Ron Capps Q & A
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?
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
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.
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
CP: THERE MUST BE SOME SOLACE IN THE FACT THAT YOU BEAT JOHN FORCE, WHO FINISHED THIRD BEHIND GARY SCELZI AND YOU. IS THERE?
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
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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
"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
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?
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
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
d v e r t i s e m e n t
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
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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