After winning his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship, Ron Capps’ title defense couldn’t have gone much better in the 2017 regular season. The Funny Car standout has six wins and nine final-round appearances through the first 18 races, including a runner-up at the recent Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, setting Capps up for what he hopes is another successful run in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in his 10,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T.
The NHRA’s six-race playoffs start at state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway with the NHRA Carolina Nationals, Sept. 15-17, and Capps will be ready. He advanced to the semifinals or better at all six playoff races a year ago to clinch the championship, and Capps knows a similar consistent, yet aggressive, approach will be necessary in a class loaded with championship contenders.
“With as many people running well and putting up killer numbers, you can’t just play defense,” said Capps, who has 56 career wins. “You have to go on offense, stay aggressive and try to steal every qualifying point you can. Those little points are huge, even more so than in the past. We definitely have to come out swinging. There’s 10 legitimate cars capable of winning a championship.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 17. It is the 19th of 24 races during the 2017 season and Capps knows the importance of starting the Countdown to the Championship on a strong note.
Starting atop the points a year ago, Capps advanced to the semifinals in Charlotte and never relinquished the lead. The early-season success in 2017 – including winning four straight races at one point – allowed the team to try a number of different things the last couple months, but Capps is confident his team, led by crew chief Rahn Tobler, can recreate that early-season magic.
“It’s big to start the Countdown on a good note,” said Capps, who has one career win at zMAX Dragway. “I know Tobler will have the mindset of going up to the starting line on the first run on Friday in Charlotte and try to take those three points, and show everybody we have the race car we had early in the year. We have our race car back and that’s what you need for the Countdown.”
That car was an impressive, consistent machine, winning against the likes of Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr., as well as Robert Hight, J.R. Todd, John Force, Tim Wilkerson and Courtney Force. Hight has been red-hot, becoming the first Funny Car to reach the 3.70s, and Capps knows nothing will come easy in the Countdown to the Championship. But with a team that has held the bulk of the points lead for the past two seasons, Capps feels confident his group can again perform at their best when it counts.
“It was nice to get those six wins, especially after winning a championship,” Capps said. “It just gave us that reassurance that we still had the same consistent racecar. It was nice to come back out like that, but I knew it wasn’t going to last. We’ve had 6-7 cars that have caught up to where we’re at and some have run better. We knew this was going to happen, but we’re ready. We knew we could do it last year and we were great when we had to be.”
Brown, currently second in Top Fuel points, used the momentum from winning in Charlotte to grab a second straight Top Fuel world championship. He’ll go for three straight against the likes of six-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence, Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher, Brittany Force and Doug Kalitta.
Line’s Pro Stock title defense continues in Charlotte, but he will have to chase down top drivers like points leader Bo Butner, rookie Tanner Gray, who has four wins, and teammate Greg Anderson.
Ellis’ Pro Stock Motorcycle win help spur a fifth-place finish for the veteran a year ago, but everyone is chasing former world champ LE Tonglet, who has five victories in 2017.
The NHRA Carolina Nationals also features thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch spectacular jet cars. Larsen Motorsports’ four jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech, Matrix System Automotive Finishes, Halo Technology, and the American Dream, will make exhibition passes. 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 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 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 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also available at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.