The first clue Ron Capps was going to win the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car championship should have been the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.
A 50-time race winner, Capps is no longer a bridesmaid in the championship column. After years of being the “you almost had it” poster boy, the NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored driver now knows how to seal the deal.
Needing to end Saturday's qualifying at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Ca, with a minimum 81-point lead, Capps carried 92 into Sunday's final eliminations and secured his first career championship after finishing runner-up for the championship a record four times.
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“I gotta tell you, that trophy should be broken into a trillion pieces and given to all of our fans,” Capps said. “I’ve got the best fans. To have the fans all year long, every one of them grabbed my arm before I sign an autograph, or as they walk away, and grab and say, ‘This is your year. I’ve been pulling for you for 19 years.’
“That’s just happened over and over. And it’s gotten more and more as we came along in the Countdown. And in Vegas, it got a little eerie at times. Where people would grab my arm hard and pull me in close. And the Facebook Fan Page, just with the messages of all of our fans, it’s crazy. So this definitely is for all of our fans.”
Just to think, all Capps had to do was not try so hard to be the champion.
“I just really stopped worrying about it,” Capps admitted. “We’ve really battled for championships, and then to go to Don Schumacher’s and really be in contention every single year. I don’t think there’s a Funny Car, including John Force, a Funny Car driver on the grounds that can say they’ve been in contention every year of their career like I have been able to say. And I have.
“From the get-go in the Copenhagen car, we’ve been one of the cars talked about right down to the season, in Pomona right down to the finals. That’s not something a lot of people can say. So, second places, there were a lot of drivers that would take those second places. But I knew if I just kept hoping, that we would have the Countdown season that we thought we could have. And it finally came together.”
Capps also won the regular season championship, earning the No. 1 seed with a 202-point lead before losing all but 30 points during the standard point reset.
Capps didn't overthink winning a championship, but this didn't mean it wasn't on his mind.
“I have not slept good since Indy,” Capps said. “My stomach has been in a knot since Indy. But I’ve done my job in the car, and it’s made me focused.”
Also focused was crew chief Rahn Tobler, who with Capps crown now has four NHRA titles to his credit; one with Cruz Pedregon and two with Shirley Muldowney.
“I can't even tell you how focused Rahn Tobler has been this year,” Capps explained. “I almost gave up trying so hard and wishing so hard, and just focused on winning races. With everything we got this year – my 50th career win, passing some people I really looked up to in the sport with wins – that's mind-boggling for me.
“This was the toughest Funny Car class ever and the 50th anniversary of the Funny Car, which was awesome. What a great, great season.”
Capps took the hard road to becoming the champion. He began to earn his stripes as a crewmember on a Top Alcohol team. Then in a chance encounter, he was given the opportunity by team owner John Mitchell to earn his Top Fuel license.
Capps then built a career by driving for Mitchell, then Roger Primm and quickly caught the eye of Don Prudhomme.
Capps had the right team owners, but if not for the blessings of wife Shelley, he is quick to point out this could never have happened.
“We got married in November 1992, and she let me go on the road full-time as a crew member for an alcohol dragster three months later,” Capps explained. “Whose wife lets them go do that? Unbelievable.”
Saturday night, shortly after Capps was declared the champion, he was met by John Force, a 16-time champion and given sage advice.
“I’ve only got 15 more to go to tie Force,” Capps said. “Force came up to me in the staging lanes and said, 'well kid, do you want the bad news or the good news?’
“And I said, ‘give me the bad news.’
“He said, 'You’ve got a target on your back now.’ I said, ‘what’s the good news?’
“He said, 'You’re the champion. Always knew you were but you’re officially a champion.’”
And, if anyone knows a champion, it's Force.
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus