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.