Racing at the track near where he grew up always gets Ron Capps excited. But when the Funny Car standout fires up his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger for the first time at Sonoma Raceway each year, Capps also gets a thrill unlike at almost any other race on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.
A week after racing at rigorous, high-altitude conditions at Bandimere Speedway, Capps and the rest of the NHRA stars move to one of the fastest tracks on the circuit for the 27th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 25-27, at Sonoma Raceway. That change is noticeable and provides a jolt that Capps has enjoyed year after year.
“That very first warm-up in Sonoma reminds you of how awesome 10,000 horsepower is,” Capps said. “These cars are fire-breathing monsters, and it’s awesome. That very first run plants you in the seat, and it really wakes up all of your senses. You quickly get back to the reality of running 320 mph.”
Capps enjoys racing in Sonoma a whole lot more considering his tremendous record at the track. He is the defending event winner and has posted four overall victories at the facility, including three in the past four years.
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event that will again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the 15th of 24 races during the 2014 season and always marks a special point in the season for Capps.
“There’s always certain tracks where you happen to do well, and I’ve always had good mojo there,” Capps said. “I’ve had three different crew chiefs and won there four times, so it’s just one of those things where I’ve always seemed to have success there. At the end of the day, I go up to the motorhome on the hill above the track, and it’s just a great track for me. It’s a race I always look forward to.”
As the second race in the three-week NHRA Western Swing, the Sonoma Nationals also comes at a pivotal point in the season. With the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship closing in, Capps knows everything needs to be clicking.
With his strong run of success in Sonoma, there’s a good chance Capps will have plenty of momentum on his side at the perfect point in the season. Currently third in points, Capps also performed well in the recent four-race stretch, winning in Epping for his first victory of the season and posting a runner-up finish at the most recent event in Norwalk, jumping four places in the points standings in a four-week span.
“I think [crew chief Rahn] Tobler said we're 20-something runs without tire smoke,” Capps said. “That’s good because that’s consistency that you've got to have, especially in this Funny Car division right now. We say it all the time: It just seems like the competition gets tougher and tougher, and it's as high as it's ever been.”
To earn a fifth victory in Sonoma, Capps will have to figure out a way to get past that ultracompetitive Funny Car field that includes reigning world champion John Force, whose seven wins in Sonoma lead all NHRA drivers. Other stalwarts include Cruz Pedregon, who has two wins at the Northern California track, two-time Sonoma winner Tim Wilkerson, points leader Robert Hight, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria, Matt Hagan, and Tommy Johnson Jr.
Capps is also in for a busy promotional week leading up to the race as one of the top stars in the Funny Car ranks. It can be draining, but he has developed a strong ability to juggle those duties and still perform behind the wheel.
“For me, it’s all mental,” Capps said. “From the time I get here it’s busy, and if you let it get to you, it can certainly distract you. I just have to kind of pace myself and be on top of my game. Luckily, I’ve also got a great team behind me. We've been jelling, and it's just a matter of hitting everything right, and I think Tobler has.”
Sonoma Raceway will also host the MiraMonte Records NHRA Pro Bike Battle, a specialty bonus event for Pro Stock Motorcycle riders. The event will take place Saturday, July 26, and feature eight riders vying for the top prize.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds and enjoy cherished face time with and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 25, with sessions at 4:15 and 6:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 26, at 12:55 and 3:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, July 27. The MiraMonte Records NHRA Pro Bike Battle will occur Saturday, July 26, with rounds at 12:45, 3:15, and 4:40 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Sonoma Raceway, 800-870-RACE (7223), or visit www.racesonoma.com/tickets. Kids 12 and younger are admitted free on the final day of qualifying, Saturday, July 26.