Ron Capps and the NAPA AUTO PARTS Funny Car team led by crew chief Rahn Tobler started out the second half of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season perfectly 10 days ago near Chicago.
But the veteran team understands that it remains a long row to hoe if the Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger R/T Powered by Pennzoil is to be contending for another world championship at the November season-finale in 11 events.
When Capps slipped past DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in Terry Chandler’s Make-A-Wish Dodge at Route 66 Raceway on July 9 it marked his team’s sixth event title of the year and the most NHRA Wally Trophies he has won in one season. And 11 races remain beginning with this weekend’s Mopar Mile-High Nationals near Denver.
He’ll begin qualifying Friday evening with the points lead and 186 ahead of teammate Matt Hagan.
The race at Bandimere Speedway in mile-high altitude carved into a mountainside opens the annual three-week Western Swing that follows with a trip outside San Francisco in the wine country of Sonoma County and concludes with a jaunt up the coast to Seattle.
“It’s the one race where you have extreme conditions with the altitude, and it can be hot,” he said of Bandimere where he won in 2009 and was runner-up twice (1998, 2007). “We’ve lost some close races there, but I always feel we have a shot when Tobler is our crew chief.
“Every driver will tell you they want to sweep the Western Swing once in their career,” he said, adding only seven drivers have accomplished that including once in Funny Car when John Force did it in 1994.
“The conditions are so diverse on the Swing: high altitude and hot in Denver, sea level at Sonoma and then up to Seattle with all those trees that produce so much oxygen,” said Capps, who enters Denver with a 35-7 record in eliminations and eight final-round appearances.
His hottest streak last year was in June when he won three of four events. He got an earlier start this season when he won both races in May and then both in June. It was the first time in his 22-year career that he won three straight titles and then added a fourth.
“It’s been a remarkable season so far thanks to Tobler, Hop (assistant Eric Lane), the NAPA AutoCare Centers crew and everyone back at the fab and machine shops,” Capps said. “One of the great things about Tobler is that he always is looking ahead and not behind regardless of how we ran.”
It’s been an especially busy year for Capps with added responsibilities as the reigning world champion, among the activities was attending the July 12 ESPN ESPY awards where he was nominated for the Best Driver Award, which went to Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton.
“Man, that night was so cool. Just being nominated was a surprise and getting to be around the best athletes in the world is a lifetime experience.”
The native of San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast of California left his home near San Diego early last week with his family for vacation time with family and friends.
After a brief respite of camping, he’ll fly to Denver this week for the 38th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals before flying back to rejoin his family on vacation and then drive the motorhome north for the following week’s race at his home track of Sonoma Raceway. After the second stop on the annual three-week Swing, he’ll return his family to Carlsbad, Calif., then fly to Seattle for the 16th race in the 24-race season.
The Mile-High Nationals kicks off 6 p.m. (MT) Thursday with the annual Mopar Block Party at Golden, Colo., when downtown is closed for a free car show, Mopar and other displays, food vendors, live music and autograph session from 6:45-7:45 featuring Capps and DSR’s other Mopar drivers.