Ron Capps looking for Bristol mojo as NHRA Playoffs come to historic Thunder Valley
At historic Bristol Dragway, Ron Capps has more wins than any other NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Funny Car racer, and the veteran driver from San Diego loves the sound of that stat.
With five career victories at Bristol, including recent wins in 2018 and 2017, Capps holds the edge in that category over class icon John Force, who has four victories at Thunder Valley in his series leading total of 154 career wins.
The two drivers, along with points leader Matt Hagan and third-place Cruz Pedregon, will be battling for another championship crown as a round of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship Playoffs will be held for the first time at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Oct. 15-17.
Capps, who won the race at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas this past weekend, comes into Bristol riding a wave of momentum. He trails Hagan by 33 points and 16-time champ Force is in fourth place, 115 points back.
“It’s strange to have my name above John Force in the wins column at any track, so that’s a good thing,” Capps said. “I’ll take it. I’m pumped about having Bristol in the Countdown. When we talk about Thunder Valley and the atmosphere, the fans and the history, it’s just a unique place to race and I love going there. I could really use some of that mojo right now because I need to go some rounds to get the points lead back.”
In NASCAR, Bristol Motor Speedway has a reputation for creating an environment where drivers’ tempers flare, and it was evident in mid-September’s famed Night Race. So with the NHRA Playoffs coming to Bristol Dragway for the first time in history, and the race being the third from the finish, can fans expect the same type of high intensity and drama?
“Things do get a little chippier every race in the Countdown,” Capps said. “The teams are more on edge and everyone is a little more focused and determined. After Thunder Valley there’s only two races left in the season so everyone knows it’s now or never.”
Capps says the other element of NHRA Playoff racing is that the teams who have been eliminated become even greater threats on race day. He says not only does he have to worry about the drivers he’s battling with for the championship, but he also has to be concerned with teams who are putting their ears back and playing nothing but offense on the starting line.
“The teams and drivers you really have to worry about in the last three races are the cars that aren’t really in it anymore, and you have to worry about them because they don’t have anything to lose and they start throwing everything they have at it trying to win races,” Capps said. “Those teams are the ones that will jump up and bite you.”
Another new factor of racing at Bristol in October is the cooler weather compared to what teams have faced before tuning their cars in the middle of June with the heat and humidity. While national records may be safe, it’s a good possibility that the Bristol Dragway track records could be in jeopardy.
Capps, who currently holds the Funny Car track E.T. record at Bristol at 3.884 seconds set back in 2016, says he expects his challengers to unleash their best tune-ups this weekend at Bristol. All of that should combine to create a very fast race where the fans will be the ultimate winners as witness to a high-performance showcase.
Capps, a drag racing fan at heart, can’t wait to see what unfolds.
“It’s never been this tough from top to bottom in Funny Car and anybody can win,” Capps said. “It’s good to gain a little on Hagan, but it’s going to be a lot of fun and we want to finish the year strong.”
In Top Fuel, three-time and defending champ Steve Torrence holds a 52-point lead over rival Brittany Force. Meanwhile, Texas Motorplex winner Justin Ashley moved to third place and trails the leader by 121 points.
The trio of racers will be trying to better their Playoff positions at Bristol, a track where Torrence has earned one win in two career final round appearances and Force has never won but has been the No. 1 qualifier.
“Everybody’s been calling this a two-car race,” said Torrence, who is having another stellar season in his Capco dragster with nine victories in 11 final rounds, “but I guess they forgot to tell Justin. We’ve still got three races to run and there are a lot of points still out there. Having said that, I feel really good going forward. When you’ve won one race, been runner-up in another and had two semifinal finishes (in the first four Countdown events), that shows the talent of this team and these Capco Boys. We just have to follow our plan, not get ahead of ourselves and not lose focus. One round at a time; one race at a time.”
Force lost a close semifinal race to Ashley at Dallas and she is more determined than ever to get her 11,000 horsepower dragster back up to the top of the standings with a strong run at Thunder Valley.
“Overall, we picked up points (in Texas) and we went some rounds but to lose in the semis the way we did is tough,” Force said. “It was a close side-by-side race, but he had me on the tree. So, we’re going to pack up, go to Bristol and recover from this one.”
Matt Smith heads to Bristol as the points leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle following his Texas victory. The Winston-Salem, N.C. rider moved eight points ahead of season-long series leader Steve Johnson with the victory. Three-time world champ Angelle Sampey is also in the hunt for the championship, as she is 53 points back of Smith.
“We’ve had the best bike all year,” said four-time world champ Smith. “Steve has definitely stepped his program up and we’re going to go head-to-head with him the rest of the year, and hopefully we can pull this out and get a fifth championship. That’s the goal and we’re going to do everything we can to try and do it.”
Smith is excited about racing at Bristol Dragway for the first time in his career. He has supported his dad, Legend of Thunder Valley member Rickie Smith, at the track over the years in both Pro Stock and Pro Mod racing, but is now ready to grab his own Wally at the historic Tennessee dragstrip.
“We’ve wanted a race at Bristol for so long and we can’t wait to get there and finally get to race at Thunder Valley,” Smith said. “I’ve watched my dad win a lot of races at Bristol over the years. Before Charlotte was built that was our home track. It’s only two hours from our house in Winston-Salem. Our team really does good at new venues so we hope to be able to pull a win out there this weekend.”
In addition to Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle, the event will feature the fast and unpredictable E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series, led by the defending Bristol winner and current points leader, Jose Gonzalez. Other Pro Mod racers to watch during the weekend include Brandon Snider, Steve Jackson, Doug Winters and Rickie Smith. The race also will feature competition in several sportsman classes in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction. This unique opportunity in motorsports allows fans to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods and get driver autographs.
NHRA Camping World Series qualifying for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals begins Friday, Oct. 15 with Top Fuel and Funny Car sessions at 5:30 p.m. The final two rounds of nitro qualifying are set for Saturday, Oct. 16, at 1 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17.
The race will be televised on FS1, with a one-hour live qualifying show on Friday at 7 p.m. (ET), an hour qualifying highlights show on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET) and a three-hour Sunday show that includes live semis and finals, starting at 2 p.m. (ET).
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online by clicking here.