NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Ron Capps welcomes the highs and lows as a Funny Car team owner

No. 10 on NHRA's all-time win list with 76 victories and three world titles, Ron Capps is one of the most experienced and acclaimed drivers in the sport behind the wheel of his NAPA Auto Care Toyota GR Supra. Now in his third season as a team owner, a whole new level has been unlocked.
14 May 2024
Kelly Wade
Ron Capps

No. 10 on NHRA's all-time win list with 76 victories and three world titles, Ron Capps is one of the most experienced and acclaimed drivers in the sport behind the wheel of his NAPA Auto Care Toyota GR Supra. Now in his third season as a team owner, a whole new level has been unlocked.

Capps' most recent back-to-back world titles were evidence of a driver and team that could excel in various conditions and manage major moves. He won the 2021 series title under the Don Schumacher Racing umbrella, while the 2022 championship came in the first year that the Southern California native was at the helm of his own team, Ron Capps Motorsports. 

Although his 2023 scorecard didn't quite follow the pattern, Capps and crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli exhibited sound structure and a strong game to finish No. 4 in the nation. Capps entered the Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed and went on to post a semifinals finish and a final round to highlight their run in the six-race playoffs, and while those highs were tempered with a handful of early exits, Capps was not overwhelmingly disheartened. He simply saw the vacillations as a time to learn as much about himself as he was learning about the intricacies of running a race team. 

"This is the part, going in as a team owner, that I knew was coming," said Capps, who explained that he hadn't just been a driver for NHRA legends Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and Schumacher — he had been a student of their leadership. "They were two completely different team owners, and after watching both of them, I was intrigued by what was going to come and how I was going to deal with it. I was looking forward to it, to be honest."

He also knows that he has a powerful, trusted ally in Antonelli. The two have known one another since 1995, the year Capps made his nitro debut in Top Fuel. Capps not only drove the race car that season, he also drove the truck to each event. Antonelli was part of the John Force Racing team and also a truck driver then, and the two formed a friendship on the road. For a short time, Capps and Antonelli were paired together in 2010 as driver and crew chief, and they notched an emotional victory honoring the late Eric Medlen that year in Sonoma. They were reunited for a championship season at Don Schumacher Racing in 2021 — along with Medlen's father, John, who was co-crew chief — when Capps' former crew chief Rahn Tobler retired.

"I built this team pretty much around Guido, and I knew we were going to go through struggles here and there," said Capps. "I've got so much trust in him, and it's been fun, in our championship seasons, watching the way we went through something that would have taken a lot of crew chiefs much longer to figure out. It's a good feeling to go through that and look at it from the other side."

Capps explained that much of their previous success stemmed from consistency, but the ever-increasing intensity in nitro Funny Car has demanded more than steadiness. 

"That's what's great about Guido — he's very good at having a race car you're going to have to go out and beat when he has the tune-up where he wants it," said Capps. "But when you have to throw down and make track-record type of runs like we did, we knew we had to make a change to get us a couple steps ahead of everyone else. The amount of changes Guido had to make in the clutch department is something crew chiefs dread. We faded at the end [last year], but we knew why, and we knew what changes we had to make. Guido and our team could easily go off of what we ran last year, and we would probably win races, but we're looking to be better. Sometimes, you have to take a couple steps back to get ahead."

Crew chief Dean "Guido" Antonelli with Capps in 2023

Capps holds faithful to the abilities of his tuner and looks to the examples of others in the class who have already successfully weathered the clutch-setup storm. The NAPA Auto Care team also brought out a brand-new Toyota GR Supra this year and, after the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas last month, stayed for Monday testing. Confidence surged, and they unloaded at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte and powered mightily to a 3.877-second pass at 335.40 mph to open qualifying with the quickest run of the session. 

Although their Charlotte run ended in tire smoke in the first round, Capps heads to this coming weekend's Gerber Collision & Glass NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by Peak Performance with a pair of semifinals on his season-scorecard and is No. 6 in the standings. The two-time Chicago winner — and last year's winner of the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge at Route 66 Raceway — is eager to see how he and his team continue to methodically chop through obstacles before them to carve out a fresh path.

"As weird as it sounds, this is a challenge I've been looking forward to. The great teams can pivot and make changes," said Capps, who related the experience to the NAPA store owners he meets across the country through his longtime partnership with the brand. "They're all small-business owners, and really, so am I. Like those store owners, you have to have a good manager. I have that with Paul Mecca, who's been with me a long time, and Guido is our quarterback. There is so much loyalty with our guys, and everybody gets along. It's very rare to see.

"I'm looking forward to what's ahead, to really getting going with some races in a row in the summer months and making up ground. We're all looking forward to standing in the winner's circle with a Wally and getting some momentum going."