent the team with the great people that it took to bring Marcus across the finish line. He and I get to celebrate events like this, but it’s really about the people at Chip Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis that pull this all together.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500