Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – LAS VEGAS, NV – A year after getting his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series four-wide racing victory, Funny Car standout Ron Capps hopes the debut of the biggest spectacle in drag racing on the West Coast will lead to similar results.
In 2017, Capps won the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, leaving him comfortable and confident for this weekend’s 19th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which marks the first four-wide race in Las Vegas. Sensing the massive anticipation brewing for this unique event, Capps hopes he can deliver another impressive performance in his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T while seeking his first win of 2018.
“As a racer, you love the excitement and without a doubt, I think you’re going to see two sold-out days,” said Capps, the 2016 Funny Car world champion. “It’s great seeing this type of excitement from the West Coast for this race and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Last year, getting a four-wide trophy was big, and this is going to be cool. They put down four new lanes and it’s an exciting time right now with NHRA.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 8. It is the fourth of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA season and, despite some big changes before the year, Capps and his team, led by crew chief Rahn Tobler, are off to a solid start.
They made a major transition to the six-disc clutch set-up, but are further along than they even expected, advancing to two semifinals, including one in Gainesville. Capps felt like they let at least one early-season win get away, but sitting fourth in points, the veteran standout believes the team is in a good place in a loaded class.
“It’s a completely different tune-up and set-up, so it’s been a good start and I feel like we’re ahead of schedule,” said Capps, who has 58 career wins. “We’re excited to be as good as we were the last couple races. I don’t feel like I’m talking out of school to say I see our team rattling off some wins real soon. I don’t see it being out of the question that we can rattle off wins like we did last year.”
Capps did it at an impressive pace in 2017, winning four straight races at one point and finishing with eight overall wins en route to a second-place finish for the season. That type of hot streak will be hard to replicate, especially against a loaded class that includes Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman, who won in Gainesville, points leader Matt Hagan and defending event winner Johnson, as well as defending world champ Robert Hight, Phoenix winner Courtney Force, and class newcomer Shawn Langdon.
But those names are also just the tip of the iceberg in the star-studded class and Capps knows it. He sees incredible depth in Funny Car, one reason why strong early-season performances are necessary and why Capps is angling to have a big weekend.
“There’s so many good cars if you leave them out of the conversation they can bite you in a heartbeat,” Capps said. “The class has just continued to grow and it’s amazing how many full-time cars there are in Funny Car. I did a radio interview and I was asked to make a list of who is going to make the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship) and as you go down the list, you realize there’s way more really good full-time cars than spots for the Countdown. It’s going to be very interesting.”
Brown earned his second straight win at the spring Vegas race in Top Fuel in 2017, and is seeking his first win in 2018 against the likes of points leader Steve Torrence, Gainesville winner Richie Crampton and defending world champ Brittany Force.
Gray became the youngest Pro Stock winner in NHRA history a year ago and just won in Gainesville. He’ll face off with points leader Bo Butner, Jason Line and Erica Enders among others
This event will play host to the K&N Horsepower Challenge for eight top Pro Stock drivers. Bragging rights and a hefty $50,000 paycheck are on the line for the Saturday specialty race. Greg Anderson has won the last two consecutive K&N Horsepower Challenge races.
The event also features competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. After nitro qualifying on Friday, the Segal Motorsports Fire Starter, American Freedom Fighter & Lucas Oil Muy Caliente Jet Cars will thrill the fans. Known for their pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust-driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers. Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 6 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 7, at 12:10 and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, April 8.