As one of the most accomplished students of the great history of NHRA drag racing, Ron Capps gets goose bumps just thinking about returning to Kansas to compete in a professional drag race.
Due to the flat landscape and its central proximity to the rest of the country, in 1955 Kansas served as the official host for NHRA's first "National Event," on an airstrip near the town of Great Bend. It was simply called "The Nationals," and with that event, hot-rodding enthusiasts across the U.S. could test their machines against the best of the best.
That race evolved into what is today the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, but Kansas has solidified its place in NHRA drag racing history. Topeka's Heartland Park has hosted NHRA Full Throttle Series events since 1989 and in some seasons hosted two events per year. Today the track is regarded as one of the fastest on the circuit and every year drivers get to return and pay homage to the sport's roots.
"What is so special to me is just going to Kansas to race where it really all started," Capps said. "I'm a West Coast guy, but the first NHRA national event 57 years ago was held here in Kansas at Great Bend. Now, Heartland Park Topeka is a long way from what it was like at Great Bend, but the spirit of competition is still there."
Capps' competitive spirit is at an all-time high right now as the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger driver is riding a wave of momentum from his first victory of the season two weeks ago at Atlanta Dragway. After Capps failed to qualify for the Las Vegas event in April, team owner Don Schumacher made a change to Capps' team, reassigning veteran crew chief Rahn Tobler to the job. Since then, the team has produced great results and has advanced to three consecutive finals rounds, ultimately winning at Atlanta.
Capps is ready to keep his hot streak going at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals, May 18-20 at Heartland Park Topeka. Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be televised on ESPN2HD.
"This is such a great team, and right from the get-go in Charlotte, the first run reminded me how fun it can be to race again," Capps said. "When Don (Schumacher, team owner) made the move and put me with Rahn (Tobler) and John Collins, I'm telling you, it was just unbelievable. It is so much fun to get in the car and know it's going to be a hot rod."
With the win, Capps moved into a tie for second place in the point standings with Mike Neff, who failed to qualify for the race in Atlanta after winning in Houston. The series leader, Hight, has won the last two events at HPT and will be trying for a three-peat in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Earlier this season, Hight won four consecutive races to open up a big lead on the rest of the top 10 drivers in the category.
While Hight has dominated at the Kansas track in recent years, Capps has had quite a bit of success himself at Heartland Park during his career. He's claimed wins there in 1998, 2006 and 2009. He posted a runner-up finish to John Force there in 2000.
"We won for the first time there in 1998 beating Al Hofmann, but it wasn't until eight years later when we won again," Capps said. "We have been able to celebrate there three times, so I like the track."