Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – MOHNTON, PA – Ron Capps is starting the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in a different position this year and that means a strong start is necessary at this weekend’s 34th annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. After leading the points heading into the NHRA’s six-race playoffs the past two seasons, Capps begins his run for a world title in fourth.
It means the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world champion is just 40 points back of Courtney Force, but Capps now has three talented drivers in front of him. It puts extra importance on starting the Countdown to the Championship on a good note, and heading to a track where he won for the first time a year ago Capps is confident his team can do just that in his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T.
“We’re all striving to win of course, but we want to make sure we have a good, solid weekend,” said Capps, who 60 career wins. “As many good Funny Cars as there is, somebody from 10th could make a jump into the top three. We just want to maintain what we’ve been doing, but you can’t be shy. You just have to have the whole package. You saw a lot of teams step up in Indy and it shows a lot of teams are ready to go. But we’re excited. I couldn’t wait for last week to get over.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Capps (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were all winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 in 2018, including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 16. It is the 19th of 24 races in the 2018 NHRA season and the first of six in the Countdown to the Championship, and it’s a moment Capps is excited about after his team’s run earlier this summer.
Capps and his team, led by standout crew chief Rahn Tobler, had back-to-back first-round losses in Brainerd and Indy, but the veteran believes his team will be quick to revert to the performances on the Western Swing that included a win in Seattle and finals appearances at all three races. That consistency has been a trademark of the team the last several years, and Capps is counting on that to continue during the most important time of the season.
“Rahn is such a big-picture guy and he wanted to make sure we’re Countdown-ready,” said Capps, who has two wins this season. “You have to make sure everything is ready, lined up, maintained and ready to go, but that consistency we’ve had since 2012 is something we’re very proud of. The percentage of times we’ve gone down the racetrack boggles my mind, and that’s all about being Countdown-ready. The whole thing about the Countdown is not changing your approach.”
Capps will keep that same consistent, yet aggressive mindset heading into Maple Grove Raceway as he faces off with Force, Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Matt Hagan, Indy winner J.R. Todd, Shawn Langdon, John Force, Tim Wilkerson and defending world champion Robert Hight. Capps had a memorable duel that went down to the wire a year ago with Hight, and the spotlight this time of year brings is something Capps enjoys.
“You almost wait all year long for this moment,” Capps said. “It’s what you’ve waited for since we were in Phoenix for preseason testing. The buildup to this point is what it’s all about and I can’t wait. Everybody is salivating to get started and it’s a six-race sprint to the finish. It’s as much pressure as you’ve ever had, but it’s also the pressure you love. It’s what everybody wants.”
Defending Top Fuel world champ Brittany Force will look for a second straight win at Maple Grove against points leader Steve Torrence, Clay Millican and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher.
Pro Stock’s Bo Butner starts his title defense against points leader Tanner Gray, who has five wins in 2018, and former world champs Greg Anderson, Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Eddie Krawiec has six Pro Stock Motorcycle wins at the track and the reigning world champ and current points leader will try to add to that against Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet and Hector Arana Jr.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports First Strike and Top Secret Eastern Raider Jet Funny Cars. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Dodge NHRA Nationals include Al Segrini, Frank Manzo and more.
As always, fans can 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 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 can also 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.
Before the race, the Mopar Mega Block Party will rev up the Dodge NHRA Nationals race weekend for the third straight year. The free-admission fan event, set to roll into FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading from 4-10 p.m. on Thursday, offers a jam-packed slate of fun activities. NHRA stars and TV personalities will take part in the annual Mopar Mega Block Party home run derby. Mopar Dodge/SRT NHRA drivers Matt Hagan, Leah Pritchett, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Tony Schumacher will slug it out with NHRA on Fox play-by-play announcer Dave Rieff, color commentator Tony Pedregon and pit reporter Bruno Massel Jr. Mopar Mega Block Party attendees can also meet their favorite drivers in a one-hour long autograph session, and enjoy simulators, monster trucks, car show, food and drink booths, vendor displays and live music.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16.