Come Cold, High Water or Racing Past Midnight, Capps Conquers All Camaro Funny Car Driver Wins his Fifth NHRA Title of Year, the Seventh for Camaro TOPEKA, Kans.; Oct. 18, 1998: Some might have described it simply as the "Midnight...
Come Cold, High Water or Racing Past Midnight, Capps Conquers All
Camaro Funny Car Driver Wins his Fifth NHRA Title of Year, the Seventh for Camaro
TOPEKA, Kans.; Oct. 18, 1998: Some might have described it simply as the "Midnight Ride of Ron Capps," but "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (thank you, John Berendt) seemed more apropos. As Halloween nears, the bizarre events of the nearly 24-hour period called the completion of the rain-delayed Parts America Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka's dragstrip may have appeared quite normal to Freddie Kruger. But to Ron Capps, driver of the Copenhagen Camaro Z28, it was a day and night of thunder, fire, and even voodoo.
Despite it all, Capps won his fifth Funny Car title of the 1998 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, the seventh for the Camaro brand, and moved within 47 points of John Force in his quest to claim his first Winston Championship. He defeated Al Hofmann in the final round at 1:30 in the morning with a 5.111-second pass at 285.53 mph (to Hofmann's 8.160/104.28), which ended with a fireball that caused minor damage to the Camaro body.
"It broke the crankshaft," explained Capps. "It's very uncommon for something like this to happen to Roland (Leong, crew chief), it isn't something he did. The crankshaft must have been cracked. Thank God it didn't let go early in that round or at the end of the last run. It happened right at the finish-line lights."
The one-day event of final round of eliminations held over from the rained-out event here two weeks ago, began with heavy rain, thunder, lightning and water seeping through the track surface. Six hours after the scheduled starting time, the rain finally stopped, the clouds diminished, and the sun made a cameo appearance. The NHRA Safety Safari worked hard to dry the track, mopped up the seeping water and at 6:05 p.m. the race was on.
As the sun set and a cold front passed through, temperatures began to fall to the 40-degree mark. All three Camaro Funny Car drivers advanced to the second round. Chuck Etchells, in the Kendall/Ma Ma Rosa's Pizza Camaro Z28, defeated Jack Wyatt; Whit Bazemore, in the Team Winston Camaro Z28, disposed of Randy Anderson; and Ron Capps ousted Vickie Fanning. In the second round, Etchells eliminated Jim Epler, and Capps bounced out his fellow Chevrolet teammate Bazemore. Then, in the semifinal, in one of the closest Funny Car finishes in history, Capps used a .476 reaction time (.400 is perfect) to take out Etchells on a holeshot advantage by one thousandth of a second (5.031/305.81 for Capps, 5.013/306.95 for Etchells, whose reaction time was a .508).
"I couldn't see him but I could hear him," said Capps, "and I said to myself either my car is burning up or I'm hearing something. Usually you see the other guy when you pull the chutes. I didn't see him, and it got down to my winning on a holeshot."
"I didn't see him when we left the starting line," added Etchells. "At about 100 feet out I got a glimpse of his car in the corner of my eye. At half track I still saw him. At about 800 feet I didn't see him. At 1000 feet I didn't see him, and at the finish lights I looked and I didn't see him. I started to smile and thought, 'Man, I got him.' Then I saw his win light, and I was shocked."
Capps used his own brand of voodoo to help him carve John Force's points lead. "I kept the Topeka ladder with me every day since we left Topeka the first time. I would focus on it and will myself to make it to the final, then I willed Force to go out in the first round (he went out in the second). Every night in the hotel in Memphis (last weekend's race) I would pull out the ladder, then again in the morning, and focus on it with my will. I guess it worked."
The win was Capps' seventh in Funny Car and eighth overall.
The next round is the Revell Nationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, this weekend, beginning with qualifying on Friday.
Funny Car Point Standings:
John Force 1395 Ron Capps 1348 Chuck Etchells 1227 Cruz Pedregon 1212 Whit Bazemore 1076