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Ron Capps discusses taking part in iRacing competition and March Meet success

Don Schumacher Racing / NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car racer Ron Capps joined the NHRA National Dragster podcast to discuss his upcoming participation in the iRacing Replacement Series race and his success at the March Meet in Bakersfield.
23 Mar 2020
NHRA National Dragster staff


2016 Funny Car world champion Ron Capps was an early adopter to simulation racing. The Don Schumacher Racing / NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car racer will take part in the iRacing Replacement Series race at 6 p.m. Pacific Time Tuesday night alongside a loaded cast of professional racers including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bubba Wallace, William Byron and more. We caught up with Capps to discuss his history with iRacing, his success at the March Meet and other drag racers he's battled it out with online. 

You can subscribe to the NHRA National Dragster podcast on iTunes or Spotify. You can also read the transcript of our conversation below. 

Ron Capps: I've been a part of iRacing since they started in 2008. I decided that I wanted to go to college just in case. You know, the racing career never happened, which at that point, I never thought in a million years, I'd be a professional drag racer. It was a pipe dream at that point. And I was just a crew member on a dragster. So that kind of started me with computers. And obviously racing in computer racing started around that same time.

So I was as, as early on as racing simulators and games were coming out I was racing with guys like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex and, and really early on, so when the actual iRacing started in 2008, I was one of the beta testers and original testers, and just been a part of it since then. And you know, it's funny because I've been bragging on the racing simulator part of it for all these years, really, and unfortunately, the way things are now It's unfortunate it took this for people to realize it. But the real the, you know the reality of being able to actually use a simulator to help. Your driving is always been there. But drag racing, it's not like we can emulate, you know, what we do in the car with a car shaking and the smell and everything else going on, especially the G forces.

So it's been something that, you know, a passion to try to get drag racing to be part of it, but in the meantime, just been on there doing a lot of NASCAR racing and IndyCar racing and World of Outlaws and things like that, that they have on the game and it's fun for fans because it never fails as soon as I get on no matter what room I pop into to race, whatever car whatever track there's always fans right away asking 'Is this the real Ron Capps?', you know, and so it's always fun for fans to give their feedback or see a post later on that they got to race with me in a NASCAR race or something. 

Jacob Sundstrom: Yeah I mean, I know you talked about the idea that there's not really a great corollary for what you're doing, obviously, in a Funny Car, and I know that's something they obviously even talk about, you know, in Cup Cars, you know, you think about a guy like William Byron who basically parlayed being able to do this at a high level into being a guy that's in the Cup Series. Is there anything like that that you can take into a Funny Car or a Top Fuel car and anything like that, you know, can you learn anything? 

Ron Capps: For me, it's the hand-eye coordination. I've now gotten Shawn Langdon and Cruz Pedregon and there have been several drag racers who have gotten serious and spent a pretty good amount of money to get a simulator. I just talked to Langdon a minute ago and to hear the feedback of them knowing that it helps what we do in the race car and you know, me getting to go race a Fuel Altered or driving a dirt car racing the Prelude to the Dream, things like that. There's no substitute for the seat time of a race car, no matter what kind of race car you're in, and for me, it was pedalfests. You know, like that pedalfest race last year that probably catapulted us into the winner's circle in Richmond against Robert Hight. Things like that.

There's no doubt racing a Sprint Car or the time I raced in another type of vehicle, or race car. There's no doubt it helped me in situations like that the feel of a car no matter what kind of a race car it is, you feel you drive with your rear end or your butt. And, and so I've always, you know, I've always thought it's helped me but the hand-eye coordination more than anything because as a racecar driver, you constantly have to especially drag racing, the quickest things happen in the cockpit for us. As things are thrown at you with things in your peripheral vision, having to concentrate on, you know, a multitude of things at one time cutting the light listening to the car, smelling the car, feeling what it's doing, is it going to stick, do you have to pedal it? I mean, this just, you know, basically an ADD dream to have all this stuff just going at you at once.

I think the iRacing part that has helped is the hand-eye coordination that's something that's key in a Funny Car or a dragster because we have a handbrake and it's not a conventional foot brake like a normal car would be. So you really have a lot of different things that are going on. So yeah, I've always thought that being able to race, a simulator or any type of practice would help.

Jacob Sundstrom: Yeah, you know, obviously watching the race that they did on Fox on Sunday where they had, you know, obviously a huge field of Cup guys doing this. And Clint Bowyer was a guy they had, you know, on the broadcast, he talked a lot about a difference for them, you know, not having that kind of what he called a like a butt dyno. Right, the idea of not being able to see outside the sides of the cars is a big difference for them, which is different for what you guys are doing where it's like, you're not if you're looking out and looking at the side of the car to see the other cars not, you're not really in the race anymore. Is that something that you know, if they were to bring something like a dragster or Funny Cars into a simulator, that would even be more of a corollary experience?

Ron Capps: Yeah, it's unfortunate it didn't happen already. Especially right now, the way the world is. But I've had the iRacing guys out to our Epping race. There's a great YouTube video that they shot and put up when I had them come to a drag race, and I'm gonna say it was maybe 2012. And I had them come to me with some engineers and they did a whole piece of me describing what the funny car because they want to know everything about it. And the difficult thing for them was at the time, and it was just before they came out dirt racing in it, and which became something huge for them. But the tire model getting our huge Goodyear slicks because of what they go through on a run with a Nitro car, Top Fuel and Funny Car. That's the most difficult part is going to be for them to get the realism and the clutch setup and things like that. So it is coming. I've been talking to Steve Myers, who's been with iRacing forever and he's been sort of my contact there. And I and he's been the guy that's spearheaded when I had him out there at the end of trying to eventually get drag racing into it. 

I can only imagine right now with Sunday's broadcast if we had drag racing, even if it was one thing like a Funny Car or dragster and you had just some basic tuning options, how many of our fans would be into it with a chance to get on and race with me or Shawn or Antron? Or Brittany Force or Leah? I mean, whoever and the fans trying to qualify and race or can you imagine? The rooms that would be filled up, and a chance for Fox Sports to air, you know, us racing each other in a virtual world like they did with the NASCAR guys. So it is coming. It's just a bummer we don't have it right now. And I'm excited about when it will come and it's going to be fun, but unfortunately, we couldn't get it done here before all this.

Jacob Sundstrom: One of the I think the cool things though, about what's going on right now is how much connective tissue there is between the respective motorsports, right? You look at the kind of lineup that's there and having a guy like you racing with us and these Cup guys these Xfinity guys I mean, looking at the lineup here, you know so you're on the list Dale Jr. is racing, guys like William Byron, even a guy like Taylor Gray, right? Tanner Gray's brother. You know, I think that's been a very cool part about this and seeing how many of these guys are participating in stuff like this.

That seems to be a big part of this iRacing deal is that there are guys you know, you know, a guy like (Alexander) Rossi participates in this and does a lot of that. I mean, it's that since you have a lot of experience in this. I mean, how long has that been clear to you? That doesn't seem to matter very much what kind of racing you're doing that everybody has been involved in, in this kind of experience.

Ron Capps: Well, it opened my eyes when I drove for Snake (Don Prudhomme) and I raced the Chili Bowl for Tony Stewart. That was the first obviously, having grown up as a dirt racing fan. But I learned early on, of course, Tony ended up having the Prelude to the Dream, which I was lucky enough to do every year that they had that. And then also at that time, I'd went and got the test with the IROC series, which was it's the ultimate as a racecar driver to be in something like the IROC series. And I tested at Chicagoland and I tested at Talladega twice.

That was one of the most amazing experiences ever to be out with some of the best racecar drivers in the world and identical cars. So I learned early on that that crossover was huge, because when I raised the Prelude to the Dream, to this day, every race, I get fans that come up and that became NHRA fans because they saw me in a dirt race with the NASCAR drivers and IndyCar drivers at the Prelude. And then, the same thing with the Chili Bowl, open-wheel fans became drag race fans because myself and Scelzi and later on Cruz, guys like that were crossing over and doing that type of thing.

And so getting to do the online racing like I have in the past with Dale Jr. and Martin and I can remember iRacing events with William Byron. And I bet he was 10 or 12 years old at the time. And he was whipping on us back then he was probably some little kid sitting at a desk with a clamp-on steering wheel. And he was whipping us back then. And it was almost like one of those movies and I forget the one movie that always cracks me up at Star Rider or star something where the kid was playing a video game and next thing you know, he's pulled into the video game to fly actual fighter jets. Whatever they call like fighter jets or whatever, but like Star Wars-type. It was a great movie that came out when I was a kid, but it's that same kind of thing where he is racing on the computer and people laugh Well, he couldn't do that in a real car. Well, guess what? They put him in a real car. And he ran just a quick lap times as the professional. So that was a real eye-opener.

And, and so, you know, I've always seen it and I've known it, but to answer your question, it's always been, you know, it's been fun to go do this other stuff with drivers that you just didn't see other than a Doug Kalitta you know, who could go toe to toe with any driver in any car. Without a doubt, truly one of the probably most gifted racecar drivers period. All you have to do is watch him in places like Winchester and things that he did in a midget was amazing. So I've always seen that crossover and it's always been fun to go over and race with these guys because we don't ever get to see him very often. You know, we're fans of what NASCAR and IndyCar do and to be able to go race with them like I did in the Prelude and to run around Talladega with some of the best NASCAR IndyCar drivers at the time was pretty cool. So I think the fans really the fans probably loved it more than anything else.

Jacob Sundstrom: Yeah, I mean that's, that's the big thing is giving people an opportunity, you know, given the situation an opportunity to see everybody go and race together is a cool experience. You talked a little bit about some of the other, you know, some of the other drag racers that are that have rigs and we kind of hear about this, but there's never been kind of a concerted effort to put a spotlight on it, right. Like I've known that guys like Cruz have a rig or have a set up, I guess. And even a guy like Matt Smith, who are some other guys that people should know about that are that participate in this?

Ron Capps: Well, it's funny, I've been racing with Matt Smith the last probably four nights. You know, we race in the same leagues pretty much daily, so he's been on his a lot. Tommy DeLago was always you know, the crew chief for Alexis (DeJoria) at the time, he's always been a big gamer and I've always had him involved and I still raced with him. Cruz, of course, got his set up, and Shawn Langdon got his simulator set. Up here recently, like within the last year, J.R. Todd is trying to get one -- he had one and then he didn't buy it and Kurt Busch bought it so he texted me last night he's trying to get one.

Jacob Sundstrom: Where did you get yours at? And how long have you had it? 

Ron Capps: You would laugh but it's funny. The one I've had up until about a month ago was one that I bought, god I don't know how long ago. I drove to L.A. and bought it from a guy used because somebody I raced with, it might have been Steve Meyers hooked me up with a guy's number and it's just a basic little frame with a seat. And I just ran across a picture where ESPN, when they did drag races, came to the house. Matt, the old photographer, there's a picture of the kids and Shelly and they, they like followed me around for a day. There's a picture of me in the garage, and Cayden who's 18 now looks like he's five and I'm sitting in the simulator. It's a pretty cool picture.

Now, about a month ago, I bought this one from a place called Obutto, it's nothing like you saw on the NASCAR one. It's kind of in-between, I think it maybe cost me like 600 bucks. And it's a full nice seat. Nice setup with a keyboard. You know, it's nice, but it's nothing like you know, Denny Hamlin's $40,000 deal. So I don't have anything super fancy but the one I had forever was just a little racing frame setup so I could go sit in it and be comfortable and have the wheels and pedals all set up. And you know, again you look at guys like William Byron, you know, years ago when we started racing that kid I mean he like I said he had a little tiny monitor with a little steering wheel bolted up and I think they showed a driver the other day that was pretty fast and had a pretty basic setup at a desk.

Jacob Sundstrom: Yeah, I think it's pretty clear you do not have to have an expensive setup to be good at this right like some of these guys that I think the first one that they did, and even in this series, some of these guys whose names I don't know because I follow this every week it's just like, a laptop on a piece of cardboard and you know, costs a couple hundred bucks. But some of these guys I mean, I saw like Jimmie Johnson's setup, it's like, wow, that's nice. How difficult is it to get some of this stuff now? I mean, I mean is this just a thing where you just can go online and buy some of this or is it like you have to know a guy to get something that's nice?

Ron Capps: No no, they're everywhere now. The one I have, the Obutto one it's like I just have a little bundle where you could order you know, obviously you know, there's separate stuff but you can order the whole frame and everything you need to bolt you know, to put a wheel clamp it on and have pedals and sit there comfortably and have an area for your mouse and your keyboard. And they're everywhere. Everybody's building up a lot of those motion ones like you see, like Cruz or Langdon and they spent a lot more money on theirs than I probably did. But you know, yeah, they're easy to get and it's funny because here the last couple weeks things are much more difficult to get, but the steering wheels you can order and the pedals and all that from different companies and they seem to be in high demand with everybody being told to stay home. So like everything else you know you run down to a Best Buy like I did last week and it's like everything's disappearing and with everybody having to stay home, but on the norm it's is very pretty easy to get any of that stuff and it's just a matter how much money you want to spend you know.

Jacob Sundstrom: What was the learning curve like for you going from you know, having driven some stuff in the real world so to speak versus having to do this you know, doing this on the computer because it seems like some guys are better at this than others regardless of what their you know, on track talent is like.

Ron Capps: Yeah, it's you know, whenever I've gone off and raced like the Chili Bowl or IROC or whatever, I've gone off to do other types of racing, I've always made a point to try to bring back whoever's equipment I'm driving in good shape. So I don't like to take super big chances on things and to crash or hurt the equipment. The same thing when I get to race, this event like Tuesday night, I mean, it's going to be with a pretty stacked group of all-star racers from different series. And some really big names and a lot of people watching so I don't want to make a fool of myself because everything I've gotten to do it's like oh, here's this drag racer and whatever race it might be it's an oval, it's not something drag racers are supposed to be good at it's, it might be a road course which drag racers are not supposed to be good at.

So I've always tried to just basically rule number one is not making a fool of myself and bring back the equipment in the car and try to keep it in one piece and just make a good showing. And I always feel like whenever I go race something for real another type of race or event or like the fuel altered in the March Meet and things like that. I want to I feel like I have a lot of people that I'm sort of representing as far as our fans, but like, also team owner, whoever, whoever I'm around if I go out and make a fool of myself, I still like, I am also sort of with representing everybody I do I still feel like I don't want to feel like that rubs off on anybody else that's a supporter of mine. You know, I mean, so if somebody gives me a chance to jump in a race like I'm going to do Tuesday night, I want to make them proud. Same thing with when they go race, a dirt car or road race car, or whatever it might be. I want to make sure that I don't have a bad outing, I guess you'd say.

Jacob Sundstrom: Yeah, so when you go and do something like the March Meet, right, I guess it that's kind of a complicated deal where people automatically assume because you're good that you're going to be good no matter what you get in I mean, does that is that adding extra pressure when you go to get in the car that you know, you have, you know, whatever, thousands of laps, in the regular Funny Car whereas you don't have that when you go get in a car in Bakersfield?

Ron Capps: Yeah and that's kind of since the beginning when I started doing that with the nostalgia Funny Cars with Del - in the beginning, I had a lot of people I'm sure other racers that had the thought that here's this Mello Yello driver is going to come and he's got an ego, you know he probably thinks he's way better than we are. Anybody knows me, obviously, that's not the case and I never you know nor would I want anybody to think that but I've always gone around especially this fuel altered group this last March Meet, I went around and thanked them all for letting me race with them because these are drivers, obviously fuel altered is, and I've said it and I posted it. It's probably one of the most difficult race cars I've ever driven and I again I didn't make a full run except one run because I didn't want to bring that thing back on the back of a hauler.

I don't want them to think that I'm a professional driver and I come in and I have an ego and I can do this or that so that's been important to me, really important, and you know, I made sure I let the altered drivers and that whole group know that I was not considering myself a fuel altered driver and I didn't want to make a foolish decision in the car that could risk me or somebody else and so I think that you know, that carries a lot of weight. I think that when I won the March Meet in the fuel altered I think I've gotten messages from a lot of them. They're very proud that I got to, to win and that event and it's gotten a lot more noticeability and you know a lot of press because of it and I think that just makes everything better hopefully anyway

Jacob Sundstrom: A big part of driving any car in any race car certainly is just respecting the car, is that elevated any more so when you're getting into a fuel altered car, or is that just more so because it's a car you're less familiar with?

Ron Capps: You know, when I've gone off racing dirt cars or that fuel altered or whatever I do, and I've said it many times in the pit area up there, I'm not comfortable at all. Every time we went up there I mean, my dad commented to me like I was not like I was at our normal races or around big show stuff because my race car, the NAPA car is purposely built just for me. The seat is molded around my body so much so that you see the wrinkles of the fire suit that I wore that day that they molded that that seat around me. And so everything in that car, I don't have to think about the lever for the fuel or the fire extinguisher or the radio button. I don't have to think about any of where anything is, it's so second nature, when I jumped in on a Friday after being out of the car, it's home for me.

When I go race these other events, I have to think about where's this I have to shut the fuel off, so I got to make sure I'm in low gear. For the run, I've got to make sure I look and see where the reverse lever is where the ignition cut off everything is in completely different places. And the same thing with the dirt cars when I go to do that they're nothing like what we drive so I've got to think so much. It's it sometimes helps. They'll work so when I talked about this, it helps you because you're more focused on what this what else is going on that you concentrate a little more on certain things and every run I made I feel altered I was not comfortable, which is, I guess a good thing because that's what makes that car so you Unique, but I was not comfortable every time I got in that car. And even the full run, I made the 6.12 in the semifinals, I just knew that the guy was next to me and I had to if I was going to win that round, I had to stay in the gas. And so it was fun looking back at it, but at the time, I just wasn't comfortable running to the finish line or, or driving. Driving over my head. I just didn't want to drive over my head.

Jacob Sundstrom: Right. And so now looking at this race you've got on Tuesday, I believe that you guys are racing at Kansas, is that something that you practice for? I mean, are you going on and like specifically looking like I want to make some runs here. So like you said, you don't, you know, don't make a fool of yourself or just try to get into as good a groove as possible.

Ron Capps: Yeah, you know when we hang up, I'm going back out in the garage and I'm going to practice some more. They've got a room set up for us to practice in. It'll be conditions like it'll be during the race. The cool thing about iRacing is most of the time they have what they call fixed setups and these cars, whether it's IndyCar, NASCAR, whatever it is. So when you join, the cars are all identical. You can only change a couple of things that might be gear ratio or something small. But the car, the cars are all identical. So you're pitting driver against driver and there's not somebody that has a better car, per se. So yeah, I'm going to practice probably quite a bit today and again tomorrow and try to get comfortable with it. Again, I'm racing guys that race there for a living in NASCAR cars, as well as a lot of people who spend much more time than I do on racing. So I've got my work cut out for me. And I'm taking it seriously. So I'm going to be doing a lot of practicing.

Jacob Sundstrom: Yeah, so that race is Tuesday at 9 pm. Eastern, and that's http://www.twitch.tv/iracing for everybody that wants to watch that. It's a pretty stacked field, but you've got a lot of experience and we like your chances and we'll be rooting for you. We appreciate you taking the time and good luck tomorrow night.

Ron Capps: Yeah, appreciate it. Thanks, Jake.