NHRA: Capps a force as drag racing ambassador

He has the looks of a movie star from the 1940s, when a charming smile and an imperfect hairline were acceptable to the masses.

Ron Capps would be at home in the Golden Age of Television or the Golden Globes of 2008.

See, Ron Capps gets it. With his easygoing, affable manner he is usually the most likable person in the room, unless the room is Whit Bazemore’s den.

The best compliment Capps can be paid is that he would be at home with the legends of racing.

A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, they were willing to drive anything anywhere. They weren’t specialists, like so many drivers today. They were racecar drivers. Strap ’em in and get outta their way.

Capps is not of that caliber. Those guys are legends. But Capps comes from the same mold, different material. So do guys like Robby Gordon and Max Papis.

In the straight line world of the Powerade NHRA Drag Racing Series, Capps is the sport’s greatest ambassador not named John Force, which is to say that Capps is willing to turn left on purpose.

Capps will get into anything at the risk of great personal embarrassment and take his shot. He tried his hand at Late Model racing on Oct. 25, reached the 100-lap main event, and finished sixth among 25 cars. He has been the NHRA rep at Tony Stewart’s Prelude to a Dream, and tested in the IROC cars before that series went belly-up.

As the drag racing face of NAPA Auto Parts, Capps will probably make the trip to Eldora Speedway for Stewart’s dirt party. He desperately would love another chance to race on asphalt for veteran car owner Bill McAnally.

“Bill McAnally has left that door open,” Capps said. “I’d love to race on a little bit bigger track with a bigger groove, like Irwindale Speedway.”

That can do nothing but help drag racing. NASCAR officials told Capps how much they like NHRA and how they follow the sport. And it’s true. Earlier this season I spent some time at California Speedway with Jimmy Elledge, the crew chief for A.J. Allmendinger before he was replaced as driver.

On the flat screen in the office: The final round of qualifying for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

McAnally is one of the great patrons of Saturday night racing in America. On that same night in Roseville, Calif., at All American Speedway, he fielded the winning Late Model car for Bobby Grewohl, and his driver Eric Holmes clinched the NASCAR Camping World Series West championship.

“Ron is a very smart race-car driver,” McAnally said of the three-time runner-up in the funny car class. “He did a great job. He was smart, used his head, he was patient in the race car, he was aggressive when he needed to be aggressive. For his first time in a NASCAR stock car he did a fantastic job.

“This was a big open show, so we had track champions here from Altamont, Madera, Roseville. We had the best of the best shooting it out for some big money. He stayed out of trouble on a tight, third-mile bullring and didn’t have a scratch on the car.”

It’s a fantastic result for Capps personally, and a great moment for drag racing nationally. Racecar drivers tend to be racecar drivers. Defending NHRA funny car champion Tony Pedregon competed in the Toyota Celebrity Race at Long Beach earlier this year and finished second among the professionals, and passed all but three celebrities despite giving them a 30-second head start.

It’s great marketing fun for drag racing, and hopefully the NHRA can seize the opportunity to generate more fans. There are enough personalities within the sport to fill an entire season of “What’s My Line?”

More often than not, Ron Capps’ line is straight, but he has shown to be very good when he decides to turn, too.

Still, his future remains with drag racing and owner Don Schumacher.

“I’m very happy where I’m at,” he said. “I really do believe every time I do different forms of racing it helps me in the seat of my NAPA funny car. There are many things you can take with you from one form of racing to another. And I think that’s why you see the better race car drivers in the world racing in different series. I think it really helps them.”

Capps should know. He’s one of them.

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