The 2023 season of NHRA's Camping World Drag Racing Series holds an opportunity that reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps doesn't want to miss. After winning back-to-back series titles in 2021 and 2022, Capps can go three-in-a-row and four overall if he is able to finish the season as the top dog. For the veteran driver who is competing in the 615th NHRA national event of his career at this weekend's NHRA New England Nationals, it comes down to momentum – particularly at this, the mid-point of the regular season.
The New England Nationals mark the seventh event of 15 in the regular season ahead of the six-race Countdown to the Championships playoffs. So far this year, Capps has raced to the final round on three separate occasions: Phoenix, Pomona, and Chicago. Although he has not yet claimed a Wally in 2023, the champ has faith that the 74th trophy of his career is on the way. Through each race this season, his NAPA Toyota has been capable of going all the way.
"Momentum is everything right now, and as we've seen over the last couple of years with winning back-to-back championships, we had to have a car that was consistent," said Capps. " 'Guido' [Dean Antonelli] and our NAPA team have continued to do that. Here we are again, same spot. I’m very lucky that I get to drive this NAPA Supra."
Currently No. 2 in the Funny Car standings, Capps recently banked two bonus points as runner-up in the Chicago Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge. He'll have a shot at more bonus markers this weekend in Epping as he competes, again, in the special race in Saturday qualifying. Of particular note: bonus points earned during the Challenge (three to the winner, two to the runner-up, and one to the quickest losing semifinalist) will be applied when the Countdown to the Championships begins at Maple Grove Raceway in September.
Emerging victorious in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in Chicago, then reaching the final round at the main event on Sunday, indicated to Capps that his Antonelli-tuned Toyota GR Supra Funny Car could operate successfully through the hot months ahead. Conditions at Route 66 Raceway were the warmest of the year – until Friday in Epping.
"Everybody struggled [in Chicago]; it was tricky," said the three-time Funny Car champion. "But you're going to see those kinds of conditions through the summer months, so I'm very proud of what our guys did to win the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. That gained us extra points – which was huge – and going to the final round on one of the trickiest days we've seen was also huge. Very smart crew chiefs and a lot of teams had issues getting down the track, but 'Guido' and 'T-Buck' [assistant crew chief Tom Buckingham], and the guys did such a great job all day. We didn't finish the weekend in the winner's circle, but I believe we certainly had the car to win the race."
In a rematch from the Chicago semis, Capps will race Chad Green in the first round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in Epping. Still fresh on his mind is how the race ended two weeks ago, when Capps was slowed and Tim Wilkerson raced ahead for the win.
"Unfortunately, we had a small miscue in the final round with the left parachute coming out of the pack," explained Capps. "But our team has addressed the issue. Sometimes, you've got to stand back and look at the bright side. Luckily, it happened early in the season and not when we're running for a championship later in the year. One of the great things about our team is that we always learn from things like that. It makes us stronger. I'm very pumped to see these next few races. It's going to be a lot of fun with our race team."