Fifty years after Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme won the 1973 NHRA U.S. Nationals in Funny Car, reigning event champion Ron Capps put the iconic ‘Snake’ Hot Wheels livery back in the winner’s circle at the 69th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals on Monday at Indianapolis Raceway Park. With Prudhomme standing behind Capps’ Hot Wheels/NAPA Toyota GR Supra on the starting line, Capps defeated J.R. Todd in the Funny Car final round to win his second consecutive ‘Big Go’ Wally in his third consecutive final round at the prestigious race.
With support from NAPA Auto Parts and Toyota, Capps unveiled the tribute livery in his Ron Capps Motorsports pit area on Friday. Prudhomme then hopped in the cockpit to warm up the 11,000-horsepower Funny Car before the first qualifying session. The throwback look and matching uniforms, which were inspired by Prudhomme’s iconic Hot Wheels Funny Cars from the early 1970s, earned the Best Appearing Car and Best Appearing Crew awards.
Qualifying was jam-packed with five sessions, including eliminations in two specialty races. Capps posted a 3.917-second pass in the first session to sit fourth on Friday night. In the second session on Saturday, which doubled as the first round of the final Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge of the season, Capps was the fourth quickest of the session yet again to beat Bob Tasca III.
The Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge final round was an old-school duel between Capps in ‘The Snake’ car and Funny Car veteran John Force. Capps was quicker early in the run, but had to lift down track in a losing effort. Still, he secured the overall season championship in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge program, earning 14 playoff bonus points in the process.
Capps was one of eight drivers to qualify for the Pep Boys NHRA Funny Car All-Star Callout, which took place on Sunday. Capps, the defending All-Star Callout winner, was called out by Robert Hight, who went on to defeat Capps in the first round.
Capps wrapped up qualifying with a 3.954-second effort, the quickest run of the session, to earn four bonus points.
Crew chief Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli gave Capps his best car of the weekend in the opening round of eliminations, as the Hot Wheels/NAPA GR Supra charged to a 3.894 E.T. at 326.87 MPH to defeat Dale Creasy Jr. Racing in hotter conditions, Capps and second-round opponent Matt Hagan both had to pedal aggressively to reach the finish line. Capps made it there first, guaranteeing that he’d start the Countdown to the Championship as the points leader and the regular-season champion. A 4.029-second win over a tire-smoking Hight in the semifinals sent Capps to his third consecutive U.S. Nationals final round and second consecutive final round overall after winning Brainerd two weeks before Indy.
Capps used his best reaction time of the day to leave on fellow past Indy winner J.R. Todd in the finals. He held the lead through the 1,000-foot finish line, winning with a 3.986-second pass at 323.27 MPH. It was Capps’ third win of the season in six final rounds, bringing his career win count to 76.
While Capps is now his own team owner, the Indy win is his 14th NHRA Funny Car win with Prudhomme. He drove for Prudhomme’s Snake Racing team from 1997 through 2004, and while he wasn’t able to deliver an Indy win during that time, he made up for it with Monday’s historic victory.
“It’s full circle. You can’t dream this big,” Capps said. “You can hope and you can put all of this stuff together and do something fun and cool for Indy. When I was going to go off and do my own thing as a team owner, (Prudhomme) was the first person I called after my mom and dad. I asked him if he’d like to come hang out. I wasn’t calling him to help, or to see if he wanted to bring a sponsor. I just wanted him to come out and enjoy the drag races.
“Between Don and his wife Lynn, who was a big part of what he and ‘Mongoose’ (Tom McEwen) did, it was emotional,” Ron Capps continued. “When I was first starting out as a team owner, he would call and text to check in on me daily. Fast forward and we had a great season last year, and it’s just been in my head, wanting to do a real, true throwback. And thankfully, Katherine (Wooten) and Marti (Walsh) at NAPA understood the legacy and how cool this could be, and they made sure we did it the right way. It’s very cool to be someone who was picked to drive for him.”
Prudhomme spent the entire U.S. Nationals weekend with Capps and his team, from the warmup on Friday afternoon through to the quiet moments after the winner’s circle.
“I thoroughly enjoyed myself this weekend,” Prudhomme said. “I appreciate the media, and I appreciate the fans out here. It was amazing, the amount of autographs we signed at the Toyota booth, the amount of people that brought their Hot Wheels cars and just different stuff from the past. It made me really stop and think that maybe we made a little dent into this whole NHRA thing. I’m just very proud to be a part of it. To have the Hot Wheels flame on the car, it’s something I’m going to remember for a long time.”
Ron Capps will now carry the points lead into the six-race Countdown to the Championship. The second-year driver/owner will kick off his ‘Capps Trick’ playoff campaign – going for three championships in a row – at the NHRA Nationals, Sept. 15-17, at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.