Autoweek NHRA insider Ron Capps' blog: Opening the season with a home game, racing the GOAT
(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of exclusive Autoweek blogs from NHRA Funny Car driver and 2016 champion Ron Capps. Capps kicked off the 2019 season this past weekend at Pomona Raceway, a track located some 90 miles from Capp's home in Carlsbad, California. At Pomona, he qualified fifth before losing to John Force in the second round of eliminations on Monday following a rainout on Sunday.)
It’s kind of weird being home right now after actually driving 300-some miles an hour today and then being home the same night before dark. And, yes, it’s easy to stay under the speed limit going home. We’ve got a 43-foot Monaco motor home -- that thing definitely reminds me that I have to take things slow once in a while.
Racing at Pomona, it’s insane. It’s like anybody having a home game. It’s tickets, requests and trying to get everything handled. My parents live about three hours north, and then I have a ton of family right there around and near the track, and of course we have a have a bunch of friends I’ve gotten to know since we’ve moved to Carlsbad that all make the trip. On top of that, there’s people I grew up with, people I went to high school with at San Luis Obisbo that all come down. It’s a home race and then some.
As many runs as I’ve made, and with as many runs that John Force has made -- much more runs than I’ve made -- it was a strange feeling to pull up to the starting line at the fabled Pomona Raceway for the first round of qualifying and for the very first time I step on the gas for the year. My crew chief said, ‘Let’s just run it down there about 800 feet, shut it off, and come back and check everything.' Well, I went ahead and did that and shut it off early. I probably shouldn’t have, as I was able to lean my head forward in the roll cage when I hit the parachute button and look up, and I could see the scoreboard. I saw 3.91 (seconds) pop up on the scoreboard, which was much quicker than anybody had gone at that point.
I just kind of chuckled to myself. I said, ‘No way. Wouldn’t that be funny if we went out the very first run of the year, shut it off early and ended up the No. 1 qualifier?' Sure enough, it did. We were No. 1 qualifier after the very first run, and of course, everybody is really happy in our camp with all the brand-new stuff we have and the brand-new Dodge Hellcat body. To be able to do that was pretty cool. Then the cold weather came in the next three qualifying sessions and threw everybody for a loop, and it became pretty tricky from then on.
The funny thing about racing on Monday at Pomona is that Pomona is located in the heart of Los Angeles, at the L.A. County Fairgrounds, over in the corner of the fairgrounds. It’s one of the most historic facilities we have, but it’s strange that you’re in the middle of a neighborhood. So to get up in the morning and go over and race at Pomona during a weekday is a strange feeling.
We started off with a great run on the first round. We raced a veteran in Gary Densham. That guy has been around a long time. We had a really good run that session, 3.93 seconds. That was our first full run of the season, believe it or not. We were pretty happy with that. That win in that round set us up for another confrontation with John Force in the second round. It’s like jumping right into the fire. He’s got a great race car this year, and I’ve battled him for a lot of races throughout my career.
It's always like a final round going up against him. He’s one of my better friends. He took me under his wing years ago.
My rookie season, I drove Top Fuel Dragsters before I switched to Funny Car. He saw something in me, took me under his wing, and someday I’m going to write a book about some of the things we went and did. I felt like I was hanging out with a rock star, but he was also teaching me a lot about driving -- not knowing that I would eventually switch to Funny Cars and end up racing him.
Every Friday, before the first run, it would never fail. He’d ride up on his scooter, he’d knock on the window of my Durango, and I’d roll the window down, and he’d say, ‘Ain’t life great, man! We’re driving Funny Cars for a living!” It’s a joke that we have, but it’s not. He seems to have more enthusiasm for life and for being a Funny Car driver than some of the younger guys and gals who are out there. It’s fun when he comes over and does that. It kind of sets the tone for the day.
I think he’s 67, 68 years old (Editor's note: Force turns 70 in May), and the guy continually whips our butts out there. So, you gotta be on your game against him, I don’t care what his age is. We jokingly call him the GOAT because he’s obviously one of the best, if not the best, Funny Car drivers. I drove for Don Prudhomme, and he's also one of the best. Any time you beat Force, whether we’re lined up qualifying, whether we're in a rental car driving back to the hotel, anytime you can beat John, it’s a feather in the cap for sure.
But after a loss like we had at Pomona, everybody is trying to figure out what happened. Everybody feels guilty -- the crew chief feels guilty he couldn’t make the car better, I feel guilty that I couldn’t hang on to the car better. It’s the period we’re in the trailer after a run. It’s what I love about the sport -- it’s what brings me closer to my crew chief and my team. It’s that disgust when you get when you lose.
But then, this race at Pomona is strange for me because then I jump in my motor home with my family and we drive the hour and a half home. Most of the time, I have to decompress, figure out what happened, then go outside the trailer and put a happy face on and sign autographs. You walk outside and you’re disgusted, you’re upset, and then you see somebody out there with little kids, waiting for your autograph, holding something up. You gotta push everything aside, go out there, smile, take pictures and try to make those kids realize you’re not as upset as you really are inside.
For not going to preseason testing and just showing up cold like we did at Pomona, qualifying No. 5, being No. 1 qualifier after the first run -- those are all positives. Our new Hellcat body, I was amazed at how little steering input I had to put into the car compared to last year. There were a lot of good things this week. I'm really excited to go on to Phoenix.