By Briar Starr, NHRA writer
With Ron Capps knowing the championship was a bit drawn out, 2021 and reigning Funny Car Champion Ron Capps had an opportunity to successfully win another title but he needed to be consistent throughout the weekend including a good qualifying session.
With four rounds of qualifying this weekend, Capps would have to use those little bonus points in any way he could if he was going to stand a chance, and had to hope for some trouble on championship points leader Robert Hight.
However, the first two qualifying rounds were a bit of a rocky road for Capps, the California native who grew up near the Pomona racetrack. After the first two qualifying laps, Capps was off the bump as there were 18 Funny Cars on the lot meaning two cars were going home and one of those could have been Capps if he hadn’t gotten the speed he needed.
Finally, in the final qualifying round on Saturday night, Capps did what he had to do by hitting a 3.837 pass at 337.33 mph that put him 1st for the sixth time this season. In the process, he picked up four bonus points and was now less than 60 points behind Hight for the championship, or put more simply, he was two lap wins from overtaking Hight.
Despite being the No. 1 qualifier, Capps had another driver to worry about and that was Tony Stewart Racing’s Matt Hagan, who also had a slim chance. Capps had to advance two laps further than Hight to win the championship, while Hagan needed Hight to lose in the first or second round and had to advance one lap further than Capps. Also, Hight had to make the finals regardless of what Capps and Hagan did.
With the No. 1 qualifier, Capps was matched with nearby Pomona Native Jeff Arend in the first round. It was an easy win for Capps as Arena smoked the hoops.
Then-championship leader Robert Hight won his respective match-up against Chad Green, the No. 13 qualifier. Hight won with a 3.872 at 330.47 mph ahead of Green’s 3.914 at 327.82 mph. Both Capps and Hight did their jobs, which meant that they went to the quarterfinals.
Now Hagan had to do his job against Steven Densham. With much anticipation the two cars lined up and Hagan’s chances were gone before he even had a chance as Hagan went sideways and smoked the tyres.
Even though Hagan’s day was over, Capps and Hight’s day didn’t get any easier. Hight would face Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals, while Capps would face a well-known opponent Tim Wilkerson, who has had their shared victories over the NAPA driver.
In the first race of the quarterfinals, Tasca eliminated Hight with a 4.262 pass at 224.96 mph after Hight went up in smoke. At this point, Hight became a spectator and needed help if he was going to take the championship home with him.
For Capps, he sliced a .083 light to Wilkerson’s .087 and won with a 3.865 pass at 330.80 mph to help him reach the semifinals. However, Capps’ opponent was none other than Tasca, who eliminated Hight in his previous matchup.
It was a tense race between Capps and Tasca as both riders clocked the same .059 reaction time. They rode side by side down the track to the 660 feet where Capps Tasca was ahead. Eventually, Capps won with a 3.865 pass at 334.65 mph over Tascas’ 3.905 at 327.11 mph.
With victory secured, the championship would go to Capps and the team at NAPA Auto Parts unless the California native gets a point deduction. That meant he didn’t have to hit the wall, oil penalties, hit cylinder blocks or go into the opposition lane.
In the final, Capps met two-time Funny Car Champion Cruz Pedregon. Pedregon had wins over Jason Rupert, John Force, and Alexis DeJoria. Just like the semifinals, it was again a close race. Both reaction times were similar but race victory went to Pedregon who won with a 3.839 at 335.65 mph.
While Pedregon was the race winner, Capps became a three-time Funny Car champion for the first time as a team owner and the first driver to repeat as champion for the first time in 20 years. The last driver to repeat himself as Funny Car champion was John Force in the early ’00s.
“Anything you put your mind to, you can do with great people around you,” said Capps, who is only the seventh Funny Car driver to win no fewer than three titles. “I can’t even tell you how it feels right now. This is for the NAPA AutoCare folks, all NAPA AutoCare owners – 6,000 strong – and everyone at home to put on a Ron Capps and NAPA jersey and watch Fox Sports on the couch; gear wrench; and of course Toyota comes on board. But most of all my family, we have played an incredible role this year. I’m sure you’ve seen me grow pretty old in the last year or so.”
Since it was the last race of the year, crew chief John Medlen is also retiring. He also walks away with a win.
“Sending Medlen away and sending one of these[Wallys]to his cabin in Georgia is going to be phenomenal,” Capps said. “He means so much to us”
“We both grew up crew guys — I met him as a crew guy at John Force’s,” Capps said. “We feel like two children playing marbles in the field. It’s phenomenal that we can have fun and do this.”
Final scoring of the Funny Car Championship
- Ron Capps, 2,682 points
- Robert Height, -3
- Matt Hagan, -95
- Bob Tasca III, -178
- John Force, -192
- Cruz Pedregón, -272
- Alexis DeJoria, -310
- JR Todd, -338
- Tim Wilkerson, -339
- Blake Alexander, -483
Funny auto pomona results
- Cruz Pedregon
- Ron Capp
- Alexis DeJoria
- Bob Tasca III
- Tim Wilkerson
- Steven Densham
- Robert Hohe
- John Kraft
- Chad Green
- Jim Campbell
- JR Todd
- Jason Rupert
- Blake Alexander
- Matt Hagan
- Paul Lee
- Jeff Arend