Two-time and defending NHRA Camping World Series Funny Car champion Ron Capps took his NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota GR Supra on a blistering 3.837-second ride at a track record speed of 337.33-mph during the final qualifying session on Saturday night at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona to launch to the No. 1 spot on the NHRA Finals elimination ladder. The run gave him four crucial bonus points, which narrowed the point deficit between No. 2-ranked Capps and No. 1-ranked Robert Hight to 57. With the event’s unique points-and-a-half scoring format, Capps is now within two round wins of Hight as he looks to surpass him for the lead and claim a third Funny Car championship, and first for Ron Capps Motorsports in its rookie season.
Capps began the race sitting 61 points behind Hight and with the goal of capturing as many bonus points as possible throughout the weekend’s four qualifying sessions to bring the margin down to below 60, which would mean he’d have to go two rounds further than Hight on race day, as opposed to three. The weekend got off to a rocky start, with Capps’ machine struggling to get down the track in both of Friday’s qualifying sessions. By the time qualifying had come to an end on Friday night, Capps was sitting in the No. 17 spot on the ladder, Hight still carried a three-round lead, and Matt Hagan, who started the weekend ranked third, had gained two points on Capps. But, Saturday was a new day. Crew chiefs Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli and John Medlen tuned Capps’ machine to a 3.864 E.T. at 334.15-mph in Q3, launching Capps up from 17th to fifth, and earning two bonus points in the process. Feeling comfortable knowing they were safely qualified, the crew chief duo turned up the wick for Q4 and sent Capps rocketing down the track on the record-setting ride to claim his sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season and 35th of his career.
“Man, what a turn of events,” said a jubilant Capps on Saturday night. “I got on the radio and I was screaming and yelling; it was like going down the road to Disneyland and getting on Space Mountain for the first time as a kid. I was fighting for my life to keep (my car) between the guardrail and the centerline and it was just hunting and moving. A lot of times, you think that would take E.T. away, but I felt the clutch come in sooner than normal, and I could just tell. Yesterday we had issues; it turned out it was ignition issues, and we found it, but today it just had that max cackle that (former Funny Car racer) Gary Scelzi always talked about.
“We’re not going to see these conditions again tomorrow, so it’s great to end this way. We started the season with the No. 1 qualifier at the Winternationals as a new team owner, and I thought that was crazy, and how much better could it get? Then, we go on to win five races and get the pole here at the end. This is what I talk about when you get into a race car like this. You wish you could make those big runs at the big moments, and when you actually have the capability, and the personnel, and the tools, and obviously the sponsors with NAPA and Toyota, you can actually strap in and say, not only do ‘I wish I can’ or ‘I think we can,’ but ‘I know we can’ go out and throw down with the best. It’s a great feeling; what a way to end qualifying.”
With the way the Funny Car elimination ladder shook out, there’s a possibility Capps and Hight could meet in the semifinals on Sunday. If Capps defeats Hight, he would need to go on to win the event in order to be crowned the 2022 NHRA Funny Car world champion. If Hight is eliminated in either the first or second round, Capps would need to advance to the semifinals or finals, respectively.
Of the potential semifinal showdown with Hight, Capps said “It’s just an emotional roller coaster. I forgot all about the math, and then someone said that got us three points under (60). Then, I find out that we’re on the same side of the ladder, and it just gets better and better.
“But, it’s a different day tomorrow,” added the Carlsbad, Calif. resident. “New track (surface), new people, new opponents, big moments. I’m going to wake up tomorrow in my motorhome trackside and have a chance of possibly winning a world championship once again in NHRA. Possibly not, but there’s a good chance. There’s not a better feeling than to wake up and stand here and realize that as a kid, I used to watch the big moments, and now I’m part of some of them.”
Capps’ run for the 2022 NHRA Camping World Series Funny Car championship will begin with a first-round matchup versus No. 16 qualifier Jeff Arend on Sunday morning.