Capps shines in Skip Barber race

Updated: August 29, 2004, 1:19 AM ET
By Bill Stephens | ESPN

He's won national events in Top Fuel and Funny Car, been invited to test in the IROC series, driven a Busch stocker and a sprint car in the infamous Chili Bowl. And now, Ron Capps has not only made a major splash in another racing venue, he's taken the checkered flag in his rookie debut.

On Saturday, in the rain, Capps not only won the pole position at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, in the sportsman division of the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Road Racing Series, he won the 15 lap race later in the day.

The Mid-Ohio course is a 15-turn, 2.4 mile layout and is one of the most challenging road courses in the country. It's diving turns and changes in elevation make for a true test of overall car control and Capps' skills in the open-wheeled, scaled down, Indy-type single seat racecar capable of speeds up to 135 mph were impressive.

"It was gnarly out there," said Capps, a 39-year-old from San Luis Obispo, Calif. "The guy that qualified No. 2, Mike Distaulo, was filling my rearview mirrors the whole time. He actually passed me on one corner and led for a second but I got him right back on the next turn and then held on for dear life."

With Saturday's victory tucked under his belts, Capps will earn a spot in Sunday's points-earning event which will place him on the grid with many of the top Barber Series regulars entered in the race.

Capps led all 15 laps of Saturday's race, a remarkable feat when measured against the dramatically short amount of time he spends in his regular ride, the Skoal Monte Carlo Funny Car owned by Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. Add to that the fact that driving an 8000-horsepower Funny Car in a straight line on dry pavement shares little if anything in common with the car and conditions he mastered on Saturday at Mid-Ohio lends an even greater dimension of achievement to his victory.

"The rain really made it uncomfortable for me," said Capps. "Prior to the race I'd only had about four hours of seat time and only a little bit of that was with rain tires on, but I just drove by feel and it worked out. It was quite a thrill and, let me tell you, it wears you out. I need to go back to my 4.7-second Funny Car and get some rest.

"I have to thank the guys at the Columbus Dispatch newspaper," he said. "I guess they did a little story on me racing up here this weekend and since we're just about an hour north of Columbus, a lot of the fans that are into drag racing and come to National Trail Raceway every year when we're there came up to cheer me on today. It was awesome."

His strategy for Sunday's race?

"I'm gonna race like I'm Mario Andretti," Capps said. "Marco Andretti, Michael's son, is the points leader in one of these divisions. I won't be racing him but all the guys I will be racing have that level of expertise. This will be serious stuff and I hope I can hold my own. That's the plan."

Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN and ESPN.com.