The Countdown to the 2017 NHRA Championship has begun, and with only three races left in the season, the front runners in each division are starting to shake out. These impressive drivers and their hard-working teams have put it all on the line to earn their place in the Championship chase. We decided to catch up with these NHRA athletes to find out how they got to where they are today.
We begin with one of the most notable Funny Car drivers of the 2017 season. Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car driver Ron Capps is returning to the Championship Chase as the 2016 Funny Car Champion. After four runner-up finishes in a row, Capps finally brought home his first championship last season and after eight wins and ten final rounds this season, this Funny Car phenom seems well on his way back to the championship podium.
Where did your drag racing career begin?
As far back as I can remember, I spent every weekend watching my dad bracket race at our local drag strip in Santa Maria, CA, as well as Irwindale and Orange County Raceway. I also worked on my father’s car until he retired from racing when I was in junior high school and began doing what he could to assist other drivers in making their cars faster. As I continued to tag along with him, my passion for this sport continued.
Why did you choose to compete in Funny Car vs. other divisions?
While working on other drivers’ cars, I had a strong desire to someday drive. My first desire was to compete in a Top Alcohol Dragster, which is where I focused my mechanical knowledge. I also grew up loving Funny Car racing. All the drag racing car models that I built and the Hot Wheels that I played with were Funny Cars. My father and I would also spend some time in the stands at larger races, where I was completely blown away by both the Funny Car and Fuel Altered dragsters.
The competitors in these divisions were like daredevils, in these short cars with fiberglass bodies that always seemed like they were on the verge of out-of-control every time that they went down the track. This just spoke to me and I knew that I wanted to feel this rush and know what it is like to tame these cars someday.
Who have been some of your heroes coming through this sport?
Both my father and even my mother, who did her own share of drag racing, were my ultimate heroes. My love of Funny Car racing also led me to legendary drivers like Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen and “Jungle Jim” Liberman. I was also enamored with Shirley Muldowney, who reminded me of my mom and had a tremendous amount of talent.
Later in my career, I also got to know Ed ‘The Ace’ McCulloch, who took me under his wing and allowed me to ask him questions, which helped me become more knowledgeable about what it took to become a legend in the sport of drag racing.
How did you and your team get to where you are now?
Don Schumacher Racing has always had good cars, which has continued to put my name in the championship hat over the last few years. While we came close four years in a row, something would always come up at the very end of the season, often the very last race of the season, that would keep us falling short of our goal for a championship. Working harder and harder after these losses helped my team and me to finally achieve our goal to obtain a championship last season, which has made each of us appreciate this so much more than if we were to be called champions right out of the gate. Of course, there was one thing missing from this championship, which I am hoping for this season – that is more wins. Our first championship came from consistency and points earned; this year I would rather it mean more based on wins earned.
This year, both luck and focus has given us the eight wins that we now have. Of course, we have also tried some things that have left us coming up short. That is something that I try to remember coming up on these last few races because no championship is ensured until that final race.
As the last three races of the 2017 season approach, which of your Funny Car competitors and tracks might keep you from a repeat championship?
Of course, my fellow Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car teammates are the drivers who have the best chance of knocking us off the pedestal. Other than that, I am most concerned about those drivers who didn’t make it to the Countdown to the Championship, because these drivers still have great cars and they have nothing to lose. Many of these drivers are also out to prove why they should be part of the Countdown in the future, which is exactly why I would be putting it all on the line despite competing for the ultimate season finale crown.
As far as tracks go, I am, of course, nervous about Auto Club Raceway at Pomona since the championship will be ultimately decided at this final race. I was also very concerned about the race at Maple Grove Raceway, in Pennsylvania. This was one of the only tracks on the schedule that gave us fits in the past and I seemed to have the most trouble pulling off a win at, and this race even cost us a couple of championships. So, to pull off a win at this race and at this track was nothing short of an accomplishment.
What is your advice to those who have dreams to be a successful NHRA driver like you someday?
My best advice is to be humble and to ask advice from the right people. The best piece of advice that I ever received and still continue to think about to this day is also to listen. One of the best quotes that I remember from a couple of heroes like Ed McCullough and Don Prudhomme was, ‘If your mouth is open, then your ears aren’t open.’
My other biggest piece of advice is to have respect. In other words, don’t get all full of yourself. As a few of my heroes also reminded me, the same drivers that you are defeating on the track at times are the same ones who will knock you off the ladder that you were climbing before.
We at RacingJunk.com wish Ron Capps and his entire Don Schumacher Racing team the best of luck as the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship continues at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com to learn more about your impending 2017 NHRA champions.