SONOMA — Nobody has owned Sonoma Raceway like Funny Car driver Ron Capps in recent years. He won in 2010 and 2011, and followed up with another victory Sunday after a one-year hiatus, beating veteran John Force on a hole shot (when quicker reaction time trumps a slower official elapsed time down the track) in the final.

It all makes sense, seeing as how this is as close as it gets to a home track for Capps, who grew up in San Luis Obispo and watched races here with his dad as a child.

Capps feels he's had plenty of help in Sonoma lately. He noted after the race — his 40th career win, and his second this season — that when he won two years ago, he was thinking a lot about late Funny Car driver Eric Medlen, who died in a crash at Gainesville, Fla., in 2007 and is honored here every year with a team dinner. This time it was John Cardinale, the revered Sonoma Raceway media whiz who succumbed to gastric cancer in March.

"All day, I wanted to dedicate a win to John Cardinale, who was just a great guy and instrumental in a lot of things that happened around here," Capps said. "Just so used to seeing his face when I come up here. It was sad not to see him. I didn't want to say anything. I thought, 'I really want to get this win and just dedicate it to him and his kids and his wife.' "

Mission accomplished. Capps not only satisfied his personal goal, he saved the day for Don Schumacher Racing. NHRA's dominant race team entered the day with three of the top five Top Fuel dragsters, and four of the top six Funny Cars, but Capps was the only DSR driver to make it to the finals.

"I was just going up the hill, going, 'Yes! The man in the red shirt will be able to come to the winner's circle,' " Capps said. "And I felt much better about that."

The man in red, of course, is team owner Don Schumacher.


Before a run down the drag strip, an NHRA driver performs a "burnout" to heat up the tires and lay down rubber for better traction, then slowly backs up to the start line. The driver's crew waters down the track where the burnout was performed, and this area is called the "water box."

Vincent Nobile was still in the water box before the Pro Stock final when he knew something was terribly wrong. His engine didn't sound right, and that's not a feeling that inspires confidence.

"I was a little bummed out," Nobile said after Sunday's final. "That's really tough to do in a car, especially in the final round, to try and set that aside and say, 'OK, I just need to do my job now,' but to listen to that thing ding-a-lingin' in my head. It was broken."

Nobile ventured forth anyway, and he wound up with a victory after opponent Jeg Coughlin's car shuddered and slowed when it should have been shifting into third gear. Nobile won in 6.572 seconds, a time that wouldn't have claimed many Pro Stock races Sunday, despite further adventures near the finish line.

"It actually blew up real bad at the stripe," said Nobile, currently a student at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.

"But I was ahead, and I was pushing my foot through the radiator. I didn't care at that point."


Funny Car driver Johnny Gray's day ended with a loss in the second round. Fortunately, it didn't end in disaster. Gray's car veered over the center line and into opponent John Force's lane after an explosion basically ripped his vehicle in two, but Force saw the incident and managed to veer a few feet to his right to avoid Gray.

Gray was driving blind amidst the flames and smoke, and he blamed a new NHRA dual tethering device designed to prevent debris from flying off of cars.

The device did its job; it also blocked Gray's vision with a tethered chunk of his vehicle.

"As I told them, I'm 60 years old, I'm not sure I want to race in Seattle (next week) with this new invention on the car that has good capabilities of getting me hurt," he said.

"Had this taken place at 1,000 feet instead of (near the 330-foot marker), I'd have been in the sand trap and this wouldn't have been a good deal. I don't know how much the other drivers will voice their opinion to the media or to NHRA, but they all voiced their opinion to me. They're all scared to death."

Gray plans to retire from the Mello Yello points competition next year and race a limited schedule.

"I told them I didn't want to be the 60-year-old guinea pig, but I guess I was," he said.


The points standings didn't budge after Sunday's racings. The leaders remain Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan in Funny Car, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Part-time Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Katie Sullivan made the semifinals for the first time in her career.

Winners on Sunday's undercard included Bob Button in Top Dragster, Jeff Gillette in Top Sportsman, Rick Beckstrom in Super Gas, Steve Williams in Super Comp, Dan Fletcher in Stock Eliminator and Jody Lang in Super Stock. Three of them are Northern Californians. Beckstrom is based in Novato, Gillette in Benicia and Button in Winters.

Eric Reyes of Petaluma was the top qualifier in the Stock Eliminator class.