NHRA: With moment gone, is success Capped?

You never know when your moment has passed forever. There’s always tomorrow. At least, that’s the hope.

For Ron Capps, tomorrow has not yet come.

The best NHRA funny car driver to not win a championship suffered through a Powerade Drag Racing season that was about as successful as John Edwards’ campaign, but without the revelations of adultery.

So, at least he has that going for him.

If Edwards wanted to be president, Capps was the man who was almost king. He lost by eight measly points to teammate Gary Scelzi in 2005.

“Being that close, you think if you do it and can just get that ring on your finger, you think your life would be complete,” Capps said. “You don’t want to be a guy who’s out there just to be out there.”

After finishing second in 2005, he took third in 2006. He started thinking, “It’s just a matter of time.”

In last season’s Countdown format, Capps was in first place after 17 of the first 19 races, including the 14 preceding the playoff. Then, he faded to fourth and the title went to Tony Pedregon.

“A week after Pomona, every funny car driver had forgotten that Tony won the championship,” Capps said. “It’s not that big a deal unless you’re the person who won it.

“Or the person who lost it.”

The 2008 season figured to belong to Capps, Pedregon or Robert Hight.

With NAPA Auto Parts on board as a sponsor for the first year, and Capps not even close in the championship, the performance by the Dodge Charger owned by Don Schumacher Racing has been the season’s biggest disappointment. Coming off his semifinal finish at Richmond, Va., Capps moved up three spots, to seventh place.

Seventh!

With only Pomona remaining, Capps is eighth and — more importantly — still looking for his first victory after winning 11 times from 2005-07.

Rookie funny car driver Melanie Troxel won this season. Tony Bartone and Del Worsham have victories, too, and their seasons have been even worse than Capps’.

He has been to the finals only once, and for a driver and team of this caliber, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

“Every time I win a race, I relish it. You have to,” he said. “In our sport especially, you think it will come again, but you really don’t know.”

Cory McClenathan has finished second in the top fuel championship four times and has 30 victories. He won twice in 2000, and was out of a ride in 2001. That’s how quickly things can change. He has won only three times since.

Doug Kalitta had the Top Fuel title all but clinched two seasons ago before Tony Schumacher’s improbable finale at Pomona left the Kalitta camp stunned and in second place. Kalitta has won one race since, none this season.

Capps’ words reverberate through his head: “But you don’t really know.”

Capps was so close to winning the championship in 2006 he could taste it. In the offseason, he would walk down the streets of Carlsbad, Calif., and out of the blue the significance of the moment would knock him over. One second he’s thinking about lunch, the next he’s thinking to himself, “Damn, I was this close to being champion.”

It seemed he would have other chances. But chances can be fleeting. Maybe that’s why we should believe drivers when they say every victory is special.

There are no guarantees that the opportunity will be revisited. Capps may have given way to Jack Beckman. Maybe John Force has won his last title — or last race — and given way to Tim Wilkerson. Or maybe this is Wilkerson’s one chance of a lifetime.

But there’s a difference.

John Force has 14 titles and Ron Capps has none. And there are no guarantees that 2009 or beyond will be any different.

It’s racing. It’s reality. And it can be a cold one.

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