Sonoma: Capps ready to return to the top

SONOMA, Calif. - Ron Capps can attest to the old adage of: 'Always a bridesmaid, never the bride.' The 36-year-old Vista, Calif., driver has finished second to the legendary John Force in the NHRA Winston Funny Car standings twice in the past...

SONOMA, Calif. - Ron Capps can attest to the old adage of: 'Always a bridesmaid, never the bride.' The 36-year-old Vista, Calif., driver has finished second to the legendary John Force in the NHRA Winston Funny Car standings twice in the past three seasons.

Capps will be aiming for his second career win in the renowned wine country when he competes in the 14th annual FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals, Aug. 3-5, at Sears Point Raceway. The $1.7 million race is the 16th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

In 1998 Capps led the category with five victories. He claimed the lucrative $100,000 bonus check from Anheuser-Busch for winning the Budweiser Funny Car Shootout in Indianapolis. Things were headed in the right direction as he sought to become the driver who dethroned Force. It didn't happen. Force when on to win the crown that year and is on the verge of establishing a record with his 11th Winston championship this season.

Last year Capps remained among the top four in the points chase for roughly the entire season, then he appeared in three straight final rounds, which thrust him into second place in the standings where he would once again finish behind Force. So close, yet so far.

"It's funny how each year we seem to go through the same routine," said Capps. "Heading into Englishtown (N.J.) this year, we were within striking distance of Force, but then, for whatever reason, we struggled."

This year the unparalleled Force has all but locked up his record-setting championship as the Funny Car competition has become a race for second place. Capps, who has been joined on the Don Prudhomme-owned team by Tommy Johnson Jr., has experienced success and failures as the two-car team learns to coexist.

Capps won the inaugural Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., and was the runner-up in Atlanta event earlier this year and the recent Seattle race. His reputation for racing consistency was tarnished at mid-season. Capps notched a DNQ (did not qualify) at the St. Louis race which ended the second longest qualifying streak in the Funny Car (35) category behind Force (267). This lackluster performance contributed to a slide in the standings. With the second half of the NHRA's 50th Anniversary underway, Capps can't afford to struggle.

"We need to concentrate on the immediate goals, winning one race at a time," said Capps. "It's depressing to know that Force has such a big lead before we're even ready to go to Indy. He's not the guy you want to give a points lead like that to."

In 2001, the 6,000 horsepower Funny Car category has experienced a growth that has produced some of the strongest performances and most exciting side-by-side races in recent memory. With Force spearheading the effort, the challenges and obstacles Capps will have to overcome in the remainder of the season are great if he intends on finishing strong.

"We just have to worry about winning each race we go to," said Capps. "The good news is that we're heading into a part of the season where in the past we have run well and that gives us a lot of confidence. Maybe Force will falter. We just can't give up on the title chase. If we can't win it, we want to finish second. That is our focus right now."

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , John Force , Don Prudhomme , Tommy Johnson Jr.