Something this cool doesn’t just happen everyday in today’s bland, corporate America. Fifty years after Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme won the 1973 NHRA U.S. Nationals in Funny Car, reigning event champion Ron Capps put the iconic ‘Snake’ Hot Wheels livery back in the Indy winner’s circle.
The throwback look and matching uniforms were inspired by Prudhomme’s iconic Hot Wheels Funny Cars from the early 1970s,. Snake’s car back then was an Plymouth Barracuda, while Capps’ car is a Toyota Supra racing at a Dodge-sponsored race. Capps has a season-long deal with NAPA, but Hot Wheels dominates the livery on the Supra. So with so many sponsor conflicts, how did all this come together?
Watch Snake and Capps talk about that—and winning—in this press conference:
Capps drove for the legendary Prudhomme early in his career, and to honor one of the sport’s icons and end up in the winner’s circle at the world’s biggest drag race had a historic meaning for the back-to-back Funny Car world champion.
“You can’t dream this big,” said Capps. “I mean, you could hope, and you can put all this stuff together and we did it to have some fun to do something cool for Indy. This just doesn’t happen, that you just put this together and hope that it’s going to have some success and you end up winning. This is an unbelievable thing. To win here, to win Indy with my brother (Top Fuel winner) Antron (Brown) again is massive. This whole week has just been a blast and we earned every bit of it today. It was very cool.”
“It’s just amazing,” added Prudhomme. “When he first sent me the paint scheme it brought a tear to my eye. I thought ‘This thing’s beautiful.’ It’s just this is something I’m going to remember for a long time.”
Qualifying was jam-packed with five sessions, including eliminations in two specialty races. Capps posted a 3.917-second pass in the first session to sit fourth on Friday night. In the second session on Saturday, which doubled as the first round of the final Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge of the season, Capps was the fourth quickest of the session yet again to beat Bob Tasca III.
The Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge final round was an old-school duel between Capps in ‘The Snake’ car and Funny Car veteran John Force. Capps was quicker early in the run, but had to lift down track in a losing effort. Still, he secured the overall season championship in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge program, earning 14 playoff bonus points in the process.
Capps was one of eight drivers to qualify for the Pep Boys NHRA Funny Car All-Star Callout, which took place on Sunday. The defending All-Star Callout winner, Capps was called out by Robert Hight, who went on to defeat Ron in the first round.
Capps wrapped up qualifying with a 3.954-second effort, the quickest run of the session, to earn four bonus points. Crew chief Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli gave Capps his best car of the weekend in the opening round of eliminations, as the Hot Wheels/NAPA GR Supra charged to a 3.894 E.T. at 326.87 MPH to defeat Dale Creasy Jr.
Racing in hotter conditions, Capps and second-round opponent Matt Hagan both had to pedal aggressively to reach the finish line. Capps made it there first, guaranteeing that he’d start the Countdown to the Championship as the points leader and the regular-season champion. A 4.029-second win over a tire-smoking Hight in the semifinals sent Capps to his third consecutive U.S. Nationals final round and second consecutive final round overall after winning Brainerd two weeks before Indy.
Capps used his best reaction time of the day to leave on fellow past Indy winner J.R. Todd in the finals. He held the lead through the 1,000-foot finish line, winning with a 3.986-second pass at 323.27 MPH. It was Capps’ third win of the season in six final rounds, bringing his career win count to 76.
While Capps is now his own team owner, the Indy win is his 14th NHRA Funny Car win with Prudhomme. He drove for Prudhomme’s Snake Racing team from 1997 through 2004, and while he wasn’t able to deliver an Indy win during that time, he made up for it with Monday’s historic victory.
“It’s full circle,” Capps said. “When I was going to go off and do my own thing as a team owner, (Prudhomme) was the first person I called after my mom and dad. I asked him if he’d like to come hang out. I wasn’t calling him to help, or to see if he wanted to bring a sponsor. I just wanted him to come out and enjoy the drag races.
“Fast forward and it’s just been in my head, wanting to do a real, true throwback. And thankfully, Katherine (Wooten) and Marti (Walsh) at NAPA understood the legacy and how cool this could be, and they made sure we did it the right way. It’s very cool to be someone who was picked to drive for him.”
Prudhomme spent the entire U.S. Nationals weekend with Capps and his team, from the warmup on Friday afternoon through to the quiet moments after the winner’s circle. “I thoroughly enjoyed myself this weekend,” Prudhomme said. “I appreciate the media, and I appreciate the fans out here. It was amazing, the amount of autographs we signed at the Toyota booth, the amount of people that brought their Hot Wheels cars and just different stuff from the past. It made me really stop and think that maybe we made a little dent into this whole NHRA thing. I’m just very proud to be a part of it. To have the Hot Wheels flame on the car, it’s something I’m going to remember for a long time.”
The car also earned the Best Appearing Car and Best Appearing Crew awards.
Capps will now carry the points lead into the six-race Countdown to the Championship. The second-year driver/owner will kick off his ‘Capps Trick’ playoff campaign – going for three championships in a row – at the NHRA Nationals, Sept. 15-17, at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
FUNNY CAR results:
ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.899, 332.43 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.061, 300.80; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota GR Supra, 3.889, 331.61 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.187, 253.90; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.889, 329.67 def. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.119, 258.81; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.914, 329.91 def. Alex Laughlin, Charger, 6.157, 108.84; Ron Capps, GR Supra, 3.894, 326.87 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 4.605, 193.24; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.962, 324.36 def. John Force, Camaro, 3.998, 318.69; J.R. Todd, GR Supra, 3.913, 304.19 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.972, 324.83; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.913, 329.58 def. Chad Green, Mustang, 3.989, 328.94;
QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.974, 327.66 def. Tasca III, 3.945, 327.11; Pedregon, 3.944, 325.30 def. DeJoria, 3.973, 326.48; Hight, 3.952, 318.99 def. Wilkerson, 5.032, 152.37; Capps, 4.582, 235.19 def. Hagan, 5.146, 184.50;
SEMIFINALS — Todd, 4.007, 326.32 def. Pedregon, 5.557, 133.16; Capps, 4.029, 323.50 def. Hight, 5.580, 138.43;
FINAL — Capps, 3.986, 323.27 def. Todd, 4.131, 288.09.
Funny Car points:
1. Ron Capps, 1,250; 2. Matt Hagan, 1,139; 3. Robert Hight, 1,068; 4. Bob Tasca III, 985; 5. J.R. Todd, 930; 6. Alexis DeJoria, 926; 7. Chad Green, 914; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 902; 9. John Force, 799; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 738.
photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey, NHRA and AB Motorsports, video by NHRA