Updated: Jun 10, 2022
Two-time defending NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Funny Car world champion driver and team owner Ron Capps stood out as the quintessential hometown hero after he won the first Wally trophy as owner of the new Ron Capps Motorsports team at The Strip of Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the 2022 Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals on April 3.
The fact that he’s never lived in Las Vegas is a non-issue.
“(The NHRA Camping World Four-Wide Nationals),is obviously a destination event, right?” Capps said. “You can give anybody a reason to come to Las Vegas. Then, they made it four-wide for this race that we have at the first part of the year.”
Capps is from San Luis Obispo and lives along the Pacific Ocean in Carlsbad. Californians, though, seemingly outpopulate Nevada natives in the valley and are in large part responsible for Las Vegas’ rapid growth.
The “hometown hero” idea generally alludes to a homegrown star whose success honors a geographic location and social systems within it for fostering its elite talent. Yet to the local crowd that filled the grandstands and campgrounds, Capps seemed to fit the concept.
“Las Vegas has turned into sort-of a home race for me” said the SLO-CAL supersonic.
His earnest and unassuming declaration of “home race” seems questionable to anyone who missed the 2022 Four Wide Nationals in early April. He’s found success at all drag strips on the NHRA schedule during his 28-year career and holds the record as second-winningest NHRA Funny Car pilot, including a victory at the NHRA’s only other four-wide drag strip located in Charlotte, NC.
With three races under his belt as a new team owner this year, he was amongst the likes of heavy hitters John Force, J.R. Todd, Robert Hight and Matt Hagan as Funny Car favorites looking into the Vegas Four-Wide weekend.
At Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where the NHRA kicks off its year, Capps kicked off his year with a runner-up finish, semifinal finish, and clinched a No. 1 qualifier award before boiling rubber down The Strip to his second Camping World yellow qualifier hat.
When he competes at LVMS, his mother and father make the road trip down from San Luis Obispo for the weekend-long event. He has a myriad of cousins that live across the United States who migrate to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, camp out, take over the grandstands and suites at a capacity that he half-joked wouldn’t please the fire marshal.
NHRA Nitro Driver Jon Capps, younger brother to Ron, is a 27-year resident in the Summerlin area of Las Vegas. Jon returned to Las Vegas from being on-set in New York to support Ron in the desert oasis.
“My brother still races part time and does stunt work for different movies and TV shows both here, L.A. and in New York.”
“We always come out and make this an event and it’s become more of a home race than Pomona which is an hour away from me, and if you look up there at the last two suites, it’s a company called Palmer Electric.”
Palmer Electric is a Las Vegas based family-owned/operated business that Capps has had a relationship with since his rookie year of 1995 as a driver for “The Snake” Don Prudhomme.
He pointed to the two suites at the far end of the grandstands.
“They have my family up there. There’s about 50 of them and whenever we’re towing back after a run, they’re out there cheering me on. They’ve become part of our family so, when you throw all that together, it’s just a great race to have family at. I get cousins that I don’t even hear from asking me for tickets to these races.”
On Saturday, April 2, Capps closed out the day of qualifying rounds by charging the NAPA AUTOPARTS Funny Car to the top of the speed charts with an elapsed time of 3.883 at 331.45mph in the final qualifying run, earning his second No. 1 qualifier of the year.
Ahead of praising the NAPA AutoCare team for early-season momentum, Ron Capps made himself at home in the media center, taking on the role of press by turning a question over to his guest Ronnie Mund of The Howard Stern Show.
“It’s been a long time coming to get him out here. Then, to have Ronnie at the starting line and have Guido throw down a 3.88 at over 330 in that heat was stunning. I haven’t even asked you so, what did you think?”
Mund is a recent Las Vegas transplant from New York who has been to an NHRA event, but not in the capacity of being nitro-baptized by the blue and yellow NAPA AUTOPARTS steed of Ron Capps at the start line of a heat like he was that afternoon.
The awe and wonderment in Mund’s account was genuine and childlike, in how he narrowly caught his breath through the soft eastern “r”s of his full-bodied New York accent.
“It was amazing! My teeth were chattering, my liver was like—it ran to the back of my body somewhere. I don’t even know where it was at the time. It was amazing to see you run like that. The way that car dug in and just went straight down there. No wobbles or nothin’. It was an amazing, AMAZING run.”
Mund’s narrative was a visceral reminder that NHRA drag racing is the shared experience of Americana’s overindulgence of tangible horsepower. Capps understands how commonplace it is to get wrapped up in the minutiae of datasets that not every fan, especially new ones, can connect with.
“We were throwing numbers out like we do all our fans and it’s neat to see somebody’s eyes light up.”
The confidence that Capps has in his team, led by crew chiefs Dean “Guido” Antonelli and John Medlen, is unwavering. If anyone told him that he was the driver to beat going into the race Sunday, despite his new yellow hat, he graciously took the premature sentiment with a grain of salt.
He knew that if it should happen that he won on Sunday, the outstanding support of family and friends would be there to create a memorable and meaningful experience like no other.
“I’ve said how great our fans are. It sounds cliché but to have them pack the grandstands. You know, some people like four-wide and some don’t but there’s no denying the fact that people love to come out here.”
Ron Capps hit the jackpot in Las Vegas by winning all three elimination rounds. As Lady Luck would have it, he raced to his 69th career win with a stupendous run of 3.914 at 331.20mph in his 12,000-horsepower NAPA AUTOPARTS Funny Car as a new team owner.
After his race day and victory materialized, he said, “Did you see ‘em up there?! Oh my God. I hope those seats out in front of the suites are very strong because there was literally, like 80 people out there and I was waving at them like we always do.”
He gave a touching tribute to long time supporters who were in attendance.
“This trophy, I said in the interview, that I was going to give it to Tony and Gayle Wilson who are NAPA owners that own a lot of stores in Oregon. Fantastic people. He’s been fighting throat cancer; he can’t even eat, and he wanted to be here for this race.
“They were at my first banquet when we finished 8th or something and they were at the banquet when I finally won a championship. They keep coming out and supporting us. So that trophy, as special as it is … and I could cut it up into a million pieces and send it to NAPA headquarters and all these jobbers and all these NAPA AutoCares, [but] it’s going to go them.”
As he held back emotion, he said, “It hasn’t even sunk in. I can’t even believe that I’m standing here as a NHRA owner, holding a Wally at a four-wide race. It's beyond comprehension for me right now.”
Ron later joined his family and supporters in victory circle where there were celebratory champagne showers, beer and an entire cooler of ice water dumped on him as he embraced his trophy with fans looking on, hoping to get his autograph.
As the sun set behind the Spring Mountains, it was apparent that a hometown hero emerged out of a town full of transients at the NHRA Camping World Las Vegas Four Wide Nationals.