A year ago it was Tony Pedregon capturing the headlines with his fiery explosion in qualifying at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona that got the attention of everyone, and right on cue with what is becoming an annual rite of passage for the Funny Car category, it was Ron Capps who brought the crowd to their feet on Friday, exploding his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger in spectacular fashion during the second session.
The explosion came at the conclusion of a stout 4.01-second, 304.67 MPH blast, as the nitro-burning powerplant in his flopper let go in spectacular fashion, splitting the body in half and sending everything from the windshield on back high into the air in a million pieces, some of those small and some of them large. Teammate Jack Beckman, who slowed in the opposite lane, found himself right in the path of one of those larger chunks of the splintered carbon fiber body, smashing into a section of it and doing some considerable damage to the nose of his Valvoline-backed machine.
As shown on the live ESPN3 broadcast, Capps brought the battered machine to a safe stop but appeared visibly shaken from the concussion of the explosion, as one would expect with such significant forces. After gathering himself, the veteran nitro pilot climbed from the cockpit with the assistance of the Safety Safari and was checked out and released by the on-site medical staff.
“I’m OK. That was pretty sudden,” he said, laughing a few minutes after getting out of the car. “These Funny Cars are fun to drive, but that’s going to happen once in a while.
“To be honest when I was a kid standing at the fence at Lions Drag Strip (a legendary track from 1955-72 in the Los Angeles area) I wanted to be a Funny Car driver because I saw guys like ‘Snake’ (Don Prudhomme) and Don Schumacher blowing up like this, so I guess I asked for too much.
“But a helluva of a job by (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and the NAPA guys for a great run, and it was an exciting shutdown. Hey, we’re in the show.”
Despite the bad fortune, Capps’ run was quick enough to close out the day third in provisional Funny Car qualifying, behind John Force and Robert Hight.