BRISTOL — Make it half a dozen for Ron Capps.
The two-time and defending NHRA Funny Car champion defeated Tim Wilkerson in Sunday’s Funny Car final at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol Dragway. It was a record for the California driver’s sixth Bristol Funny Car win and also tied him with Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher for the most Nitro wins at the iconic East Tennessee drag strip.
Justin Ashley won the Top Fuel crown to prevent Shawn Langdon from doubling down after Langdon’s win in Super Comp.
Capps’ run to his second win of the season, the first for the Toyota Supra bodywork and 70th of his career, included a win over Paul Lee on the opening lap, blowing up the engine at the end of the run.
“What a run we did together and when I got off the gas, boom,” Capps said. “I thought, ‘Oh, our new GR Supra body.’ But it did minimal damage. We had another body in the truck but it was such a dream to drive that car. All the safety work during the off season paid off. After that it was like a bracket car. ”
With quick work from his crew, he scored a win over No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight in the quarterfinals. Capps defeated defending race winner Alexis DeJoria in the semifinals for his 134th outing on the final round.
The final was a rematch of the 2021 US Nationals, which Wilkerson won. This time the Toyota Supra went from Capps 3.984 seconds and 324.36 mph to 4.075 and 315.68 mph for Wilkerson’s Ford Mustang.
John Force, the 16-time world champion, advanced to the semifinals where he lost to Wilkerson. Force had advanced by beating Cruz Pedregon in the quarterfinals. It was the 110th meeting between the experienced drivers.
It was the first final of the season that didn’t involve points leaders Hight or Matt Hagan, each a three-time winner. Capps noted that some had referred to this season as a two-car race.
“After our last race, they said it was a two-car race,” Capps said. “I’m sure the locker room equipment was for everyone for a two-car race in early June? It gave me a small arsenal, but I thought I wouldn’t say anything until we win the race.
“It shows how cool Funny Car really is. One guy I always bring up is Tim Wilkerson. To see him come alive the way he did, he’s going to have a hard time this summer.”
Ashley made the final lap for a second race in a row. However, he had to come from the number 14 qualifying spot in the 16-car field. The New York racer defeated Josh Hart, the qualifier’s runner-up, in the first round and defeated Doug Foley in the quarterfinals. He took on the challenge of knocking down four-time defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence in the semi-finals.
“Beating Steve in the semi-finals was amazing. I have a lot of respect for Steve and his team,” said Ashley. “But we were focused on our team. It was about racing on the track and our team. (Crew Chiefs) Mike Green and Tommy DeLago did a great job and we were lucky enough to take the win.”
Ashley shot down the track at 325.30 mph in 3.813 seconds to the best Langdon’s 3.841 pass at 320.51 mph in the final.
Langdon eliminated two-time defending champion Mike Salinas in the quarter-finals and Antron Brown in the semi-finals. Brown defeated points leader Brittany Force in a round 2 matchup.
It was Ashley’s second win of the season and fourth in his career. It was at the top of his Father’s Day list. The trophy was the perfect gift for his father, Mike, who won the Pro Mod class at the 1990 IHRA Spring Nationals.
“Bristol has so much history. You see all the famous names have been inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Justin said. “It is a privilege to race here and Father’s Day weekend is even more prestigious. It was very important to win on a track where he had won.
“I used to tease him and tell him it’s impossible to shop for him. I said to him, ‘You’re welcome. Here’s something I can give you.’ It’s so great to win for my dad on Father’s Day.”