Ron Capps Q & A
An in-depth interview with the Brut Racing driver...

By Judy Stropus; Photos by Roger Richards and Ron Lewis

 

Ron Capps joined Don Schumacher Racing for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series to drive the Brut-sponsored Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car and found himself embroiled in the most exciting and closest battle for a Funny Car championship in NHRA history.

The chase came down to the final race of the 23-event series among Capps, Capps' teammate Gary Scelzi and John Force. Following an emotional, gut-wrenching last third of the year and a somewhat anti-climactic final race, in which all three lost in the second round, Capps emerged the runner-up, just eight points behind Scelzi and 24 points ahead of 13-time champion Force.

This marked Capps' third runner-up finish in Funny Car competition since 1995, but also went down as the most heartbreaking end to a dynamite season for the popular 40-year-old California native.

He never led the point standings, but the consistency, reliability and performance of the new team led by crew chief and legend Ed "The Ace" McCulloch put him quietly into championship contention by the 17th race.

Capps, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with wife Shelley and daughter Taylor, 9, and son Caden, 4, won three times in seven final rounds in 2005, qualified No. 1 once, was a semifinal finisher five times, and established his career-best numbers: 4.694-second elapsed time (Dallas) and top speed of 329.02 mph (Chicago 2).

We interviewed Capps from his home this week before the holidays, where he was spending some much-needed quality time with his family.

CP: NOW THAT THIS MOST EMOTIONAL NHRA FUNNY CAR SEASON IS OVER, HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS EXCITING CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE WENT FOR YOU?


RC:
It went great. The best part was not only what it did for our new sponsor Brut in their and my first year with Don Schumacher Racing, but for the sport of NHRA drag racing as well. For the fans to see such an exciting chase, to have that much publicity and have it all come down to the final
race helped the sport a lot and it helped the class a lot.

One of the biggest things for me was going out to leave tickets on Saturday morning at the last race at Pomona at will-call with my brother Jon and seeing the line so long. I've never seen Pomona that crazy as far as fans go, and then having NHRA talking about how many tickets were sold.

For me personally it was gratifying to be associated with a new team. I said it this year a lot: I've got a very young team that surrounds me. We've only got a couple of veterans on the team and the rest of these guys are these kids. Three or four of them are under 25 years old, just out of college. To
have that young a team be that enthusiastic as they were, personally, it was gratifying.

This is my 11th year driving professionally, and you start to feel a little seasoned as a driver. I'm kind of becoming, in a sense, a student to some of these crew chiefs and owners. Watching Don Schumacher, and especially being around Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) and watching the way that he ran the team this year, at this point in my career you start looking into the future and what I want to do in the future.

So, for me to finish for the third time in my career No. 2, it was heartbreaking. I'm still not over it. And I know the guys are really starting to get going again, but every morning, I can tell you, without a doubt, sometimes within the first couple of hours after I get up I think about what could have been and how we could have won the championship and what we could have done at any time of the season to gain those eight points. It just hurts. It just motivates me, more than anything.


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CP: DID YOUR FIRST SEASON WITH DON SCHUMACHER RACING MEET YOUR EXPECTATIONS?

RC: It exceeded them, for sure. If you were to look at a list of teams, as far as underachievers, overachievers, whether they're overrated or underrated, I think you'd probably put our team in a category, as far as 2005 is concerned, as overachievers and probably underrated, because even I didn't think we were going to have the results, with a brand-new team, brand-new sponsor, brand-new everything, to fight for the championship to the very end of the season and finish No. 2. And, biggest of all, to have finished ahead of John Force. That is huge. With all that, I think we exceeded our expectations, Don Schumacher's expectations, and all of our sponsors' expectations. I figured top five would have been good, and I'm sure everybody else was thinking that the first year.

CP: IF YOU HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

RC: I probably wouldn't change much. It's like being asked if you could go back to high school and do everything over. I think everything that's happened has happened for a reason. Hypothetically, if you could go back, I would say that we would try to qualify higher, and gain those points. We lost a lot of points looking back just in qualifying. And Ace will be the first guy to tell you that. And I know that when he realized that, he made an effort to qualify higher and really be more aggressive in qualifying.

It's a feeble line that the crew chiefs follow when you don't want to go out and smoke the tires, yet you want to stand on the thing and try to qualify better. And Ace was really fighting that fine line of wanting to get information and go down the track and have a car that could always go down
the track, and a lot of times that intimidates people. I think you saw at the end of the year what that aggressiveness produced. But, we lost a lot of points. We probably lost over 80 points. That's about four rounds in points, just in qualifying. Looking back at the year, if we could go back in time, I'd say say what I'd change is if we could have qualified better.

CP: THERE MUST BE SOME SOLACE IN THE FACT THAT YOU BEAT JOHN FORCE, WHO FINISHED THIRD BEHIND GARY SCELZI AND YOU. IS THERE?

RC: It's funny, because everybody I see in the off-season, whether it's neighbors or fans I run into here and there, they all say, great season, you did great, you finished in front of John Force. Every time somebody says that I kind of have to think, Yeah, you know, they're right. It just doesn't feel that way. To me we still lost the championship, and, yeah, we lost to my teammate Gary Scelzi's team, but we still lost it. It's great that our teammate won it, but when it's Sunday morning, while our teammate is not the enemy, our teammate is still the competition and we're still fighting for a
championship, whether it be against (other teammate) Whit (Bazemore) or Gary or any other team. So, I have to really dig down deep and say, You know what, we did beat John Force. But, to be honest with you, it doesn't matter.
We still finished No. 2, and I don't even think about finishing ahead of John Force. It's cool to think, Yeah, we did, that's an accomplishment, but it's not the first thing you think of. The first thing you think of is, Gosh, how did we not win that?


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CP: THE 2005 NHRA FUNNY CAR SEASON WAS THE CLOSEST AND TIGHTEST BATTLE TO THE FINISH IN HISTORY. ARE YOU READY TO GO THROUGH THAT AGAIN IN 2006?

RC: Yeah. Was it Nietzsche who said, "What doesn't kill you just makes you stronger?" That's the case, I think. Every year I feel a little more seasoned. It's just experience and going through a lot of different situations, good or bad, is what makes us stronger. Earlier in the season we went through some situations and I had to look to Ace at certain times for answers to questions on and off the track. That's what makes us more experienced, that's what gets us ready for the next deal. You look at Scelzi, who's won three championships in dragster already, you look at Force
who's won 13 championships; they've been there. I'm good friends with John and, talking with him through the last three races, I learned he was going through the same emotions I was and here's a guy who's won 13 championships, so I think that I'm definitely ready to go. I kept telling my team - and, like I said, I have a lot of young guys and a lot of rookies on the team - how lucky they were to have gone through what we did.

"American Dragster" was shooting a reality show in our pits this year that's going to come out next year, so I said, Don't stand back and get caught up in it too much because we'll be able to watch TV later, you'll see the highlights, you'll be able to live through it again. Just stay focused and, more than anything, enjoy it. I wanted them to realize what they were involved in because it's not every day it happens that you fight down to the end. There's nothing worse with four or five races left and you have no shot at a championship and it's hard to get extra motivated at the track other than trying to win the race. I know all the other drivers were probably sick and tired of hearing about the three of us fighting for the championship at Pomona. I know I would have been, but it just helps your level of experience. But I wouldn't give it up for the world. The pressure, the throwing up, all the stuff that you go through, it's everything I've gone through growing up playing sports all my life. It's just a part of it. If you don't have that gut-ache and all that then you're not into it enough.

CP: DID YOU JUST QUOTE NIETZSCHE?

RC: Yes, I guess I did.

CP: HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT THAT YOU DIDN'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?

RC: It's very. Even though we finished second and I know we should be more excited about it, it hurts worse to finish second as close as we did than I think finishing fifth or sixth would have been. The peaks become much higher and the valleys become much lower and the hurt hurts worse and the
excitement level of doing well at the end of the season when you're in a fight like that, is just escalated. It still hurts a lot. Every day. It's all I think about, is what could have appened. To answer the question, second place still sucks.

CP: YOU ENTERED 2005 WITH A NEW TEAM AND A NEW SPONSOR. BRUT HAS DONE AN OUTSTANDING JOB PROMOTING YOU AND NHRA. HOW HAS THAT RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUT WORKED FOR YOU PERSONALLY?

RC: It's been unbelievable. A lot of people remember the Super Brut car from years ago, and it was a great sponsor, and these are all new people this year, now that Brut is owned by Idelle Labs and Helen of Troy. I hear Force
a lot of times being interviewed, and he gets out and talks about Faberge. Well, it's been 20 years since Faberge owned it. It's a whole new era. The Brut people at the race track had never been to a drag race prior to this
year. A couple of them maybe went to race at the end of last year, but had never been really involved and were not the type of people you would expect to be drag-race fans. And all of sudden, these people, three or four races
in - Marc Broccoli, Jack Jancin and John Hunnicutt - are living it and breathing it. I get e-mails and I talk to them and they can't wait to get to the next race. They were so excited and it was so neat to see all of them get into the sport and have them pick up on all the lingo.

Anytime you have a new company like that come into the sport and have the people who write the checks that excited to come to the race and watch the hurt on their faces when you lose and see them going through all the same
emotions that you go through, and you want to win for them, it's a home run. It's a home run not only for Don Schumacher and everybody on the team, including me, Ace and all the guys, but for the sponsors as well. It's incredible what the new group at Brut has brought to the table without even
being in the sport before. They jumped in and put ads out in People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and other big magazines, and they have a lot of new stuff planned for 2006. It was so gratifying for me to win that first race in St. Louis and to hand that trophy to the guys at Brut who were there for that win and to see how much they enjoyed it. It was more gratifying for me to win for them than it was for myself, almost.


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CP: WAS THERE ANY ONE MOMENT WHEN YOU FELT YOU COULD ACTUALLY WIN THIS THING?

RC: At times. We pulled pretty close at Indy. It just kind of went back and forth. We had the whole fiasco at Reading (the erroneous oildown call) in night qualifying. Going into Reading we felt pretty good and that happened Friday night and we lost a chance for a good run and lane choice. Losing
lane choice and losing to Robert Hight first round on a one-lane track on Sunday morning, we started to think, Well, we're going to be fighting for second, third or fourth. And then, all of a sudden, we climbed back in and when we left Chicago after winning there and then winning Vegas, we knew we had a chance at it. That's when I really, really thought that we had a chance of winning the championship.

CP: THERE WERE NO TEAM ORDERS FROM DON SCHUMACHER DURING THIS BATTLE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

RC: I think it was great. I didn't have to worry about it. I know Gary and Whit didn't have to worry about it. At times you had it in the back of your head (that there might be team orders), like when we rolled up there against Bazemore (who was not in championship contention) first round at Indy. He shut the top light off and deep-staged and won and beat us. You stand back and see that Don Schumacher, or the sponsors, at times might have wanted to say we need to do this or that as a team, but the fact that they didn't, and the fact we knew every time we went up there that they wouldn't, was great for all the team members. Even though you would lose a race that maybe you thought you should have won over a teammate, it just made you a little prouder that everybody was racing heads up.

There's nothing worse than in the past seeing that happen with whatever team. It's not motivating for the crew members or anybody or even the sponsors and it really disappoints the fans. So, I think it was great. And hats off to Force too. Because those guys did the same thing all year. We didn't see any of that going on with their team. So I think the fans got really excited when they knew that no matter what happened, Don Schumacher's teams and John Force's teams were going to race heads up.

CP: HAS THE NHRA BENEFITED FROM WHAT DON SCHUMACHER BROUGHT TO THE TABLE ONCE HE PUT TOGETHER A MULTI-CAR TEAM IN 2001?

RC: It's huge. What Don Schumacher has accomplished has to go down in history, for sure. To win a championship in Funny Car, to beat John Force, to have his U.S. Army dragster (and son Tony Schumacher) win again and to hold the championship trophy in both those categories at the same time as an owner is unbelievable. The amount of talent and sponsorship that Don has put together has definitely helped the sport. I think the sponsors saw something in Don Schumacher and that's the reason they went with him. So I think it's all been a positive. But I really do believe that he's kind of set a standard out there as far as being an owner is concerned.

CP: WITH THE INCREASED COMPETITION IN THE CLASS, AND NOT ONLY FROM DSR, DO YOU THINK JOHN FORCE'S STRANGLEHOLD ON THE FUNNY CAR CLASS IS FINALLY OVER?

RC: No. I learned about karma a long time ago. Even coming down to the end of the year when we were ahead of John Force, and people kept saying, "You got him, you got him," the first thing I wanted to do was to interrupt these
people and tell them to never, ever count him out, whether it's him or his team. He's a motivator and he knows how to win. And right now, in this off season, he is thinking about what to do to win the championship back, probably more than anybody else out there. I think about it a lot, and I know he's thinking about it twice as much as I am. If we can beat him next year, it's really going to be saying something, because he's going to be so motivated.

I think he's going to realize he kind of got caught a little bit with his pants down at certain times during the year when he was concentrating a little bit more maybe on other parts of this team and maybe let his car slip a little bit and he was taken advantage of. I don't think that's going to happen again. I think you're going to see John motivated. I know he's on a diet. We thought this year was a fight; it's going to be a heck of a fight in 2006. So, I never, ever count out John Force. When anybody makes a statement like they think they have him or they think they're better than him, they need to take a step back and realize what they're saying. And, if you beat him, then you just need to chalk it up and
just say, You know what, we beat him today, now we need to concentrate on beating him next time. That's the way to look at it.

CP: IS IT GOOD FOR THE SERIES TO HAVE A DIFFERENT DRIVER/TEAM FINALLY WIN THE FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 13 YEARS?

RC: Absolutely. John Force, as far as I'm concerned, is the guy who IS drag racing right now. He's the big name and anytime you can beat him, it creates more press and it creates more hype. One great thing about John is he loves
to spread that out. He won't hog a lot of press if he's got a chance of helping somebody out, even when the press is focused on him. Guys like Scelzi, Bazemore and especially John's teammates all know how John is and that's the way he is. He's just got a big heart. I think anytime you beat him, whether it's one round or especially for the championship, I think it's great for the sport. I think the fans now, whether they're John Force fans or not John Force fans, are going to be even more excited to see what happens this next year.

CP: HOW IS YOUR CREW CHIEF ED MCCULLOCH'S HEALTH?

RC: He's doing well. He'll be finishing his chemo treatments right before our first test session in Vegas (Jan. 20-23), so that's going to be a good thing. We snuck over to Vegas and had a test session with the new Dodge Charger body a couple of weeks ago. He had a chemo session the night before and actually flew out to Vegas, so he was a little slow. It just takes a lot out of him. It really zaps him. I've known Ace a long time and I can really tell when he's wore out and what he's going through. So, we went out there
for three days and tested and he's as tough as there is, no doubt about it. He'll be done with that chemo right before testing and he'll be raring to go and at full throttle at Pomona, and that is going to be exciting.


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CP: WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING DIFFERENTLY TO PREPARE FOR THE 2006 SEASON?

RC: We're just stocking up on more parts. We have the new Charger body we're going to be running. I think that Ace knows how I am and I know how Ace is, and we have a great rapport, a great working relationship. He knows how to motivate me and I know how to motivate him. We've talked about the upcoming season and things that we're going to change. There's not a whole lot we're going to change other than continue on what we did the last three races, and that was go for the throat in qualifying, try to qualify higher and do the same thing on race day. And if he can do the same thing on race day he did the last half of the season, we're going to be right back in the thick of
it. We had such a slow start this season that that's all we're trying to do. It's status quo. We have a new chassis being built and it's exactly like our other one; it's just going to be new. Basically, we're going to roll out like we came out at the end of this season and just try to continue on.

CP: WILL 2006 BE YOUR YEAR?

RC: I say that every year. I hope it will be. It's another season, we have the same exact crew back. We lost one guy on the crew (Ronnie Thompson), but other than that, everybody is back. That's exciting for any driver or any
crew chief or owner to have the same team come back, all grouped together. Because any time they can work together and have more experience together, they work together better. So, I'm excited about that.

CP: WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING IN THE OFF-SEASON?

RC: Pouting. Just kidding. Every off season I talk about how we all get a year older. I've just been hitting the gym. I did a lot of dirt bike riding during the off season here. I went to visit my parents through the Thanksgiving holidays and we did a lot of motocross riding, which I did as a kid. It really tells you how much shape you're in or you're not in. And we
do a lot of stuff with the kids. I'm spending a lot of great time with the kids.

I had Taylor, who is 9 years old, taking her first golf lesson the other day and so we're going to be able to start playing golf. And I'm spending time with my son Caden, who is 4, watching old drag-racing movies. I've got about 10 old movies from the '60s and '70s, with old drag-racing footage, and it's all he loves to watch. So, I don't mind sitting down with him and watching two hours of that at a time. And my wife Shelley and I just spend some quality time together, something we don't get to do during the season. I'll get ready for testing, follow the Supercross season and go to the first Supercross in Anaheim (Calif.) and get a lot of exciting stuff done with the reality show ("American Dragster") that's being announced soon. Just a lot of cool stuff, but mainly trying to recharge the batteries and get ready for testing,

I can tell you, it was a week after the season ended, and I got a call from my crew guys. They were all at a bar in Indy and they called to tell me how they couldn't wait to go racing. And that was only being off for a week, so that right there told me that they were ready to go.

CP: WILL TAYLOR CONTINUE RACING IN JUNIOR DRAGSTER?

RC: She doesn't know. She's going to do softball now and I got her six more golf lessons and we can start playing soon. I bought her a set of clubs. I'm just finding ways to spend more time like that with her.

CP: DO YOU SEE A FUTURE FOR YOUR KIDS IN NHRA DRAG RACING?

RC: Without a doubt. Caden is only 4, but if he could get into a Junior Dragster he'd find a way to prop himself up and reach the pedals. He's just like I was when I was young. And that's all I thought about. At school, my subjects probably suffered a little bit with math and all my studies because
all I thought about was racing. I drew pictures of dragsters and funny cars all over my books and that was just all I thought about. And that's what he is going through right now. Taylor can't make up her mind. One minute she wants to go do Junior Dragster racing, next minute she's dressing up like a girl. She is also just starting to play golf and things like that. But I think that they've adjusted to being around it and with a lot of the teachers, kids and other parents at school being fans of drag racing and watching, it excites them whenever their friends talk about their mom and dad watching me race and knowing that Taylor's dad is into racing. They're going to be around it for a long time.

CP: YOU'VE SHOWN TALENT IN OTHER RACING SERIES, SUCH AS SPORTS-CAR RACING, DIRT, ETC. DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO VENTURE FURTHER IN THOSE ARENAS?

RC: I hope so. We'll see what happens with the IROC series. There's some exciting stuff they're working on and hopefully we can see if we'll be a part of it. It depends on the scheduling. IROC has to work around all those other drivers, so we'll see how that goes. I know for sure I'm doing the two dirt races with Tony Stewart at Eldora. We're going to do the Prelude to a Dream again with all the Nextel Cup drivers, like I did last year with the Dirt Modifieds. I actually talked to Casey Kahne and Tony Stewart and
they're going to have a celebrity sprint-car race at Eldora sometime during the season. He called and invited me to that. I'm definitely going to do that a couple of times in the year. Any chance I can. I will do the charity go-kart deal at Sonoma for Infineon Raceway again, which we do every year. I'm reigning champion again at that and that's always been a fun thing to do for the Speedway Charities and the fans really love it to get to be able to go out there and race with us. Any chance I can get out to do that, I'm going to take advantage of it, but in 2006 I'm concentrating on the drag racing more than anything.

CP: YOU ARE VERY MUCH A FAMILY MAN. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE DRIVING WITH FAMILY LIFE?

RC: It's been better. I have a Monaco motor home that I got last year and I spend a lot of time staying at the track instead of at hotels. Chris Richline drives it from race to race, and it just makes it a little easier. I can spend maybe another day at home, fly in, stay at the track and then
fly out a little quicker from the races and get home and spend a little more time there during the week. When you're at the races you get busy, and the weekends are taken up and anything the kids do that are going to be on the
weekend, sports or whatever, I'm going to miss, which is unfortunate. But you try to bring the kids and the family to as many races as you can so they can spend time there. And the good part of having the motor home there is it's already home, it's set up there and everything is in it, so the kids
can come to the track and I don't have to worry about them getting back and forth from the hotel. It makes it easier to spend more quality time with the family.

CP: IF YOU HAD YOUR DRUTHERS, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE?

RC: One thing I'd probably want to change is letting what I do for a living consume me as much as it does. Fortunately, I'm competitive and I love anything to do with competition and I thrive on it. Unfortunately, I sometimes let it get to me and I bring my job home a lot of times. If I lose a race, or something happens at the track that you're disappointed in that you did, I guess like any other job, you come home after something happens at work and you tend to dwell on it. Luckily, my family is a little more patient. They've learned that they can see when I come into the door, or they see when I get up in the morning between races, how my attitude is and they help cheer me up.

A lot of times I wear my emotions a little longer than I'd like to when I come home, away from the track. I need to learn to leave it a little more at the track. A lot of times I come home I'm just so bummed out about what happened that it'll take me a couple of days to get over it. That's two days at home that I could be spending a little more time not bummed out. It's something I need to work on. I think that will come in
time.

CP: WHEN ARE YOU THE HAPPIEST?

RC: Obviously when we're winning. I'm happy when my family is at the track and they can enjoy it with me, whether it's my mom and dad, or my family. I'm happiest really not only when my family is at the track but spending time with my team. I love to take them to dinner, I love to spend time with them. One of my favorite times is in the staging lanes when it's all kicked back and the guys are done working and we're back there waiting to run and we get to joke around and talk about what's going on in each other's lives and sit in the Durango and listen to music and just spend quality time.

At night a lot of times we'll go out; I'll take them out for drinks. Those guys are my extended family, so I'm probably happiest when I'm at the track, the night before qualifying, just out with my guys enjoying ourselves.

CP: IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH TO ADD?

RC: I'm driving the Jeff Gaynor-owned Nostalgia Funny Car three times this year at the Goodguys races. I did that last year. It was just a blast to do and everybody is excited about it. I'm going to have Roland Leong come out to tune it. Mopar and Direct Connection came aboard last year to help out, along with Jeg's, and they're all going to come back. There's some surprise as to how they're going to paint the car, but I'm definitely going to compete with it at three of the races. We're going to kick it off at the March meets and race two other events. That was one of the funnest times I
had all year last year, driving that Nostalgia Funny Car. That was such a great time. I'm looking forward to doing that.  

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