BRISTOL, Tenn. — Make it a half-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 at Bristol Dragway. The California driver’s record sixth Funny Car win at Bristol tied him with Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher for most Nitro wins at the iconic Northeast Tennessee dragstrip.
Justin Ashley won the Top Fuel crown to prevent Shawn Langdon from doubling up on the day after his win in Super Comp.
Capps’ run to his second victory of the season, the first for the Toyota Supra body and 70th of his career, included a win over Paul Lee in the opening round in which he blew the motor at the end of the run.
“What a run we put together and when I stepped 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 they worked on during the offseason paid off. After that, it was just like a bracket car.”
Following quick work by his crew, Capps scored a win over No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight in the quarterfinals.
Capps then beat defending race winner Alexis DeJoria in the semifinals to secure his 134th final-round appearance.
The final was a rematch of the 2021 U.S. Nationals, won by Wilkerson. This time, Capps’ Toyota Supra went 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 quarterfinal round. It was the 110th matchup between the veteran drivers.
It was the first final this season that didn’t involve either Hight or Matt Hagan, each three-time winners. Capps noted that some had called this season a two-car race.
“After our last race, they were saying it’s a two-car race,” Capps said. “I’m sure it was locker-room material for everybody for a two-car race in early June? It gave me a little arsenal, but I thought I’m not going to say anything until we win the race.
“It shows you how tough Funny Car really is. One guy I always bring up is Tim Wilkerson. To see him come alive like he did, he’s going to be tough this summer.”
Ashley made the final round for a second straight race, but this time he had to come out of the No. 14 spot in the 16-car field.
The New York racer beat No. 3 qualifier Josh Hart in Round 1 and Doug Foley in the quarterfinals.
Ashley then met the challenge of downing four-time defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence in the semifinals.
“Beating Steve in the semifinals was great. I have a lot of respect for Steve and his team,” Ashley said. “But, we were focused on our team. It was about racing the track and our team. (Crew chiefs) Mike Green and Tommy DeLago did a great job and we were fortunate to collect the win.”
In the final, Ashley rocketed down the track in 3.813 seconds at 325.30 mph to best Langdon’s 3.841 pass at 320.51 mph.
Langdon eliminated two-time defending race champion Mike Salinas in the quarterfinals and Antron Brown in the semifinal. Brown beat points leader Brittany Force in a Round 2 matchup.
The victory was Ashley’s second of the season and fourth of his career, and he said coming at Bristol on Father’s Day it ranked at the top of his list.
The trophy was the perfect gift for his father, Mike, who won the IHRA Springnationals at Bristol in the Pro Mod class in 1990.
“Bristol has so much history. You see all the famous names inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Justin Ashley said. “It’s a privilege to race here and being on Father’s Day weekend adds even more prestige. It was very important to win at a track where he had won at.
“I was teasing him earlier and telling him that he’s impossible to shop for. I told him, ‘You’re welcome. Here’s something I can give you.’
“It’s so great to win for my dad on Father’s Day,” he added.