How Ron Capps Defied the Odds to Win Third NHRA Funny Car Championship

First-year team owner/driver overtook Robert Hight at NHRA Auto Club finals at Pomona to seal improbable title.

nhra ron capps
Ron Capps Motorsports
  • It's heartbreak for Robert Hight as Rob Capps swipes his third championship by three points.
  • Matt Hagan drops of out chase in the first round, upset by opponent racing “for fun.”
  • Title is Capps’ first as a team owner.

    Ron Capps isn’t saying he’s clairvoyant.

    But in the week before the NHRA Finals opened Friday at Pomona, Calif., the NAPA Auto Care Toyota Supra Funny Car driver said of points leader Robert Hight, “That whole team . . . raised the bar. Think about eight wins. They have a chance at nine wins. It's crazy to think in the competitive era we have right now in Funny Car, that a team is going to have eight wins and possibly not win a championship. You don't know.”

    And that’s exactly what played out Sunday at Auto Club Raceway.

    Capps toppled longtime dominator Hight, denying him a fourth series championship by a mere three points.

    That marked the first time in exactly 20 years that a Funny Car driver has recorded back-to-back championships. John Force did so in 2001-2002, as part of his 10-year sting of championships.

    Cruz Pedregon defeated Capps for the event trophy in the final round that ended up being more tense than anticipated.

    With third NHRA Funny Car contender Matt Hagan out of the mix Sunday in a first-round upset at Auto Club Raceway, the title bout came down to Hight and Capps.

    Then Hight, the longtime points leader, became a spectator in the second round, smoking the tires in his match-up against Bob Tasca III. But Capps still had to jump through one more hoop before he could celebrate his third championship and first as a Funny Car team owner.

    Capps, irritated that he had to wait another hour or so to bask in his accomplishment of earning a championship in his first year as an independent team owner, also had to make sure he completed his final pass of the year without incurring a penalty. If he were to cross the center line, for example, he would have been charged a 10-point penalty that would have handed the championship to Hight after all.

    And he had the option to cut off the engine early in his final-round run or not even show up at the starting line altogether to guarantee he wouldn’t incur a costly penalty. He was urged to shut off the motor early in the run, but he ran the car the length of the 1,000-foot racetrack and even make an extra-long, entertaining burnout for the fans’ sake.

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    “Everybody thought I was going to shut it off, and I planned on it if I didn’t see Cruz,” Capps said. “I hope everyone appreciates that I ran it to the finish line, because it was a hard decision to make. It was a terrible rule to get around. So I hugged the wall. But what a great drag race.”

    Both Capps and co-crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli expressed empathy for Hight.

    “I feel bad for Robert,” Antonelli said. “He was really running away with it. The reset [of points at the start of the Countdown] switches everything up. It’s who’s sixth in the last six [races]. We’re fortunate.”

    Capps said, “I feel sorry for Robert. To win eight races and not win the championship is crazy. It’s crazy for me to win five races.”

    In his top-end speech right after securing the championship, Capps said his message is “anybody in America, anything you put your mind to, you can do with great people around you.

    “I can’t even begin to say what it feels like right now,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve all seen me age quite a bit in the last year or so.”

    No. 3 starter Hagan’s bid for a fourth championship ended in an opening-round upset by No. 14 qualifier and part-time racer Steven Densham.

    Drag-racing pioneer Gary Densham, who tunes his son’s family-owned and -operated entry, said he “almost hated” to defeat Hagan: “They’re racing for a championship. We’re racing for fun. But they smoked the tires. We didn’t.”

    Hagan, a key part of Tony Stewart’s inaugural season as a drag-racing team owner, said, “It’s really, really tough to lose the first round and know that when you watch him cross the finish line that your season’s over. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us for this offseason, a lot of innovating, hopefully. It just wasn’t our race weekend. As much as I wanted it to be and [was] wishing it to be, it just was one of those things. Won four races this year, but it could always be better.”

    Things were better for Pedregon, who won for the first time all season after not advancing to even a semifinal since the opening race of the year, also here at Pomona.

    “Moments like this are what we live for,” he said, clutching his trophy. “What we wanted to do was have a respectable end of the season, because we didn’t get the job done.”

    The two-time Funny Car champion alluded to his future in the driver’s seat and expressed hope that a driver perhaps of Mexican heritage like himself might follow him one day in the seat of the Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger.

    Although he didn’t suggest at all that he’s ready to step away from driving, Pedregon said, “For all the young Mexican guys, somebody’s got to replace me. I need a little Hispanic dude that’s got a little money in his pocket and wants to drive one of these in a few years.”

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