Last weekend, Funny Car standout Ron Capps watched Don Schumacher Racing teammate and Top Fuel points leader Antron Brown pick up his 5Oth career win.
With a strong performance the rest of the way during the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Capps, who has 45 career victories, could join Brown in the elite category.
But with just one more win Capps, who already has two wins in 2015, could also help crew chief Rahn Tobler reach the milestone mark. Tobler currently has 49 career victories as a crew chief, something Capps could change in his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T at this weekend’s third annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Capps, who is currently second in Funny Car points. “To have nearly 50 wins as a crew chief, that’s great. (Team owner) Don (Schumacher) hires the best of the best. It’s cool to see all of the hard work and the accolades come to our crew chiefs.
“I have been blessed to have some really great crew chiefs to work with like Tobler, Ed ‘the Ace’ McCulloch, Roland Leong, Tim Richards and Dale Armstrong – the best of the best. That’s what is great about getting to drive for the team I get to drive for. We always get the best equipment, and the best people want to drive for Don.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) join Capps as defending winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. It is the 10th of 24 events in 2015 and it’s another chance for Capps to add to an already impressive season. He has picked up wins in Gainesville and Houston, and Capps has also advanced to four final rounds, which means a run toward his 50th career victory in 2015 is not out of the question.
It would be fitting considering the history Capps has already made or is on the verge of making this season. The win in Houston moved Capps into second place in all-time Funny Car wins, while the illustrious mark for Tobler is just a victory away.
It nearly happened last weekend in Englishtown before Capps fell in the semifinals to teammate, eventual event winner and defending series champ Matt Hagan. It knocked Capps out of the points lead after a three-race run in the top spot, but with the way the car has performed this season, the Carlsbad, Calif. native believes it is just a matter of time before he visits the winner’s circle again.
“We know it’s going to happen soon but it can’t come soon enough,” Capps said. “The great thing is we have a great hot rod now. This is a great time to be hitting your stride the way Tobler has this NAPA Dodge going.”
Of Capps’ 44 Funny Car victories, 12 have come with Tobler leading the way as the team continues to push forward. Improving top-end speed has been a recent focus and the payoff has been evident. Capps went 324.12 mph in Topeka and was solid in that department in Englishtown before bowing out to Hagan.
“It’s just neat to see Tobler and [assistant] Eric [Lane] work on these little things and then show up at the next race and accomplish goals like our speed,” Capps said. “We’re building momentum, and it’s a lot of fun to drive this NAPA car.”
Momentum will be needed in the midst of a stretch that includes three straight race weekends. The New England Nationals is the middle race in that span and Capps enters the event with plenty of good vibes after winning a year ago against Alexis DeJoria.
Courtney Force won the inaugural event at the track in 2013 and will once again be among the top challengers for the victory. In order to repeat, Capps will also have to hold off the likes of Hagan, 16-time world champion John Force, two-time season winner Jack Beckman, third-place points sitter Del Worsham, Robert Hight, Atlanta winner Tim Wilkerson, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Cruz Pedregon.
With the warmer months making an arrival across the country, Capps also knows his team must be ready to perform in a multitude of weather conditions. That’s one specific area where Tobler tends to separate himself from the rest.
“That’s when it’s really good that you have a crew chief with experience like Tobler,” Capps said. “You feel a little more comfortable going up there with a track that’s going to be 20-degrees hotter on race day than in qualifying.”
Top Fuel competition has been intense at Epping. Eight-time and defending world champ Tony Schumacher is the defending winner of this event, piloting his U.S. Army dragster to the win over Doug Kalitta one year ago. His teammate Spencer Massey won the inaugural event over 2013 Top Fuel world champ Shawn Langdon. Other stars include Antron Brown, the current points leader who picked up his third win of the season last weekend in Englishtown, Connolly, who moved to Top Fuel in 2015, Richie Crampton, three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon, Clay Millican, J.R. Todd and Brittany Force.
In Pro Stock every driver other than 2013 event winner Allen Johnson will be searching for a first Epping victory. Defending world champ Erica Enders is climbing up the wins by women ladder and sits third all-time with 15. Four-time world champ Greg Anderson, who took over the points lead while winning in Englishtown, last season’s points runner-up Jason Line, Phoenix winner Rodger Brogdon, rookie Drew Skillman, Chris McGaha and Vincent Nobile are all expected to be major contenders in the popular factory hot rod category.