NHRA, Funny Car driver Ron Capps celebrates his win at the Big O Tires NHRA… (Teresa Long / Associated…)
Ron Capps has more funny car victories than drag-racing greats Don Garlits and Don Prudhomme. He's raced for the most deep-pocketed NHRA owners.
In his 18th season, Capps, 48, came to the Auto Club Finals in Pomona positioned for the coronation of his first season championship after winning two weeks ago in Las Vegas.
But after a second failed qualifying run Friday, the most decorated driver without a season title is again looking at the possibility of coming up short.
"We're not happy right now, we're backed into a corner," Capps, from Carlsbad, said as his crew worked on his car and veteran crew chief Rahn Tobler prepared for a likely all-night study session to address why the car suffered an aborted run.
Capps dropped seven points behind funny car points leader and teammate Jack Beckman of Norco, when Beckman posted a top-qualifying speed of 319.75 mph in 4.025 seconds.
To win the season title, Capps will need a top-16 qualifying time with two runs scheduled Saturday, then must outlast Beckman by a round when head-to-head elimination races begin Sunday.
"Big, big … the things you dream of," Beckman said of his showing a day after his car's shell exploded because of a piston malfunction. "We can play around Saturday, and go for the throat Sunday."
In 1998, 2000 and 2005, Capps finished second in the points standings. Capps was just eight points behind champion Gary Scelzi at Pomona in 2005, needing a second-round victory that didn't happen.
"It used to bother me very badly, and there's times it still does," Capps said. "I know I've been lucky enough to have some great experiences in racing, to the point there are times I tell myself I could walk away without a championship.
"There's other times, even waking up this year, when I wonder what it'd be like to be a champion."
Capps has overcome adversity this year. His crew chief Tim Richards argued with team owner Don Schumacher and quit March 31 after Capps failed to qualify in Las Vegas. Capps says he has moved on.
Schumacher decided to shift Beckman's crew chief, Tobler, to Capps, and their pairing produced five wins in 16 events.
"My expectations were to give him a good, consistent race car, and he'd take care of it," Tobler said. "For us, it's been all about using the data from all four qualifying runs to be in the best possible shape Sunday. If we do it again this Sunday, we'll be the world champion."
Capps said Tobler was left "a little baffled" by the qualifying problems.
"These are the moments you have to somehow get through, to overcome," Capps said.
The moments that make a champion?
"I hope," Capps said.
Morgan Lucas posted the fastest top fuel qualifying run, 324.98 mph at 3.761 seconds. Season points leader Antron Brown qualified sixth at 321.27 mph, 3.804 seconds, maintaining his 65-point lead over ninth-place qualifier Tony Schumacher. Brown can clinch the points title by winning a second-round race Sunday.