Being a driver in NHRA’s top ranks comes with a lot of perks, but there are also a number of sacrifices that must be made, most notably being away from one’s family.
There are school graduations and proms, birthdays and anniversaries that invariably are missed because many drivers are hurtling down a drag strip somewhere in the U.S.
But one unexpected benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing four-month hiatus of the NHRA is drivers have been able to spend significant quality time with their children and spouses.
That is no more apparent than Sunday, which is Father’s Day. With NHRA not set to resume racing until July 11-12 in Indianapolis, this will be the first Father’s Day drivers have been able to be home since 2009 – and only the fourth time since 1999.
Most Father’s Days have found teams racing most recently at Bristol Dragway, the now-defunct Englishtown (New Jersey) Raceway and before that, National Trail Raceway about 30 miles east of Columbus, Ohio.
While all NHRA teams have fathers who likely will enjoy Sunday’s respite from racing and traveling, being home will be especially key for four members of Don Schumacher Racing, namely Top Fuel driver Antron Brown and Funny Car pilots Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan.
NBC Sports spoke with each about what it means for them to be home on “their” day:
Ron Capps has an especially strong connection with Father’s Day, perhaps more than most. He was born on Father’s Day in 1965 (he turned 55 Saturday). He believes the last Father’s Day he was able to spend at home was 1995, which was before his two children – daughter Taylor (24 years old — seen at the top of this story as a 4-year-old from Capps’ Facebook page) and son Caden (18) – were even born.
Because he’s been away from home for so many missed Father’s Days, Capps has tried to make it up by flying home on Mondays and celebrating with his family.
Those belated Father’s Days have been made especially sweeter five times when Capps has come home with a “Wally” race winner’s trophy (named after NHRA founder Wally Parks).
Ron gave his father, former drag racer John Capps, one of the coolest Father’s Day presents when Ron handed his dad the Wally he won at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway two years ago.
“There was nothing better than to win and call my dad in the winner’s circle and wish him a Happy Father’s Day,” Ron Capps said. “I’m holding a Wally for the guy that grew up drag racing and got me into it. There’s probably the coolest thing for him.
“He was taking the Wally around to his buddies and old driver friends he meets for lunch during the week,” Ron Capps told NBC Sports. “All of his buddies had never held a Wally. So that was fun.”
Capps will spend Sunday with a family barbecue at their suburban San Diego home.
“It’ll be good to be home, have fun, barbecue and play games,” Capps said. “We’ve been playing Rock Band a lot. This whole pandemic has sort of given me more time with the kids and my daughter’s in college. It’s her last year, and she lives at home, thankfully, and we’ve got to spend a lot of really cool time here the last few weeks.
“We’re just going to spend a whole weekend probably just hanging out and doing nothing. I mean, it’s unfortunate what we’ve got going on, but it’s going to be cool to be home.
“It’s going to be fun to wake up Sunday morning and not have to worry about driving the race car and competing and actually enjoy Father’s Day on Father’s Day.”
Antron Brown will spend Father’s Day, not surprisingly, drag racing. But Brown won’t be behind the wheel of his 330-mph Top Fuel dragster. Rather, he’ll be with his kids, watching them race their Junior Dragsters at a drag strip in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Brown said. “That’s what we’re doing it for, we’re going out there to have fun, race and barbecue at the drag strip on Father’s Day. I mean, that’s what being a father means to me, being with family.”
Brown has three children, daughter Arianna (18 years old) and sons Anson (15) and Adler (12). While he welcomes the fact he’ll be able to spend his first Father’s Day at home in over a decade, Brown has made it a point to always have at least one of his children with him on the road and at races that fell on Father’s Day weekend.
“One of my kids is always with me,” he said. “That’s the one thing about our sport that’s really cool, is that our sport is a sport that’s all about family, it’s a family environment.
“Actually being home this whole time during all this stuff, it’s actually been good for us to really get back to normal family life. We are literally with each other every single day.
“it’s actually cool to be back home where I’ve been able to do more stuff at home, a lot of honey-do’s, just keeping up with stuff.”
Like Capps, Brown spends more than 200 days a year on the road for races, sponsor appearances and the like. He’s now been home more than 120 days because of the COVID-19 hiatus.
But Brown recalls a few very special Father’s Day from years past, particularly when his children were very young.
“I think the coolest time for me and my experiences is just sharing a Father’s Day at a racetrack, my kids being there and when we won, we were all in the Winner’s Circle together on Father’s Day.
“That is like one of the most coolest experiences. I have pictures of my daughter and my son in my arms, and I’m holding them while one of them is holding the trophy. They’re looking at it and then looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, Dad, you won.’
“And I’m looking right back at them. Sure, the trophy is great, but they’re my real prized possessions and trophies.”
Matt Hagan is combining Father’s Day and a family vacation this weekend in South Dakota with his wife and their four children, sons Colby (13 years old) and Tucker (3) and daughters Penny (10) and Nelly (1).
“This will be my first Father’s Day not at the racetrack in 15 years,” Hagan said. “I’m currently on vacation in South Dakota with my family, so I’m taking full advantage of this time off and soaking in as much time with them as possible right now because it’s going to get crazy when we start racing again next month.”
The NHRA will return to racing July 11-12 and again July 18-19, both times at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis. Those will be the first races back for the drag racing sanctioning body since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s beautiful scenery and wide open spaces out and an amazing amount of animal and wildlife here,” Hagan told NBC Sports. “The kids are just really enjoying it and having fun.”
The two-time NHRA Funny Car champ readily identifies with the experiences of both Capps and Brown.
“This is the first time in a long time that I haven’t been in a race car,” Hagan said.
And as much as he’s enjoying quality time with his family, he also is itching to get back on a drag strip in three weeks. “I’m ready to get back and turn on win lights.
“When I won Bristol (in 2015) my family was there; my dad, my wife, my kids, it was just really special and one of the most memorable races of my career.
“It meant more to me than winning the U.S. Nationals (the sport’s biggest race of the season each Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis) or any of these other really big races because to win on Father’s Day and have your family around to experience that with you, it doesn’t get any more special than that.
“But this year, we’re going to take advantage of the cards we were dealt and make this weekend super special too.”
Jack Beckman, known by the colorful nickname “Fast Jack,” has two children, son Jason (13) and daughter Layla (8), with whom he’ll be enjoying Father’s Day.
But Beckman, who will turn 54 on June 28, is also thankful for the fact he’ll also be able to spend Father’s Day with his own father, Bob, who is 83 years old.
In contrast to his son’s colorful nickname, the elder Beckman is good-naturedly nicknamed “Slow Bob.”
It was Bob who got young Jack interested in drag racing. In fact, the elder Beckman bought a 1968 Chevrolet El Camino in 1978 for $1,000. Four years later, he sold the same car to his then-16-year-old son, who used it as both his first daily commuting car to school and his part-time job, as well as his first drag racing ride.
Jack still has the car to this day, tucked away and fully restored in his family garage. And he never will be able to thank his father enough for that very special set of wheels.
“I think it’s a much bigger deal that my dad is still around for Father’s Day,” Jack Beckman told NBC Sports. “My kids are 13 and eight, so it’s not a huge deal.”
That’s because the last four-plus months have been like a daily Father’s Day for Beckman, being around his kids constantly and really sharing some great family time both individually and collectively.
“It’s been really interesting and nice in this time in their lives that I’ve been home with them so much and have been able to spend so much time with them,” Jack said.
But like his teammates, Beckman said it’s time to get back to work – after Father’s Day, of course.
“I’m ready to get back on the road again and maybe in some ways they’re ready too,” he said of his kids with a chuckle. “But as far as Father’s Day is concerned, we’re pretty low key. We’ll probably just hang around the house and enjoy each other’s company.”
And isn’t that what Father’s Day is all about anyway?