Sunday, 20 May 2018

A Few Minutes With Drag Racer Ron Capps, Funny Car Champ

A Few Minutes With Drag Racer Ron Capps, Funny Car Champ
13 May

Ron Capps is an NHRA drag-racing Funny Car star who drives for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). But the glory didn’t come easy for him. It wasn’t until 2016, after two decades of racing, that he became National Champion. We sat down with Capps recently to get some perspective on his sport and what he does. Following are edited excerpts from a longer conversation.

DSR Racing

Ron Capps, 2016 NHRA Funny Car National Champion

Jim Clash: Did being a father make you think any differently in the car?

Ron Capps: I’ve been driving 21 years and I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that. Good question. I’m sure it did. The close calls. If you google my name, you’ll see how bad and dangerous these cars can be – the wrecks, the fires, the blowups. Once I had kids, after I got out of the car and checked my limbs to see if my fingers and toes were still there, the first thing on my mind was my kids and family. And it never used to be. So yeah, I guess it did change me a little bit.

Clash: You had been runner-up so many times to winning the Funny Car National Championship. In 2016, when you did win it, what was the feeling?

Capps: I drove 10 years for one of my heroes, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. As a kid, I played with his hot wheels and built his models. I came so close and never got to win the National Championship with him or for him. Fast forward to 2016, and I’m driving my NAPA Auto Parts car for the legend, Don Schumacher, another hero of mine. We clinched in Pomona on a Saturday night. After the final qualifying run in the shutdown area with the chutes out, they came over the radio and said that mathematically I had clinched. I couldn’t compose myself. It wasn’t elation. Relief was the biggest thing. It was, ‘Oh finally.’

Clash: How did it change your life?

Capps: Being called ‘champ’ is pretty cool! I was walking in here a minute ago and somebody said, ‘Hey champ.’ I was always used to calling John Force champ. I had raced him all those years, and he’d won all those championships. He’s why I went from Top-Fuel Dragsters to Funny Cars in the first place. I wanted to beat the best. So beating John, being called champ, the ring – I don’t wear it very often but my wife makes me wear it on special occasions [laughs]. Other than that, I don’t think things have changed that much.

DSR Racing

Ron Capps uses parachutes to stop his NAPA Funny Car.

Clash: Compare and contrast driving a Funny Car to a Top Fuel Dragster. You have done both.

Capps: I have to be careful because my teammates drive Dragsters [laughs]. We used to joke that Dragsters are like a donkey ride on a trail, and a Funny Car is like riding a bull. A dragster is very predictable. You don’t steer it much. You are out in front of the engine. Now in a Funny Car when you step on the gas – it’s so short-wheel-based and stiff, the most evil handling thing – you don’t know what it’s going to do. I’ve made a lot of runs – not as many as John Force – but he will tell you the same thing: A Funny Car is the most unpredictable racecar. I’ve gotten to drive World Outlaw sprint cars, dirt cars, karts, formula cars. But a Funny Car can go left, right – it can go a second and a half and blow up and catch fire. You are sitting a foot and a half behind the engine, so if it’s on fire, you’re on fire. In a Dragster you’re moving the steering when very little, in a Funny Car it can be a wild, gyrating motion. Just look at some of the in-car videos I’ve posted on my social media. Completely different cars. You don’t finesse a Funny Car.

Clash: What’s it like to go from 0 – more than 300 mph in less than four seconds, then have to slow down so quickly? The pressures to perform must be enormous.

Capps: I tell people that we don’t get to enjoy these runs. It’s 3.8 seconds of madness. There’s so much going on. Like I said before, Funny Cars are unpredictable. You are fighting for your life to keep the thing straight. You’ve got 10 crewmembers, the owner, sponsors. There could be a CEO standing back there. Everything’s been given to you, worked on for hours. Then they say, ‘Here ya go, don’t mess it up.’ When the chutes come out and you come to an idle, you say, ‘That was cool.’ But during the run, it’s controlled chaos. I really wish I could take your readers for a ride. Most people would probably need a diaper, honestly [laughs].

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