At first glance, Ron Capps appears to be a well-manicured spring chicken. But in reality, the championship-winning driver that John Force calls a kid will celebrate 30 years as a nitro racer next weekend. 

Capps made his professional debut behind the wheel of Roger Primm’s Top Fuel dragster during the 1995 Phoenix event. He’s since participated in 632 starts, with 75 national event victories racing a Funny Car and one in Top Fuel. He is one of only 18 drivers in NHRA history to have claimed a win in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories.

Capps cannot help but wax nostalgic thinking about it all. 

“I just remember Roger Primm taking a chance on me, and we had sort of the overachievers as a crew,” Capps explained. Terry Manzer was my crew chief. I was brought up and picked over a pretty big list of much more credible and experienced drivers. So I was thrown in, and I hadn’t made a full run yet.”

One thing Capps did have when he was a spring chicken was driver awareness, and it made all the difference in his getting his competition license. 

“I was licensing in an older car that had Whiskey Pete’s on that Del Worsham had driven, and it exploded a supercharger,” Capps recalled. And I did all the right stuff to get off the track, and [Steve Gibbs] signed my license off because I did that, not necessarily because I made a great run.”

There’s something to be said about a driver who survives a trial by fire, and for Capps, the seat got hot at the hit. But it wasn’t because of anything going wrong with the engine. In 1996, if you’re a rookie and draw Joe Amato in your first round of competition, it usually doesn’t get any hotter than that. 

“I still hadn’t made a full run when it came to Sunday morning,” Capps admitted. “We qualified somewhere between 10th and 16th, wherever it was, and we had Joe Amato first round.

“I was pretty nervous all night. Saturday night, obviously racing Joe Amato, and I just remember he smoked the tires, and I’m not even sure I made a full run that weekend.”

Capps had more respect for the Top Fuel dragster than knowledge, and maybe the early shutoffs were more of a rookie intuition than respect. 

“I came back after one of the qualifying runs, and I told Terry, ‘Man, I go, something’s wrong with it. About two and a half seconds into the run, it starts making all this noise,’ Capps said. And he looked at the computer and said, ‘No, it’s just starting to run.’

“And I went, ‘Oh my God.”

“So in my head, it was like, now what? I got to prepare for Joe Amato and try to figure out how to contain myself when the G-Force and the clutch comes in. So there was a lot going on in my little brain at that time, but a heck of a way to start to beat the legendary Joe Amato first round of competition.”

The 2024 Ron Capps, now a team owner, a three-time champion, and the second-winningest Funny Car driver in NHRA, isn’t the same fidgety rookie as he was in 1995. 

“It’s funny to look back and try to tell yourself, don’t do this and don’t do that, because I think those moments defined me as well in my career mistakes I made,” Capps explained. “I was very, very lucky. A few races later in Seattle that, I approached at the Ace McCulloch because Roger Primm [never raced nitro] and nobody in my crew had ever driven. I needed to seek advice from somebody. I thought that I could maybe help me down the road as well as any questions I had. So, looking back, most people said that’s not a guy you want to go just talk to, right? That’s not a guy that’s got the personality that you want to go up and approach.




“[McCulloch] took me under his wing as soon as I walked up. He put his arm around me. I think he made me a drink, gave me a red Solo cup, and sat me down, and I’ll never forget that. I mean, that transition to him being my crew chief later on and a mentor, but Ed “The Ace” McCulloch had driven everything, and that’s why I went to him.”

And that’s when Capps learned that when the legends speak, consider it an E.F. Hutton moment. When they speak, you listen. 

“I’ve always told myself from my dad, he always said, ‘Keep your ears open, your mouth shut,” Capps said. “If you’re talking, your ears are not open and listening. So that was the biggest and greatest advice I ever got. And boy, I’ve had a heck of a lot of great people around me to listen to throughout the years. So that was kind of what I would put myself.”

That’s great advice, absolutely. Another valuable lesson Capps learned is not to hang up when opportunity calls. He got the call of a lifetime from Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, offering a job. 

“I hung up on him because I thought somebody was playing a joke on me,” Capps said grimly. “They had the voice down and all that. And then Lynn, his wife, called me back and says, ‘Was something wrong with your phone?”

And just like that, Capps began an upward trajectory, which included driving for two of the famous drag racing dons: Prudhomme and Schumacher. Capps will readily point out that he’s always surrounded himself with good folks.

“It goes back to surrounding yourself with people better than you everywhere,” Capps said. “The people I’ve made my choices to be around and to surround myself with, I’ve been very lucky that it’s worked out that way. A lot of people come into the sport and hopped in a Top Fuel dragster like I did as a rookie.

“They’ve mouthed off, they’ve not made good friends, and then they have not listened. And their careers, a lot of times, don’t last long. You don’t see them around much. So I’ve seen that throughout the years prior to that, and being a crew member was probably the biggest thing that helped me working on them all that time and understanding the mechanics part of it and how hard it is to work on these things. I think the empathy for our crew guys, how hard they work, how much travel they travel, and all they go through probably all helped as well.”

Thirty years is not long when you’re having the time of your life and, most of all, learning. 

“I came up in an unconventional way,” Capps said. I worked on them. I was a crew guy wanting to be a driver, so I latched onto Del Worsham. I latched on to Larry Dixon, guys like that who had also come up that same way. So that’s what I always tell them: just stay focused and try to listen more than you talk. I mean, that’s the key. 




“I’m never going to go give somebody advice. I always tell somebody, like [Jasmine Salinas], that announcement came up last week, and I just sent her an Instagram message and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of people around you. You’ve got plenty of people to talk to, but if you ever need any questions or anything, maybe I can give you an answer. That might be something that can help you reach out.”

Capps has insinuated that he will still drive as long as he feels motivated, and for him, no one has provided a better example of knowing when to say when than one of his mentors, Prudhomme. 

“My mentality is still to get myself as prepped as can be every season, especially with all of the new drivers coming up,” Capps said. “We’ve got some unbelievable, young drivers in the sport. It’s what I think of when I get up in the morning: how to be better at everything. And then you throw the company ownership onto that; there’s a lot more to it. I used to have to just worry about being the best driver and best brand representative but now there’s a lot more on my brain. But I’m still so motivated. 

“I’ve had the conversation with Don Prudhomme, and he’s one of the few that when he retired, he actually retired. He didn’t come back after some time and ‘unretire’ or do any one-off races or pop back into the sport. He said one morning, he just wasn’t motivated to get into the race car and get his firesuit on, and that’s how he knew it was time. 

“I’ve already got an eyeball out the side looking at younger drivers for a chance to add a team, but to be honest, the topic of me retiring from driving, I don’t even see it on the horizon at this point. John Force is a great barometer; he’s a rare breed to go this long. It sets the tone for a lot of people in the sport.”