Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – EPPING, NH – The bigger and more excitable the fanbase, the better Ron Capps seems to perform. It’s one reason why the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world champion enjoys heading to New England Dragway, the site of this weekend’s sixth annual NHRA New England Nationals, where Capps will again be greeted by the huge fanbase in the area.
It has already brought out the best in Capps on two occasions in the first five years of the race, as the veteran claimed Epping wins in 2014 and 2016 in his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. A recent strong stretch has him confident he can pull off a third win at the facility, giving him the most for any NHRA driver at the fan-favorite event.
“You feed off of people in the area,” Capps said. “For some reason, I just feed off of that. The first year we went to Epping, we were bombarded with appearance requests. It was my first time being in the area, and being around the Boston fans and it was just crazy. Right away, I fed off that. We did well, we won and set the track record, and it was only natural it seemed like.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals coverage starting at 1:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 8. It is the 13th of 24 events in 2018 and will take place for the first time in July, while Capps starts the second half of the season sixth in Funny Car points.
That’s a testament to the depth in Funny Car, as Capps has a victory and a final-round appearance in his last four races. It’s a nice turnaround after a slow start for the standout, but he’s still trying to track down points leader Courtney Force, who has four wins in 2018 and also won the inaugural race in Epping. But Capps is also just 33 points out of second, as five Funny Car stars are packed tightly. That’s not surprising to Capps, who is again impressed with the talent level in the class.
“Every year it seems like we say out loud that Funny Car has never been tougher than it is right now,” said Capps, who has 59 career wins. “Courtney (Force) had an unbelievable race car last year and they just didn’t have that success on Sunday. Now they’re having that success on Sunday, so every year you seem to add somebody into the mix of a good race car on raceday.”
Capps has that car thanks to a standout team led by veteran crew chief Rahn Tobler. The team has returned to its consistent ways in recent races, but will still have to overcome the likes of defending event winner and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan, two-time 2018 winner J.R. Todd, Jack Beckman, and defending world champ Robert Hight in Epping. That’s a challenge Capps enjoys, in part because of a team he can trust in pressure situations.
“Winning with (Tobler) is fun and even when we were struggling early in the year, I kept playing cheerleader and telling him everything was going to be fine,” said Capps, who won eight races in 2017. “I just love racing with him. I’ve had the same guys here since 2012, basically, and that doesn’t happen a lot. The whole point is there’s that confidence you have when you have a team and a crew chief that knows what you need to run.”
Defending Top Fuel world champ Brittany Force is after her second win in 2018, and will try to close in on Steve Torrence, who has the points lead and four wins this season. Others to watch include two-time Epping winner Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican, and Antron Brown.
Erica Enders is one of eight Pro Stock winners in 2018, but everyone is chasing points leader Tanner Gray, who has three wins this season. Other top standouts include Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Vincent Nobile, who each have two wins, Greg Anderson, and defending world champ Bo Butner.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the 2018 Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA New England Nationals include Al Segrini, Tom Prock and Arnie Karp.
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 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 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, July 6 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 7, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 8.