Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BRISTOL, TN – A stretch of four straight race weekends during June can be a tall order for the drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. For Ron Capps, though, it’s not hard for him to get excited, especially when he knows one of those dates includes a trip to Bristol Dragway, which is the site of this weekend’s 19th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Capps loves every aspect of racing in Thunder Valley and its shows on his resume, as the former Funny Car world champion has back-to-back wins at the picturesque facility in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. He’ll try to make it three straight on Father’s Day weekend, but Capps’ love of Bristol Dragway also includes much more than his Funny Car-best five career victories at the track.
“Bristol is such a cool and historic place, and it starts with the people there,” said Capps, who has 63 career wins. “There’s so many cool people at this race, and it’s just a fun place to go. Every single driver is at the fan fest with all the fans, and that doesn’t happen very often. When someone asks me about what race they need to go to, Bristol is in my top three. You’re in Thunder Valley and the sound is echoing off the hills. It’s just a wonderful facility and a lot of fun there.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Capps (Funny Car) were last year’s winners of an event televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the 11th of 24 events in the 2019 NHRA season, and the action includes a Friday night Primetime qualifying session starting at 7:30 p.m. with fireworks to follow, and the special fan fest following the final qualifying session on Saturday.
Those marquee moments get Capps motivated to perform in Bristol, especially as it comes as the third race in a grueling four-race stretch. Warmer conditions make staying mentally strong even more important, but Capps has proven to be a top competitor in that regard. He posted back-to-back wins last month in Richmond and Atlanta, currently sitting fourth in points, and Capps likes how his team, led by Rahn Tobler, have performed over the last handful of races.
“We really feel like we’re in the sweet spot of the schedule as a team,” Capps said. “As a crew chief and a team, you want to find your happy spot and what your overall tuneup package is throughout the summer. It can be demanding on a team, but we always look forward to this stretch. You have to pay attention to the parts attrition, but I’ve always been super proud of the way Rahn runs the car. He’s methodical about the decisions he makes, and I never want to be mentally or physically at a disadvantage as a driver. I don’t want to be the weak link when it gets late in the day on Sunday.”
Capps and the entire Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team, a group that also includes Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr., have dominated at Bristol in recent years, claiming six of the past seven wins. Capps is responsible for two of those, but he’ll also have to deal with Robert Hight, the current points leader who has four wins in 2019, defending world champ J.R. Todd and John Force, who is seeking his 150th career win. Capps, though, is well aware of what it takes to win in Thunder Valley, as well as the significance of a Father’s Day victory.
“If you can stand in the winner’s circle after a win like Bristol and it’s a battle of attrition, you feel like you accomplished a little more than normal,” Capps said. “It’s one of the most demanding races we have, but you want to do well on Father’s Day. I was able to give a trophy to my dad after the win last year, and it’s always fun to do that. It was pretty neat to pull off a win and dedicate it to him.”
Nobody has been hotter in Top Fuel than current points leader and defending world champ Steve Torrence. He has five straight wins and will try for a second career win at Bristol against the likes of Doug Kalitta, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, 2017 event winner Clay Millican and Antron Brown.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the seventh of 12 stops during its 2019 season in Bristol. Stevie “Fast” Jackson is the points leader in the class. The Mountain Motor Pro Stock class will race in Bristol, bringing their popular and powerful 800-plus cubic-inch engines to Thunder Valley. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Bristol Dragway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals victories.
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 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 14 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 15, at 1 and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 16.