5 Minutes With Ron Capps
Ron Capps was practically destined to become a drag racer. He grew up in central California, tagging along to drag strips with his father, who raced and wrenched on race cars, and his mother, who was also entrenched in the sport.
“My mom and dad turned me onto drag racing at a young age,” Capps says. “I’m blessed they got me into the sport.”
Capps learned to work on race cars in the family garage and at the track. “I worked on race cars because I wanted to be ready if I got a chance to drive one,” Capps says.
That chance came in 1995, when Capps first raced a Top Fuel dragster for Don Primm. That led to an offer to drive a Funny Car for legendary racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme, with whom he won 13 event titles.
Capps moved to Don Schumacher Racing in 2005 and has piloted a Funny Car for that team since. He’s had NAPA as a sponsor since 2008. Capps ranks second in all-time Funny Car wins and is one of just 17 drivers in NHRA history to have claimed wins in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.
We caught up with Capps to talk racing, hot rods, sports, and music.
Goodguys Gazette: What are your earliest memories of the drag strip?
Ron Capps: We spent almost every weekend at a drag strip. Most of the time it was Famoso. My dad had an old Fuel Altered he ran on gas. He was a guy a lot of people went to when they wanted to go faster or get something on their race car done. I would tag along to help other people on dragsters or Funny Cars.
GG: You competed in several sports in high school and beyond. Did your athleticism help you as a driver?
Capps: I was always a little smaller in size, but I loved trying to make up for it with just hard work. I definitely believe the hand/eye coordination, the reactions from playing racquetball and the wrestling, helped my learning curve. When I was coming up through the ranks in Funny Car, I was one of the first guys talking about the athleticism of it. It was hard when you had guys winning races and championships who weren’t exactly athletic specimens.
GG: What can you tell us about your Brizio-built ’31 Ford coupe?
Capps: It’s one of my favorite things. Being a car that my dad and I started as a father/son project [in high school] is really the coolest part about it. We never finished that car through high school. Fast forward to my rookie year in Top Fuel and I got to be friends with Roy Brizio. He said, ‘let’s build that car.’ We trailered it up to Roy’s and my wife would take money from my paycheck and send to Roy.
GG: What’s your go-to road trip song?
Capps: Van Halen’s always great. Pennywise is one of my favorite bands. Those are probably the two I’ll put in and just buzz down the road.
GG: If you hadn’t gotten into drag racing, what career path do you think you’d have taken?
Capps: A musician. I couldn’t think of anything better, besides being a race car driver, than being on stage playing drums or guitar, just doing something you love.
GG: Do you have a pre-race ritual?
Capps: There definitely are rituals. I always put a certain glove on a certain way, and left shoe on first. If I don’t get in the car the way I always do, I have to back up sometimes. It only takes one time when the car blows up and you say, ‘huh – did I do something different? I don’t want to do that again!’
GG: You’ve done some racing outside the NHRA, including vintage drag racing and even dirt circle track. What do you say to circle-track racers who dismiss drag racing for only going straight?
Capps: Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream dirt race had everybody from different types of racing. The drag racer is always the butt of the jokes when it starts, but the first race I finished ninth and the second race I finished sixth. I finished ahead of a lot of drivers that should have been better than me on that track. I felt like I represented drag racers well.
GG: You’ve had NAPA as a sponsor for many years. What’s the secret to such longevity?
Capps: As we talk, I’m sitting in the parking lot of my NAPA store about five miles from my house, where I go to shoot things my sponsors wants. They all know me here. Most NAPA stores are owned by people in your neighborhood. I’ve hit it off well with the people that matter – the store owners across the country. I treat it like I work for them – like that guy driving around delivering parts with the big yellow NAPA hat on the truck. That’s the way I’ve approached every sponsor.
GG: Who do you turn to for advice at this stage of your career?
Capps: I talk to Don Prudhomme a lot still, even though I don’t drive for him anymore. My boss, Don Schumacher, I can always talk to. I’ve had legendary crew chiefs – old school guys, which has been really cool. I talk to Roy [Brizio] a lot. He’s very honest with me about things he sees. He’s become a really good friend.