Q&A WITH RON CAPPS, 2005 NHRA FUNNY CAR RUNNER-UP
CARLSBAD, Calif. (Dec. 21, 2005) - Ron Capps joined Don Schumacher Racing for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series to drive the Brut-sponsored Dodge Stratus R/T Funny Car and found himself embroiled in the most exciting and closest battle for a Funny Car championship in NHRA history.
The chase came down to the final race of the 23-event series among Capps, Capps' teammate Gary Scelzi and John Force. Following an emotional, gut-wrenching last third of the year and a somewhat anti-climactic final race, in which all three lost in the second round, Capps emerged the runner-up, just eight points behind Scelzi and 24 points ahead of 13-time champion Force.
This marked Capps' third runner-up finish in Funny Car competition since 1995, but also went down as the most heartbreaking end to a dynamite season for the popular 40-year-old California native.
He never led the point standings, but the consistency, reliability and performance of the new team led by crew chief and legend Ed "The Ace" McCulloch put him quietly into championship contention by the 17th race.
Capps, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with wife Shelley and daughter Taylor, 9, and son Caden, 4, won three times in seven final rounds in 2005, qualified No. 1 once, was a semifinal finisher five times, and established his career-best numbers: 4.694-second elapsed time (Dallas) and top speed of 329.02 mph (Chicago 2).
We interviewed Capps from his home this week before the holidays, where he was spending some much-needed quality time with his family.
RON CAPPS Q&A
1. Q. NOW THAT THIS MOST EMOTIONAL NHRA FUNNY CAR SEASON IS OVER, HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS EXCITING CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE WENT FOR YOU?
A. It went great. The best part was not only what it did for our new sponsor Brut in their and my first year with Don Schumacher Racing, but for the sport of NHRA drag racing as well. For the fans to see such an exciting chase, to have that much publicity and have it all come down to the final race helped the sport a lot and it helped the class a lot.
One of the biggest things for me was going out to leave tickets on Saturday morning at the last race at Pomona at will-call with my brother Jon and seeing the line so long. I've never seen Pomona that crazy as far as fans go, and then having NHRA talking about how many tickets were sold.
For me personally it was gratifying to be associated with a new team. I said it this year a lot: I've got a very young team that surrounds me. We've only got a couple of veterans on the team and the rest of these guys are these kids. Three or four of them are under 25 years old, just out of college. To have that young a team be that enthusiastic as they were, personally, it was gratifying.
This is my 11th year driving professionally, and you start to feel a little seasoned as a driver. I'm kind of becoming, in a sense, a student to some of these crew chiefs and owners. Watching Don Schumacher, and especially being around Ace (crew chief Ed McCulloch) and watching the way that he ran the team this year, at this point in my career you start looking into the future and what I want to do in the future.
So, for me to finish for the third time in my career No. 2, it was heartbreaking. I'm still not over it. And I know the guys are really starting to get going again, but every morning, I can tell you, without a doubt, sometimes within the first couple of hours after I get up I think about what could have been and how we could have won the championship and what we could have done at any time of the season to gain those eight points. It just hurts. It just motivates me, more than anything.
2. Q. DID YOUR FIRST SEASON WITH DON SCHUMACHER RACING MEET YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
A. It exceeded them, for sure. If you were to look at a list of teams, as far as underachievers, overachievers, whether they're overrated or underrated, I think you'd probably put our team in a category, as far as 2005 is concerned, as overachievers and probably underrated, because even I didn't think we were going to have the results, with a brand-new team, brand-new sponsor, brand-new everything, to fight for the championship to the very end of the season and finish No. 2. And, biggest of all, to have finished ahead of John Force. That is huge. With all that, I think we exceeded our expectations, Don Schumacher's expectations, and all of our sponsors' expectations. I figured top five would have been good, and I'm sure everybody else was thinking that the first year.
3. Q. IF YOU HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
A. I probably wouldn't change much. It's like being asked if you could go back to high school and do everything over. I think everything that's happened has happened for a reason. Hypothetically, if you could go back, I would say that we would try to qualify higher, and gain those points. We lost a lot of points looking back just in qualifying. And Ace will be the first guy to tell you that. And I know that when he realized that, he made an effort to qualify higher and really be more aggressive in qualifying.
It's a feeble line that the crew chiefs follow when you don't want to go out and smoke the tires, yet you want to stand on the thing and try to qualify better. And Ace was really fighting that fine line of wanting to get information and go down the track and have a car that could always go down the track, and a lot of times that intimidates people. I think you saw at the end of the year what that aggressiveness produced. But, we lost a lot of points. We probably lost over 80 points. That's about four rounds in points, just in qualifying. Looking back at the year, if we could go back in time, I'd say say what I'd change is if we could have qualified better.
4. Q. THERE MUST BE SOME SOLACE IN THE FACT THAT YOU BEAT JOHN FORCE, WHO FINISHED THIRD BEHIND GARY SCELZI AND YOU. IS THERE?
A. It's funny, because everybody I see in the off-season, whether it's neighbors or fans I run into here and there, they all say, great season, you did great, you finished in front of John Force. Every time somebody says that I kind of have to think, Yeah, you know, they're right. It just doesn't feel that way. To me we still lost the championship, and, yeah, we lost to my teammate Gary Scelzi's team, but we still lost it. It's great that our teammate won it, but when it's Sunday morning, while our teammate is not the enemy, our teammate is still the competition and we're still fighting for a championship, whether it be against (other teammate) Whit (Bazemore) or Gary or any other team. So, I have to really dig down deep and say, You know what, we did beat John Force. But, to be honest with you, it doesn't matter. We still finished No. 2, and I don't even think about finishing ahead of John Force. It's cool to think, Yeah, we did, that's an accomplishment, but it's not the first thing you think of. The first thing you think of is, Gosh, how did we not win that?
5. Q. THE 2005 NHRA FUNNY CAR SEASON WAS THE CLOSEST AND TIGHTEST BATTLE TO THE FINISH IN HISTORY. ARE YOU READY TO GO THROUGH THAT AGAIN IN 2006?
A. Yeah. Was it Nietzsche who said, "What doesn't kill you just makes you stronger?" That's the case, I think. Every year I feel a little more seasoned. It's just experience and going through a lot of different situations, good or bad, is what makes us stronger. Earlier in the season we went through some situations and I had to look to Ace at certain times for answers to questions on and off the track. That's what makes us more experienced, that's what gets us ready for the next deal. You look at Scelzi, who's won three championships in dragster already, you look at Force who's won 13 championships; they've been there. I'm good friends with John and, talking with him through the last three races, I learned he was going through the same emotions I was and here's a guy who's won 13 championships, so I think that I'm definitely ready to go. I kept telling my team - and, like I said, I have a lot of young guys and a lot of rookies on the team - how lucky they were to have gone through what we did.
"American Dragster" was shooting a reality show in our pits this year that's going to come out next year, so I said, Don't stand back and get caught up in it too much because we'll be able to watch TV later, you'll see the highlights, you'll be able to live through it again. Just stay focused and, more than anything, enjoy it. I wanted them to realize what they were involved in because it's not every day it happens that you fight down to the end. There's nothing worse with four or five races left and you have no shot at a championship and it's hard to get extra motivated at the track other than trying to win the race. I know all the other drivers were probably sick and tired of hearing about the three of us fighting for the championship at Pomona. I know I would have been, but it just helps your level of experience. But I wouldn't give it up for the world. The pressure, the throwing up, all the stuff that you go through, it's everything I've gone through growing up playing sports all my life. It's just a part of it. If you don't have that gut-ache and all that then you're not into it enough.
6. Q. DID YOU JUST QUOTE NIETZSCHE?
A. Yes, I guess I did.
7. Q. HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT THAT YOU DIDN'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
A. It's very. Even though we finished second and I know we should be more excited about it, it hurts worse to finish second as close as we did than I think finishing fifth or sixth would have been. The peaks become much higher and the valleys become much lower and the hurt hurts worse and the excitement level of doing well at the end of the season when you're in a fight like that, is just escalated. It still hurts a lot. Every day. It's all I think about, is what could have happened. To answer the question, second place still sucks.
8. Q. YOU ENTERED 2005 WITH A NEW TEAM AND A NEW SPONSOR. BRUT HAS DONE AN OUTSTANDING JOB PROMOTING YOU AND NHRA. HOW HAS THAT RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUT WORKED FOR YOU PERSONALLY?
A. It's been unbelievable. A lot of people remember the Super Brut car from years ago, and it was a great sponsor, and these are all new people this year, now that Brut is owned by Idelle Labs and Helen of Troy. I hear Force a lot of times being interviewed, and he gets out and talks about Faberge. Well, it's been 20 years since Faberge owned it. It's a whole new era. The Brut people at the race track had never been to a drag race prior to this year. A couple of them maybe went to race at the end of last year, but had never been really involved and were not the type of people you would expect to be drag-race fans. And all of sudden, these people, three or four races in - Marc Broccoli, Jack Jancin and John Hunnicutt - are living it and breathing it. I get e-mails and I talk to them and they can't wait to get to the next race. They were so excited and it was so neat to see all of them get into the sport and have them pick up on all the lingo.
Anytime you have a new company like that come into the sport and have the people who write the checks that excited to come to the race and watch the hurt on their faces when you lose and see them going through all the same emotions that you go through, and you want to win for them, it's a home run. It's a home run not only for Don Schumacher and everybody on the team, including me, Ace and all the guys, but for the sponsors as well. It's incredible what the new group at Brut has brought to the table without even being in the sport before. They jumped in and put ads out in People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and other big magazines, and they have a lot of new stuff planned for 2006. It was so gratifying for me to win that first race in St. Louis and to hand that trophy to the guys at Brut who were there for that win and to see how much they enjoyed it. It was more gratifying for me to win for them than it was for myself, almost.
9. Q. WAS THERE ANY ONE MOMENT WHEN YOU FELT YOU COULD ACTUALLY WIN THIS THING?
A. At times. We pulled pretty close at Indy. It just kind of went back and forth. We had the whole fiasco at Reading (the erroneous oildown call) in night qualifying. Going into Reading we felt pretty good and that happened Friday night and we lost a chance for a good run and lane choice. Losing lane choice and losing to Robert Hight first round on a one-lane track on Sunday morning, we started to think, Well, we're going to be fighting for second, third or fourth. And then, all of a sudden, we climbed back in and when we left Chicago after winning there and then winning Vegas, we knew we had a chance at it. That's when I really, really thought that we had a chance of winning the championship.
10. Q. THERE WERE NO TEAM ORDERS FROM DON SCHUMACHER DURING THIS BATTLE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
A. I think it was great. I didn't have to worry about it. I know Gary and Whit didn't have to worry about it. At times you had it in the back of your head (that there might be team orders), like when we rolled up there against Bazemore (who was not in championship contention) first round at Indy. He shut the top light off and deep-staged and won and beat us. You stand back and see that Don Schumacher, or the sponsors, at times might have wanted to say we need to do this or that as a team, but the fact that they didn't, and the fact we knew every time we went up there that they wouldn't, was great for all the team members. Even though you would lose a race that maybe you thought you should have won over a teammate, it just made you a little prouder that everybody was racing heads up. There's nothing worse than in the past seeing that happen with whatever team. It's not motivating for the crew members or anybody or even the sponsors and it really disappoints the fans. So, I think it was great. And hats off to Force too. Because those guys did the same thing all year. We didn't see any of that going on with their team. So I think the fans got really excited when they knew that no matter what happened, Don Schumacher's teams and John Force's teams were going to race heads up.
Continued in part 2