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NHRA Funny Car driver Capps presents Sonoma Nationals trophy to Riebe

Brian Shepard
Sports Writer
Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing speeds down the track in his Napa Auto Parts Charger at over 300 mph to edge fellow driver John Force in the Funny Car final at the NHRA's Mello Yello Drag Racing Series 26th annual Sonoma Nationals Sunday in Sonoma.
autoimagery.com/submitted photo | autoimagery.com/submitted photo

Through a generous act of love and appreciation, Ron Capps’ trophy for winning Funny Car at the National Hot Rod Association’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series 26th annual Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma now belongs to Bart Riebe, owner of Riebe’s Auto Parts.

After the race in the winner’s circle, a special moment took place when Capps presented the trophy to Riebe. Riebe’s Auto Parts opened its doors to Grass Valley when its original store began in 1956, and it has since expanded to 20 stores serving the communities of Northern California from Chico to Jackson.

“(Capps) said, ‘You’ll have to clean a little champagne off it, but it’s going to be okay,’” said Riebe of Capps after being handed the trophy. “He said to me, ‘Bart, don’t leave.’ So I stuck around, then he said, ‘I want you to have this thing.’ I said, ‘I can’t take this. You’ve worked so hard.’ I didn’t say ‘no’ twice.”

By an estimated margin of victory of six feet, Capps capped off a brilliant run in his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing in the Funny Car final in the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway. With a great start, Capps jumped out to a lead at the green and stayed out in front of 15-time season champion John Force to take the race on a hole shot.

“As close as it was, it was pretty cool,” said Capps, the Sonoma Raceway winner three of the last four seasons. “Winning there was pretty special. It’s always nice to win when it’s sort of your home track. Having all the Napa customers and, on top of it, having Bart there and employees, just celebrating with lots of friends and family. To win and hand Bart the trophy afterwards was pretty neat. Don (Schumacher) and I and my crew chief all signed it and gave it to him.”

In attendance among all the loyal Napa Auto Parts customers were guests Jeff Arnswald and Sean Metroka. Arnswald is a local CHP Lieutenant and participates in Bear River’s Every 15 Minutes program, and Metroka is an ex-Marine with 32 years of service and chief executive officer of the Nevada County Superior Court, said Jay Cooper, customer service representative for Napa Auto Parts and longtime resident of Grass Valley.

“We rented two tower suites at the starting line,” explained Cooper. “Saturday night at dinner, Ron invited everyone to the winner’s circle should he win.”

Riebe described his experience from the suite above the race track.

“We were glued to the windows,” Riebe said. “We had a real good group this year, lots of racing enthusiasts. It’s fun to have those people there. Ron had a good launch. The clutch comes in after to get it moving. He looked up and never back. Our group went nuts.”

Capps, a San Luis Obispo native, edged out Force in the finals in the 1,000-foot race accelerating to a blistering 307.79 mph to hit the finish line in 4.085 seconds. It was his fourth career win in the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, and it moved him to second place in the season standings.

“These cars are pretty much the quickest on the planet,” Capps said. “They’re pretty extraordinary to drive — upwards of five Gs, sometimes six, six and a half. There’s a lot of stuff going on around you. We call it ‘controlled chaos.’ I didn’t know who won. Neither did Force. I could hear him on my side, but it was one of those races you didn’t know until afterwards.”

It was an emotionally draining experience for some of the other spectators as well who had invested so much into rooting for Capps all weekend.

“One of our customers, an honorary crew member, was in tears over it,” Riebe added. “The anticipation is incredible. It becomes addictive. There’s so much to that sport. To have 7,000-8,000 horsepower takes real skill. It’s a very technical thing.”

Another remarkable feat also occurred Sunday after Capps earned the victory at Sonoma raceway. Capps’ win under Napa Auto Parts was matched just five weeks prior at Sonoma by NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. who won the Sprint Cup Series race. Truex Jr. is also sponsored by Napa Auto Parts, and according to Capps and Riebe, this may have been the first time NASCAR and the NHRA drivers have won on the same track in the same season under the same sponsor.

“I’m not sure,” added Capps. “It’s pretty rare.”

Riebe thought the accomplishment was definitely history in the making.

“I don’t think it’s ever happened,” said Riebe. “It’s very unique. I was at Sonoma when Truex won. I sat on the pit box the entire race. It was real exciting!”

As far as the trophy is concerned, Capps, who gets behind the wheel again today in Seattle, can drive well knowing it’s in good hands.

“We’re building a nice display case for it,” said Riebe. “We plan to take it on tour in our stores, probably beginning around the first of September. It’s kind of cool we have something from Capps. I still can’t believe it. There’s more to him than just racing. Napa is really fortunate to have someone like him.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, email bshepard@theunion.com or call 530-477-4234.


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