BROWNSBURG, Ind. (March 11, 2014) – Ron Capps understands the importance of the 45th annual NHRA Gatornationals this week for reasons beyond it being one of the oldest events on the 24-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.
The legendary track at Gainesville, Fla., is one that Ron has mastered twice (2007, 2006) and was a finalist in 2000.
He is ready to end his six-year drought at the track this weekend and jump-start the 2014 season with Don Schumacher Racing’s NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T.
“It’s definitely what we consider one of our big three races,” Ron said. “It’s such a big race and one of those events where I never thought I would get a trophy. To finally win there and then win again was awesome. It’s definitely one of the most fun events of the season, and it’s a lot more fun when you win.
“You can try and say it’s just another race, but nothing really prepares you for that drive to the track on Friday morning because you almost forget how big it is. By the time you get to the gate your hair is standing up and it’s like an automatic motivator. This is a big race.”
The year hasn’t started the way Ron and crew chief Rahn Tobler had wanted. A violent engine explosion at the season-opener left Ron uninjured and that was followed by a first-round loss two weeks ago near Phoenix.
“I’ve learned a lot in my career being around the more experienced owners and drivers that you just don’t panic after a slow start,” he said. “Maybe five or 10 years ago I might have panicked, but I’ve learned to keep chugging away and not panic. I have the great luxury of knowing we’re going to see success pretty soon.”
For the past two events Tobler and longtime assistant John Collins have devoted some of their time to DSR’s Make-A-Wish Funny Car driven by Tommy Johnson Jr. while team owner Don Schumacher was deciding on a full-time crew chief for Johnson, who advanced to the Phoenix semifinals and is ranked fourth in Funny Car points.
When the teams arrive at Gainesville, Collins will be Johnson’s crew chief and Eric Lane has been hired as Tobler’s assistant on the NAPA team.
Lane had been with John Force Racing since 2001 and most recently was the assistant crew chief on the Top Fuel dragster driven by Brittany Force, who advanced to her first Top Fuel championship round on Feb. 23 near Phoenix.
“We wouldn’t have been able to promote John to the Make-A-Wish car unless I could get Eric,” Tobler said. “I needed a good, experienced crew chief to come in here and help me. Eric can give me input into how to improve the car. I know Eric on a personal level and he’ll fit in well with our team.”
Lane, 40, is a native of Baldwin Park, Calif., and currently lives with his family in Avon, Ind. He graduated from Mt. San Antonio College and Universal Technical Institute before working for three years on Gary Densham’s Funny Car team.
RON CAPPS, NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T
Pts Events Titles Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ Win/Loss
2014 9th 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1-2
2013 6th 24 3 2 5 7 7 1 1 35-20
CAREER 413 41# 41 68 84 161 15 18 507-354
Best Time, Speed: 3.964* sec. (5-31-12, Englishtown, N.J.); 320.89 mph (5-31-12, Englishtown); #40 Funny Car/1 Top Fuel * Quickest ever
BY THE NUMBERS
Last event (Feb. 21-23, Phoenix): Qualified No. 9; lost in first round to Bob Tasca III
A year ago at Gainesville: Qualified No. 6; lost in first round to Jack Beckman
Career at Gainesville: Wins 2 (2007, 2006); Runner-ups 1 (2000); Poles 0
NHRA MELLO YELLO FUNNY CAR STANDINGS
(Through Phoenix, second of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
driver, (wins), points
1. John Force, (1), 225
2. Robert Hight, (0), 159
3. Alexis DeJoria, (1), 156
4. TOMMY JOHNSON JR., (0), 136
5. Del Worsham, (0), 132
6. MATT HAGAN, (0), 129
7. Bob Tasca III, (0), 124
8. JACK BECKMAN, (0), 92
9. RON CAPPS, (0), 88
10. Tim Wilkerson, (0), 84
Sunday: 7:30-9 a.m. ET, qualifying
Sunday: 7-9 p.m. ET, eliminations
NHRA Gatornationals Event Schedule
Friday: 12:45 p.m., 3 p.m., nitro
Saturday: 12:45 p.m., 3 p.m., nitro
Sunday: 11 a.m., championship eliminations
Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at AutoTrader.com in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.