The 53-year-old California native has spent most of his life on the West Coast, but when it comes to racing, there’s nowhere he likes driving his Funny Car better than Bristol Dragway, the site of this weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
The driver of the Don Schumacher Racing NAPA Dodge is the two-time defending champion of the race and holds the record as five-time event champion. However, his love for Bristol and the Tri-Cities area goes beyond racing.
“I remember all the history with the Carriers and the legends of the track. Then (owner) Bruton Smith did such an amazing job with the track,” Capps said. “Since the first time I went there, I fell in love with the place, the people. The first time I was there, I had a neck problem in between races, and a local chiropractor took me in and had me over for dinner with the family. He helped my neck problem, took me in as family and we won the race.
“It’s a great race to go to as a fan. But I can tell you as racers, there isn’t a better group of people track-wise and fan-wise that we see on the schedule.”
The 2016 NHRA Funny Car world champion loves the racing heritage at Thunder Valley. It’s a place where drag racing legends “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and John Force have won, as well as NASCAR’s all-time win leader Richard Petty.
For Capps, who ranks No. 2 on the all-time Funny Car win list with 62 victories, it’s a place he gets to one-up his longest running rival.
“Every time I go by Bruton’s suite, I walk by this storied wall of Hall of Fame drag racers who have raced there,” Capps said. “It’s fun walking up there. It makes you want to puff out your chest when you realize what’s gone on at that place. Anytime you can win at a track more than John Force — he seems to hold every Funny Car record, I seem to be second — to know I have one up on John Force there, it’s only fitting it’s the Thunder Valley track.”
Capps also hosts the track’s elapsed time record, set in his championship season of 2016. Last year, he placed 11th in qualifying, but rolled through eliminations, beating Force in the opening round, Robert Hight in the quarterfinals, eventual series champion J.R. Todd in the semifinals and Bob Tasca in the championship round.
He also brings in the momentum of being a two-time winner at the tour’s other Southeastern races in Atlanta and Richmond. Currently fourth in the NHRA Mello Yello point standings, he looks to gain ground at Bristol, which he not only loves but often recommends to fans as one of the best places to see a drag race.
“I’ve won Bristol with different crew chiefs. You sort of feel the mojo,” he said. “Every race you roll in there, you just feel like you have something special going on. It’s one of my top three tracks that I’ll mention to someone who has never been to a drag race.
“Last year it was so hot, and the track was tricky, and it was just a battle of attrition. It demands a lot out of the teams in those conditions, and that’s where I seem to thrive. When it’s the end of the day, and everyone is worn out, and you have to dig a little deeper to get the job done and rise to the occasion, I really love it when it’s like that.”