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Ron Capps to celebrate 30 years behind the wheel during NHRA Arizona Nationals

Three-time NHRA Funny Car world champion Ron Capps made his professional debut aboard Roger Primm’s Top Fuel dragster during the 1995 Phoenix event and will celebrate his 30th anniversary in a nitro-powered race car at next weekend's NHRA Arizona Nationals.
28 Mar 2024
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Ron Capps

It’s hard to believe there was a time when Ron Capps, one of the most tenured drivers in the sport of NHRA Drag Racing, was considered a rookie, but at next weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals, the three-time Funny Car world champion is sure to be flooded with memories as he reflects on a multi-decade career, which began at Firebird Motorsports Park 30 years prior.

Capps made his professional debut aboard Roger Primm’s Top Fuel dragster during the 1995 Phoenix event, making next weekend’s annual race his 632nd as the wheelman of a nitro-powered race car. 

Among active NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series competitors, Capps is the fourth-most senior driver. His 75 Funny Car wins rank second in the category only to John Force, who carries an 18-year advantage over Capps, and his 76 overall wins (one Top Fuel) place him sixth on NHRA’s all-time victories list. 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, 58, has raced for some of the biggest names in the sport, including Don Prudhomme and the late super-team owner Don Schumacher. In 2022, he launched Ron Capps Motorsports (RCM), where he serves as both the owner and driver of his namesake operation. RCM has already been successful in capturing eight national event wins, seven poles, and a championship crown in its first two full seasons. The former ESPN ESPY Best Driver award nominee is a two-time NHRA U.S. Nationals champion and is on track to surpass 900 round-wins during the 2024 season. 

With his 30-year "nitro-versary" approaching next week, the driver of the NAPA Auto Care Toyota GR Supra took some time to look back on the first 29 years of his storied career: 

For the longest time, everyone was speculating about when you would finally win your first championship, and you’ve now won three in the past eight years. Then the conversation became, “When will Ron Capps finally win the U.S. Nationals?” and here you are heading into that event this year looking for a third consecutive victory. What’s the next item on the list that you’re hoping to accomplish?

Capps: You wait so long to win a championship, and then when you’re trying to win another, you kind of forget you already won one when you’re battling for the next. And, that’s how it felt coming out of DSR and driving for Don for so long and winning the championship. Then, becoming a team owner the following year and we had the No. 1 sticker on our car, you think, how content would you be to do it again? 

Well, every race you forget that No. 1 is on the car, so when we went back-to-back, that was an unbelievable achievement for “Guido” [crew chief Dean Antonelli] and the guys and our organization. So, really, the goal is winning more championships. Seeing [Matt] Hagan win a fourth last year, that stung a bit because you want to be the one to get that next one. There are a lot of drivers in that three-time group, but gosh, 10 years ago I would have given a limb to even win one, so it really is all relative. 

Realistically, how long do you see yourself continuing to drive?

Capps: My mentality is still to get myself as prepped as can be every season, especially with all of the new drivers coming up. 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 that 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. 

But 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. 

You say you have your eye on some up-and-coming drivers. So, what is your long-term plan for RCM? Do you mean that you’re looking for someone to eventually fill your seat, or to expand the organization by adding another car?

Capps: We’re already looking at adding a dragster. I’ve been a part of multicar teams. When I first signed on with Don Prudhomme, I jumped right into a multicar team — two Funny Cars and a dragster — and then when I went to Don Schumacher’s, he had seven teams at that time. Guido and I have talked about expanding, and I’ve always said I’ll only do it when Guido feels like we’re ready; he’s the leader of our team. If he’s OK with adding a car, which he is, we’ll add a Top Fuel dragster. So, we’ve already started that process and will do it at the right time. It’s something we’re actively working towards, but we’re not going to just jump at the first thing that comes our way. It has to be the right fit, and it has to all make sense. 

Why not add a second Funny Car?

Capps: Because we don’t want to race against ourselves. With Guido calling the shots, I know we’ll have two of the best cars out there, and we don’t want to be in a position where we’re having to race ourselves. 

Is there any one moment that stands out to you the most in these first 30 years?

Capps: There’s always those big moments — the first win, of course, when I was in Top Fuel and to beat such big teams like we did was really incredible, but if I had to pick just one, it would be winning Indy last year in the Don Prudhomme Hot Wheels tribute car. You just couldn’t have scripted that any better. The fans just absolutely loved that car, and to win with it at the biggest race of the year and have Don Prudhomme there and share the winner’s circle with him and go to a team dinner with him afterward, it was all just completely surreal.  

You have a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience, both as a driver and now as a team owner. What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out in their driving career? And a piece of advice to someone who may be interested in pursuing the team ownership route?

Capps: The advice I always give to kids is to try and keep your mouth shut and your ears open more than the other way around. That’s what helped me in my career. On the ownership side, it was something I had been offered multiple times well before I actually made the leap, and I’m glad I waited. The timing was right. Now that I’m three years in, I would certainly make sure someone knew what they were getting themselves into at the level that we race at because there is way more to it than I had imagined. I thought there was going to be a lot, but I had no idea. 

Capps and his Ron Capps Motorsports NAPA Auto Care Toyota GR Supra Funny Car team will begin qualifying for the NHRA Arizona Nationals on Friday, April 5 at 4:30 p.m. local time. Capps will also participate in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, which is scheduled for Q1 and Q2. He is set to square off against John Force, his semifinal opponent from the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in the first round of the specialty race presented by Mission Foods.