After winning his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship in 2016, Funny Car driver Ron Capps’ title defense couldn’t have gone much better during the 2017 regular season. The Funny Car standout has six victories in the regular season and eight final round appearances through the first 17 races, 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 this weekend, 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.”