BRISTOL, Tenn. – A stretch of four straight race weekends during June can be a tall order for the drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
For Ron Capps, though, it’s not hard for him to get excited, especially when he knows one of those dates includes a trip to Bristol Dragway, which is the site of this weekend’s 19th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Capps loves every aspect of racing in Thunder Valley and its shows on his resume, as the former Funny Car world champion has back-to-back wins at the picturesque facility in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.
He’ll try to make it three straight on Father’s Day weekend, but Capps’ love of Bristol Dragway also includes much more than his Funny Car-best five victories at the track.
“Bristol is such a cool and historic place, and it starts with the people there,” said Capps, who has 63 career wins. “There’s so many cool people at this race, and it’s just a fun place to go. Every single driver is at the fan fest with all the fans, and that doesn’t happen very often. When someone asks me about what race they need to go to, Bristol is in my top three. You’re in Thunder Valley and the sound is echoing off the hills. It’s just a wonderful facility and a lot of fun there.”
Bristol is the 11th of 24 events in the NHRA season, and the action includes a Friday night primetime qualifying session starting at 7:30 p.m., with fireworks to follow.
Those marquee moments get Capps motivated to perform in Bristol, especially as it comes as the third race in a grueling four-race stretch. Warmer conditions make staying mentally strong even more important, but Capps has proven to be a top competitor in that regard.
Capps posted back-to-back wins last month in Richmond and Atlanta, currently sits fourth in points, and he likes how his team – led by crew chief Rahn Tobler – has performed over the last handful of races.
“We really feel like we’re in the sweet spot of the schedule as a team,” Capps said. “As a crew chief and a team, you want to find your happy spot and what your overall tuneup package is throughout the summer. It can be demanding on a team, but we always look forward to this stretch. You have to pay attention to the parts attrition, but I’ve always been super proud of the way Rahn runs the car. He’s methodical about the decisions he makes, and I never want to be mentally or physically at a disadvantage as a driver.
“I don’t want to be the weak link when it gets late in the day on Sunday.”
Capps and the entire Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car team, a group that also includes Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr., have dominated at Bristol in recent years, claiming six of the past seven wins.
While Capps is responsible for two of those, he’ll also have to deal with current points leader Robert Hight, defending world champ J.R. Todd and John Force, who is seeking his milestone 150th career win.
But Capps is well aware of what it takes to win in Thunder Valley, as well as the significance of a Father’s Day victory.
“If you can stand in the winner’s circle after a win like Bristol and it’s a battle of attrition, you feel like you accomplished a little more than normal,” Capps said. “It’s one of the most demanding races we have, but you want to do well on Father’s Day. I was able to give a trophy to my dad after the win last year, and it’s always fun to do that.
“It was pretty neat to pull off a win and dedicate it to him, and hopefully we can again.”