For weeks, funny car driver Ron Capps refused to let anyone — himself included — prematurely celebrate a season championship, no matter how sure it seemed. After all, he’d gotten tantalizingly close before, with four second-place finishes over the course of his 20-year drag racing career.
“I’ve been afraid to go to the gym, I was bubble-wrapped,” Capps said. “I didn’t want to hurt myself, I didn’t want to start [writing] a speech … I was afraid to jinx anything.”
But on Saturday night at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Capps finally was able to exhale, clinching the funny car title on the strength of his fifth-place finish in qualifying.
“I almost gave up — not that I gave up trying to win a championship, but I almost gave up on … trying so hard and wishing so hard,” Capps said. “We got to the countdown with a big lead, and I thought, OK, now we’ve really got a shot at it.”
In a fitting conclusion to the day, Capps’ opponent for the last qualifying session at Auto Club Raceway was Matt Hagan, the second-place challenger in the Countdown to the Championship. Capps had the faster round, and Hagan was mathematically eliminated from catching him during Sunday’s season finale.
Before Pomona, Capps had the most career victories without a championship. He already has the second-most event wins in funny car (49), behind John Force.
Jack Beckman qualified first with a time of 3.825 seconds, the second-fastest in NHRA history. Courtney Force qualified second (3.869), followed by Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.873), John Force (3.879) and Capps (3.883).
“I watched a lot of really cool stuff in that grandstand as a kid,” Capps said of Pomona. “It was like going to Green Bay for me, just legendary. So to strap on a pair of boots and go down that track, be crowned the 2016 Mello Yello champion here, is awesome.”
Top-fuel driver J.R. Todd set a track record with a time of 3.68 seconds during his first run of the day. That’s tied for the fifth fastest in NHRA history. Doug Kalitta, still battling for second place in the Countdown to the Championship (Antron Brown already clinched the top-fuel title in Las Vegas late last month) made up for a disappointing initial showing to grab the second seed in Sunday’s single-elimination bracket with a 3.709-second qualifier.
Jerry Savoie grabbed first place in the pro-stock motorcycle playoff race Friday by the slimmest of margins, and he maintained his position on Saturday with the quickest qualifying time, 6.825 seconds. He’ll have Andrew Hines (11 points back) on his side of the bracket for the elimination rounds, with Eddie Krawiec (four points back) on the other side.
“Whatever happened here today and yesterday is all behind us,” Savoie said. “Basically, what’s going to have to happen is unless we all lose in the semis, I’m going to have to go to the finals.”
Pro-stock driver Greg Anderson, second in the Countdown standings, had hoped to get a chance to meet teammate and front-runner Jason Line in the final round with a shot at the season title. He won’t get his wish: Line qualified first at 6.545 seconds, and Anderson ended up third, meaning if they do face off at the end, Line’s 23-point edge would be too much to overcome. Anderson’s only shot is to keep advancing, coupled with Line losing in round one or two.