POMONA, Calif. — The last time Ron Capps was at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, he was celebrating his first career Funny Car world championship with a fan turnout the longtime standout will always remember.
It was the perfect finish to an incredible 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season that also started with a victory at the historic track.
Returning to Pomona for this weekend’s 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals, where Capps is the defending race winner, the defending world champion is eager for a banner start to 2017. Capps also knows it will be a magical moment to return to the scene that provided the backdrop for the culmination of his dream season.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Capps said. “Anytime you can start the season off great, it’s cool. But the Winternationals holds such a historic value to our sport. It’s a great race and with the conditions we see this time of year, you know it’s going to be fast. When we clinched at the track last year and had all those fans there, it was something else. It just fit our team perfectly and it was great to enjoy that moment with our fans.”
Last year’s Winternationals victory was the first of five for Capps, who also reached 50 career victories in his quest for a world championship. The world title was the one thing that had eluded Capps throughout his career, but even after finally claiming it, he remains just as motivated.
“I’ve never had to sit down and think about what motivates me,” said Capps, who has three Winternationals victories. “I just hate losing, that’s the best way to put it. You have this mountain everyone has a goal of climbing and last year we got three-fourths to the top and we just started charging to the top. But that just motivated us for this year. I know I don’t have a problem motivating myself and seeing (crew chief Rahn) Tobler, I know winning last year motivated him.”
Capps’ 2016 season was built around incredible runs and track records, but also centered around one consistent performance after another. That was evident in 10 final round appearances and advancing to at least the semifinals in the first five races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
The team tried plenty of new things at preseason testing in Phoenix, including debuting a new 2017 chassis, but there were still plenty of runs in the 3.80s.
That’s a good sign for Capps and the team, who will again have to deal with a multitude of challengers in the remarkable Funny Car class, including Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr., as well as 16-time world champion John Force, Courtney Force and Del Worsham.
“For us, it’s a matter of winning races,” Capps said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. The season is a grind, but it’s worth it. It’s great for us because I walk in the pits and know I’m hopping in one of the most prepared race cars there is, and I know we have a good chance to go low E.T. and win the race.”
“We’re all trying to outdo each other at DSR, so obviously that raises the bar for everyone.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications