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July 16, 2014

Ron Capps

SCOTT SMITH:  We are joined by Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger.  Thank you for joining us today.
RON CAPPS:  You bet.
SCOTT SMITH:  Ron is currently third in Funny Car points.  He's raced to two final‑round appearances in the past three events with one win.  Ron, you've had the two final‑round appearances but unfortunately four first‑round losses.  These past couple of races have you and your team started to find a little bit better consistency with that Funny Car?
RON CAPPS:  Yeah, yeah, we have, and we've sort of had it.  We should have won the Norwalk final round, and the driver let the car get out of the groove a little bit and it spun just a little bit.  I had done a good job all day of keeping the thing in the groove, and that's part of driving a Funny Car.  These things are‑‑ they never go straight.
We lost a close race, but that would have been another win we should have had, and those are tough to come by because you get all the way to the final‑‑ just getting past the first round is hard, but getting to a final you don't want to lose those close ones like that.  But just having a car that's gone, I think Tobler said we're into 20 something runs without tire smoke, which is good, because that's a consistency that you've got to have, especially in this Funny Car division right now.
We say it all the time, it just seems like the competition gets tougher and tougher, and it's as high as it's ever been.
SCOTT SMITH:  You're obviously a West Coast guy and know the historic nature of the Western Swing.  We've only seen one Funny Car driver sweep all three races, and that was John Force, but that dated back to 1994.  Why is it so hard for the Funny Cars to maybe sweep all three events?
RON CAPPS:  Well, I mean, he had Austin Coil, and that was probably the biggest reason he was able to do that back then.  Coil was, it seemed like, so far ahead of his time in the Funny Car division, and of course John had all those championships, so you've got to remember to go‑‑ I'm sure Antron, I didn't catch the beginning of his, but I'm sure he talked about it.  It's as brutal a change or swing of conditions that you'll see.  I don't know how these crew chiefs sleep at night to begin with, but to go up in the mountain like we have to go first and compete in those conditions and make power up there and do what we have to do, and come back down to really less than sea level almost in Sonoma and then go to Seattle where you've got all those trees producing the oxygen that you don't normally see.
You've just got to have a good crew chief.  As a driver, if a driver tells you that he's a bigger part of the equation of these race cars, then he really is, and he's fooling you.  We're as good as our crew chiefs can give us as far as a car, and your job is not to mess it up and to go out and do the sponsor stuff, and that's part of the driver's job.
But I've always said I get to go do this racing a lot with dirt cars and NASCAR and some other things.  You can take a driver over there and you could have a fifth‑place car and you could take a driver like Jimmie Johnson or Stewart or Dale Jr. or one of those guys and make it a second‑place car, whereas drag racing you've got a car that's as good as it's going to get from the crew chief or as good as it's set up, and your job keep it in the groove and do everything right.
So I think that, to answer your question, was the biggest thing back then was Austin Coil.  Of course he's got great crew chiefs now as a lot of us do, but it's just a matter of having a guy that can set the car up for you.

Q.  When you get up on the mountain, do you have to change the way you drive the car at all?
RON CAPPS:  The very first run and really the first day you do big time.  And I think that's where it benefits me.  Don Schumacher lets me go race these Nostalgia Series cars a lot, which I love to do; it's a great passion.  Now we have more drivers with Del Worsham and Cruz and all these guys building them, and I think that's where it helps us is you jump in a car that doesn't sound the same as you're normally used to, and you can ask any driver, after the first run you make, it sounds like the car is going to blow up at 40 feet out.  It sounds like crap.  They just don't sound normal like they do.  They just don't have the oxygen.
So as a driver, you've always been trained to save the parts, save any damage you can by lifting when the car doesn't sound good.  Well, up there in the mountain, every run sounds like that.  Sometimes I laugh on the radio to the crew guys or the crew chief as I'm rolling up the stage, I'm like, this thing sounds like crap, and then it goes out and sets low ET.  As a driver, it just takes longer and it doesn't sound as good, as then even though you've got a hill, you've got to remember that when you pull the chutes, it doesn't have air to grab to slow you down, so you'll find all these guys that don't run a lot or forget about it will be off into the sand trap because they think being uphill and going slower would allow you to slow down better with those chutes, but you've got to remember there's no air to grab, so you always have guys that don't get the chutes out on time, and that's huge up there.  You don't want to put your car in the sand.

Q.  With thin air, I know you guys put the maximum amount of downforce on the car.  Is it any tougher to keep it in the groove because you don't have the same downforce you do at sea level?
RON CAPPS:  Yep, absolutely.  You hit it on the head.  That's the other thing.  Leaving the starting line on time is always huge.  That doesn't change up there except you want to be in shape, because maybe not the first day, but you're reminded when you walk up to the pit area from the parking lot, you're winded just walking up the‑‑ even when you're in shape, you get a little winded.
As the weekend goes on, those of us drivers that are in a little better shape are going to be better on Sunday mentally and physically, and so it's the same thing with the car.  The car has lack of downforce, and if you let it get out even a little bit, those crew chiefs have to have them so nice and tuned up perfectly up there that if you get out and it does anything funny and spins a little bit, then you've kind of ruined the run.  Yeah, it's more important up there.

Q.  Does driving in the Nostalgia Funny Car give you an edge on that because they skate around in good conditions?
RON CAPPS:  Yeah, and that's what's awesome about them.  Yeah, I bet if you ask Del and Cruz and anybody else that drives them, it does; it's a throwback to the '70s with no big spoilers like we have now on like our NAPA car, and you shift them, and they do, they blacktrack the whole way down, which is fun for a driver.  It kind of puts the driving back into it.
But you're right, it acts pretty much the same way up there.  It doesn't want to stay in the groove very easy, and I'd like to think it really helps me.

Q.  Ron, the Western Swing for you, is that like going home, and do you think that gives you at home field advantage?  And I see on Facebook, you must be proud of your son surfing.  In motorsports there seem to be so many second‑ and third‑generation racers.  Are you trying to persuade and maybe help him be a race car driver, also?
RON CAPPS:  Yeah, the first part of your question, yes, Sonoma is home for me.  I'm in Paso Robles, California.  I grew up San Luis Obispo, so we spent a week ‑‑ every year we'd do this in the RV here on the central coast.  It is home for me.  Sonoma is only a few hours, and I grew up going there with my mom and dad and my dad raced, so it's a home track.  I get the home cooking, the RV is up on the hill above the track, and it's just a great track for me.
Whether or not that's helped or not, I've got a lot of wins there, and with some great crew chiefs, so it does feel like home.  I always look forward to it.
And yeah, you know, they had ‑‑ NHRA pushed the second generation or whatever the thing they called it last year.  You got some of the big‑name guys that I race with with Top Fuel and Funny Car and Pro Stock that are second generation.
My dad wasn't a big name, but he brought me up in the sport as a sportsman racer, so I grew up in the sport.  I joke that I was conceived as Famoso Raceway at the old Fuel and Gas Championships, so every year of my life, I went to two or three races as far back as I can remember.  So Warren and Coburn and those kind of guys, watching Garlits at Famoso and Fremont, so I've been around it all my life.  And yeah, I'd like to persuade my son to get into it.  Hopefully he would.  It would be great to see him.  It's all I know.  It's all I grew up on.  It's my favorite thing in the world to go to an NHRA drag race.
The coolest part is walking out of your trailer, and sometimes you look out and there's three generations.  There's a grandfather, a dad with their little kid there taking them to the drag races.  It takes me back to being a kid.
Yeah, hopefully he'll follow me.

Q.  Did your enthusiasm of coming out of Epping with a Wally reflect itself in your Instagram travels with Wally?
RON CAPPS:  Yeah, yeah.  I even had a couple people on Facebook that one guy kind of gave me a little bit of crap that I was acting too excited about that win and maybe I should act like I've won before.  You know, I've got to be‑‑ I'm sponsored by a great company.  I wanted to be nice to them.  I don't think some people realize, even‑‑ you look at Force, he's a great example.  Last weekend or two weeks ago in Norwalk when we had that close race, you thought the guy would have won his first race, and he's won, what, 140 of them?  So you don't‑‑ the win before that in Brainerd the year before, you never know if that's your last win.  It could very well be the last win you have and you could have the best crew chief, the best team like I have, and it doesn't matter.  It's so tough to win.
I got pretty excited, and I started doing the Vines and the stuff on the way home, and I've kind of taken to that a little bit where the fans are really having fun with me with the social media stuff, and I thought it was fun to make some videos and take them home with me, and I'd love to do it again from Denver.  It would be a fun trip home.
But yeah, I've kind of grown to love doing all that stuff, and those Wallies, man, you forget how much you love holding those things at the track and how much work goes into it.  It's something you really have to cherish.

Q.  Is there some kind of catalyst that happened this year that made your team gel as it has and to have so many final rounds and finally a Wally this year?
RON CAPPS:  Well, you know, again, Don made changes.  He's done this in the past, and people sometimes raise an eyebrow up and wonder why he does what he does.  But the guy is a genius at moving people around.  John Collins, longtime assistant crew chief to Rahn Tobler, learned underneath him, trained underneath him, and he got put on his own with Tommy Johnson in the Make‑a‑Wish car, and what happens, they go out and win a race.  As a new crew chief, it's almost unheard of to do it that quick.
And then we brought in Eric Lane, we call him "Hopsing," he came over from Force's as Ron's assistant.  He was a longtime Jimmy Prock assistant, and Rahn Tobler is very tight with Jimmy Prock and those guys, so bringing him in has been seamless.  He's sharp, as well, and will be a crew chief someday.
And I've got the same team that came back.  They're like family to me, and any driver or crew chief will tell you, to have the same people come back year to year is bigger than huge, whether you're NASCAR, IndyCar or drag racing.  It's a big deal.
It wasn't a matter of gelling.  We've been trying different things.  We'll be honest, we tried different clutch levers and superchargers we tried from our Top Fuel counterparts on our Top Fuel teams and just little things that you try and you have to do it at the track sometimes under those conditions, and sometimes you suffer on Sunday and you don't do as well, but it's for the long run.
So to answer your question, we've been gelling, it's just a matter of hitting everything right, and I think Tobler has.
SCOTT SMITH:  Thank you very much, Ron, for joining us today.

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