Q&A SESSION WITH DSR FUNNY CAR DRIVER RON CAPPS
CARLSBAD, Calif. (Nov. 29, 2007) - We caught up with Ron Capps, who drove the Brut Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing to a fourth-place season result in the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. In a dynamic season which saw a new Countdown to the Championship points playoff system, and another dramatic battle to the finish, Capps won three national events in seven final rounds, ending with a season round win-loss record of 32-19.
It was tough for Capps, who led the point standings through 14 of the first 17 events (of 23 in all) by as much as 154 markers, to be in such a close fight for the crown in the last three seasons and once again find himself without a trophy. But, as you'll see from his answers, he continues to support the Countdown, and will focus even harder in 2008, if that's possible, on capturing his first Funny Car championship.
After three years being backed primarily by the Brut brand, in 2008 the Dodge Charger Capps drives for DSR will be sponsored by NAPA AUTO PARTS, something he is looking forward to with eager anticipation. He also answers the critics' questions as to why Brut departed the team and series.
Outspoken on safety matters, the 42-year-old California native discusses his views on how NHRA will approach this subject in the future and he compares the NHRA to ultra-successful NASCAR. He also talks about his goals for the future and gets up close and personal about his family.
Capps' professional NHRA career began in 1995. His performance statistics since then include 25 national-event wins in 52 final rounds in 271 races, and a career round win-loss record of 313-231.
RON CAPPS Q&A
Q. How surprised were you that Brut pulled out its sponsorship?
A. I was very surprised. I talked with Gerry Rubin of Helen of Troy (Brut's parent company). He told me that Brut got a lot out of this sponsorship for what they came in with and what they wanted to do with a product that was being reintroduced to the public. To be part of a team that battled for a championship all three years was more than they expected. But, I understand their philosophy right now. They pretty much felt they had gotten as much as they wanted to get out of the program. I told him I was honored to be the Brut guy, and he said that I shouldn't be surprised if our paths cross again down the road. That's good to hear.
As soon as other NHRA teams knew that we were signing the NAPA deal for 2008, a lot of them went after Brut. And it was a compliment to Don Schumacher, me, the fans and our team when Brut told us that if they were to stay in drag racing in any capacity, DSR would be the team. There was no better place to be, as far as they were concerned. The decision came from a much higher source at Helen of Troy, and they're looking at different avenues at this point: maybe some other area in motorsports, possibly, or a stick-and-ball sport.
For what Brut was trying to do, they felt like they got more than their money's worth for the new products they released, such as Brut Revolution. It's a tribute to the NHRA fans, because they're so loyal, and fans in general who love their sports. A lot of big corporations should take heed in the fact that our fans are extremely loyal.
It was a compliment to hear that Brut was going to stay with our team. I know for a fact that they were very happy with what they got with Don Schumacher.
Q. How do you really feel about the Countdown, which may have cost you your first Funny Car championship?
A. I still think the idea is good. If there are no tweaks in 2008 for the Countdown, I'm going to be upset. But I really believe in the people at NHRA and I trust that they will make the necessary adjustments to make it better. The idea was great, and even though it may have cost us a championship I don't look at it that way. I'm not going to whine about it. We knew it fully going into it, and that's the reason we started our testing during the season.
I think a lot of teams got bitten by the scenario, but what happened in Las Vegas (the penultimate race to the season) was a prime example of what was wrong with the Countdown to One. Obviously, with the other categories, it came down to a very exciting final race in Pomona. But, what happened in Funny Car was our own fault. With Tony Pedregon going on to win in Vegas and the rest of us (Capps, Gary Scelzi, Robert Hight) going out first round, that could have easily happened in all the categories. And, it could have backfired. Luckily, it didn't for the fans, but I think that's one aspect NHRA needs to look at, for sure, and maybe expand it a little bit to more than eight teams going for the Countdown to Four, and only four to the Countdown to One.
I've always been a big non-provisional kind of guy with NHRA. I have been very proud of the fact that NHRA has never had provisionals, like NASCAR does. We hear about teams that may have lost sponsorships because of a lack of performance once in a while, but that can happen to any team. So, if there was some type of provisional thrown in that would at least lock in some of these top-notch teams in the field during the season, I think that would help the sport as well.
I think that drag racing is the last of the sports in which the little guy can still do well. If they locked in a certain amount of the field based on points, or whatever they wanted to do, but still left if open for the smaller teams to stay afloat, I think that's a bonus.
Q. What will you do differently in 2008, assuming the Countdown points system remains the same?
A. We're going to go to every race with the full intent of concentrating solely on that race and trying to win that race, instead of looking at the big picture like we did last year, with the Countdown. More than anything, that's probably the biggest thing we're going to do. The change to 90 percent nitro is going to throw some curves at some different teams. And I know a lot of guys are changing compression, some guys are changing things elsewhere, and I think that's where it definitely benefits our team and me, having a crew chief like Ed "Ace" McCulloch. Also having a team like Don Schumacher's, where the team crew chiefs can bounce ideas off each other, is what I really think benefits us.
Q. What was the highlight of your 2007 season?
A. Probably Richmond and getting into that final spot in the Countdown to Four after working so hard and it was basically looking like we weren't going to make that top four.
Q. With NAPA AUTO PARTS coming on board as your primary sponsor in 2008, what will be different for you?
A. Obviously, NAPA wanted to come on board because they liked what we did. And they like our team for what it is. I don't see any changes with NAPA being on board. We're going to still approach everything the same way. It really gives a renewed vigor, though, to our team. The sky's the limit with NAPA AUTO PARTS. We're so excited about what they're going to do off the track that we want to make sure we give them every bit of success on the track.
It's going to open up some new wars with the auto parts stores sponsoring other cars in the Funny Car category, and I think that's going to be exciting. I think if we can do what we did last year, and in the last three years, and give ourselves a shot at a championship, that's all we need to do, because we know if we have that shot at the championship, we're very capable of winning the championship. Nothing would be better than to give NAPA a championship in its first season with us.
Q. You are a die-hard drag racing fan, but you have shown prowess in other forms of automobile racing. What would you like to try in 2008 that you haven't experienced so far?
A. Boy, I don't know. There's a chance we'll go run the NASCAR Grand National West Series in a NAPA car owned by Bill McAnally. They're supposed to be trying to put together a deal for a race or two where I will run one of his cars. There is Tony Stewart's charity race at Eldora Speedway, of course. It was a really big race last year, with its being on Pay Per View, and it was the third year I've done it. I'm looking forward to going back. And I've raced a couple of other races there at Eldora in different cars.
I'm looking at doing a couple of the Nostalgia Funny Car races, and then for sure a few dirt races. As far as something new, other than the Grand National West races, I'm going to try to keep my focus as much as I can on my drag racing.
Q. Let's talk safety. What changes do you feel NHRA needs to make to provide a safer arena in which to compete?
A. I've been pretty outspoken about this at the end of 2007 and I got a phone call from an NHRA official last week and he let me know that they have been working on it. I had made comments that the chassis minimum specs on a Funny Car haven't changed much and they're still the same on the Nostalgia Funny Cars I drive, which are only making less than half of the horsepower that we make. Changes by the NHRA are long overdue and it's too bad that it took the two incidents (Eric Medlen's death and John Force's crash) we had last year to make these changes.
I know for a fact that the NHRA is going to put at least a couple of options out there for the Funny Car class to go by, as far as safety and the way the chassis are built. (Chassis builder) Murf McKinney has some great ideas he's been wanting to implement the last few years. And I think we're probably going to see that on our car, for sure, a little ways into the 2008 season. It's something that we're going to have to obviously test. But it's going to be very safe for the drivers. It's going to be the Car of Tomorrow, if you will, to make a comparison to NASCAR, where it's something that could be implemented down the road by NHRA.
One thing about my going to race these other cars in other series, whether it's on dirt or asphalt, is that I always learn different things about safety. And so I'll always try to drag that back to the NHRA and talk to Ace about it for our cars. And so, the talk I had with Dan Olson of the NHRA about the new safety items, was very productive. Dan is a crew chief and was my crew chief, so I know he is very involved, and cares a lot about the racers out here, so I feel really good about him being in his position with the NHRA.
As for any new specs, the NHRA just finished all the minimum requirements for the Top Fuel Dragster. I think the crew chiefs just got them, and I think they will put out a press release. They're just finalizing the Funny Car specs, actually because the chassis builders have different ideas of how their own cars should be built, to fix what happened last year. NHRA has looked at those and they're going to put out a couple of different options. We'll see how that goes.
Q. It's apples and oranges, but as a fan, compare NASCAR and NHRA in the sports world.
A. Obviously, NASCAR has grown so big. It may have outgrown itself in the last few years, which you can see by the decline in the attendance and the TV ratings. But when you say decline you're talking about a decline from a sport that is as big as NFL as far as viewership is concerned. And then NHRA has quietly increased its attendance and its viewership. More than anything, you can't really say a whole lot yet until this HD Partners acquisition happens. I know for a fact that some of the stuff that's going to happen right off the bat with HD Partners will help the sport take off. And it's already on its way up. And that's evident, not only with Bruton Smith's building the tracks he's already built, but now with the announcement he's going to have the Charlotte-area drag strip ready to run on in April or May. He's also made a comment that it will be the finest drag strip in the United States. So, I think that just tells you where this sport is at and how much it can grow and how much it has grown.
So, I know it's apples and oranges, but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Every time you get somebody new to a drag race who hasn't been to a drag race in years - and they might be a huge NASCAR fan - you get the same response. They go watch you run, they come back to the pit area and they tell you they are hooked and drag racing is their sport now. And I've never had anybody not tell me that. So, that right there tells you where our sport is going.
Q. You still have a long career ahead of you, but are you already planning your exit strategy, and what would you do if you "retired?"
A. That's way down the road. Don Schumacher is a great mentor as far as being a businessman. He cares about the people who work for him. I know that when I decide to retire and maybe want to step back and own a team, I could seek his advice. But that's not even on my horizon.
Q. What makes you happy?
A. Winning. Having my family at the track. Waking up every morning knowing that I drive a Funny Car for a living and that I get to compete in one of the most exciting series in the world. That makes me happy. Also, spending the time with my family and my kids right now, because they're growing so fast, and they're going to be out of the house before I know it.
Q. Do you see Taylor and/or Caden following in your footsteps?
A. Well, Taylor (age 11) tried Jr. Dragsters, but she's into the girlie thing right now and she's cheerleading and other fun stuff. Caden is 6, but if he could get into a Jr. Dragster he would in a heartbeat, there's no doubt. He definitely is going to be a drag racer. I can tell already. It's all he thinks about, it's all he has in his room. He is what I was at that age.
Q. What is your first and foremost goal for your career?
A. Obviously, the Funny Car championship looms. I'd love to win Indy some day, but right now the championship is the goal. I love going to work and driving for Ace and racing with him, and so do my crew guys. More than anything, we want to win a championship, and I want to do it before he decides to retire, being that he never won a championship himself. I feel that I have a lot of my career left, and I have at least a shot of winning a championship or two, hopefully, but I want to win it with Ace. And I'm not sure how much longer he wants to do it, but I definitely want to win it with him.