Just the Three of Us

Drag Racer - - CONTENTS - Text and Pho­tos by Stephen Jus­tice and Wayne Led­erer

SHE’S 21 YEARS OLD, HAS BEEN RACING THE HEARTBREAKER AL­TERED ROAD­STER FOR LESS THAN 24 MONTHS, AND HAS ALREADY WON TWO NHRA WALLYS. Could it be the genes? Sab­rina Capps burst onto the nos­tal­gia drag racing scene in late 2015 af­ter suc­cess­fully com­pet­ing in NHRA’s Ju­nior Drag­ster pro­gram. Her dad, Mark Capps, has been a reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pant at drag strips through­out the west for more than 30 years. Sab­rina’s emer­gence is not the usual sce­nario whereby dad turns the wheel over to his daugh­ter. Both are go­ing full bore, each com­pet­ing in NHRA’s Her­itage Se­ries; Mark in C/G and Sab­rina in Nos­tal­gia Elim­i­na­tor 1. He also races the same class with the Amer­i­can Nos­tal­gia Racing As­so­ci­a­tion (ANRA) and Sab­rina in A/G with the West Coast Pro Gas As­so­ci­a­tion. To­gether, they have won four Wallys in less than two years. To race two cars in dif­fer­ent classes in three as­so­ci­a­tions is a near Her­culean feat.

For Sab­rina and Mark to com­pete in the NHRA Her­itage Se­ries on the same week­end, ex­tra­or­di­nary plan­ning, phys­i­cal and men­tal en­durance, some for­tu­itous sched­ul­ing, and mom’s over­sight are re­quired. Mom is Diana Capps, wife and mother—the mo­tor that makes this op­er­a­tion go. To­gether, the three of them, suc­cess­ful and in­sep­a­ra­ble, are Capps Family Racing.

Mark started racing in 1983, al­beit it on the street. Mark re­mem­bers, “I was do­ing the il­le­gal stuff all over the county, win­ning races and pock­et­ing a lot of money. I was just a kid, fresh out of high school. Af­ter high school, I en­rolled in the automotive pro­gram at Fresno City Col­lege, earned all my cer­tifi­cates, and worked as a me­chanic for years.” Mark even­tu­ally opened his own busi­ness, Capps Mus­tang (later Mus­tang Ranch), spe­cial­iz­ing in restor­ing old Ford Mus­tangs. “We started with $1,500, right about the time Sab­rina was born in 1995. It's been pretty much a family en­deavor, with Sab­rina do­ing her fair share of the work along the way. kIn 2003, I started do­ing a lot more sanc­tioned racing as op­posed to the street stuff. Sab­rina was par­tic­i­pat­ing in Ju­nior Drag­ster, it just made more sense for safety and other rea­sons.” Mark found a home with ANRA, win­ning many races in C/G with a '67 Mus­tang. He also cap­tured two C/G ti­tles in both West Coast Hot Rod and West Coast Pro Gas as­so­ci­a­tions.

I was do­ing the il­le­gal stuff all over the county, win­ning races and pock­et­ing a lot of money. I was just a kid, fresh out of high school. Af­ter high school, I en­rolled in the automotive pro­gram at Fresno City Col­lege, earned all my cer­tifi­cates, and worked as a me­chanic for years.

—Mark Capps

When Sab­rina was old enough to race a big car, Mark de­cided to get out of the driver's seat. He re­calls, “I re­tired, I thought, to let Sab­rina race the Mus­tang. But, I got talked into driv­ing the About Time blown and in­jected drag­ster. When Sab­rina stepped up to

NE-1 in 2015, I went back to Sab­rina's Magic, the name we gave the Mus­tang when Sab­rina was four.”

The time away from the Mus­tang did not af­fect Mark's driv­ing acu­men; he scored two Wallys in 2016. “Suc­cess in this class at this level re­quires a tremen­dous amount of cun­ning and con­cen­tra­tion. The stag­ing process is par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal to win­ning the race. Op­po­nents are go­ing to play a mind game with you. You do the same and had bet­ter be good at it,” Mark ex­plained the Machi­avel­lian ma­neu­ver­ing by driv­ers.

“But win or lose, I will al­ways con­grat­u­late the other racer. Good sports­man­ship is equally as im­por­tant to us as win­ning.”

Like fa­ther like daugh­ter seems to be apro­pos here. Sab­rina ex­celled in the Ju­nior Drag­ster pro­gram, twice earn­ing run­nerup hon­ors at the ANRA cham­pi­onships at Famoso Race­way. The en­er­getic 21-year-old nurs­ing stu­dent is not lack­ing con­fi­dence. Sab­rina of­fers this about her­self, “I know I am re­ally good at what

I do. I think I have been suc­cess­ful in the sport be­cause of ex­pe­ri­ence, com­mit­ment and my family. I have al­ways worked on my race cars from the time I had the ju­nior drag­ster, and I be­lieve that ex­pe­ri­ence has made me a bet­ter driver. I al­ways try my hard­est, and my mom and dad taught me that sports­man­ship is just as im­por­tant as win­ning. Ev­ery­body is go­ing to have an off day now and then, but if you be­lieve in your­self, the wins are go­ing to come.”

So, what is next for the al­tered road­ster driver? “I've gone 185 mph, but I want to go faster. I want to get li­censed in a nos­tal­gia nitro Funny Car—that is my dream race car— even an NHRA Big Show Funny Car if the op­por­tu­nity arises. I love be­ing in the seat and just go­ing down the track. I am proud of my ac­com­plish­ments so far, but I want to get be­hind the wheel of a nitro-burn­ing race car.”

Racing two cars at the same event is no easy feat. The cars are usu­ally on a strict qual­i­fy­ing sched­ule, and turn­around time be­tween them can make for a mad dash back to the stag­ing lanes to pre­pare the sec­ond race car. When just three peo­ple are ser­vic­ing two race cars, things can get fre­netic. Then come elim­i­na­tions, and as elim­i­na­tions progress, the in­ter­val be­tween rounds gets shorter. This is where multi-task­ing mom's con­tri­bu­tions re­ally kick in. Not only does Diana han­dle the pre-race prepa­ra­tions (food, bev­er­ages, gear, etc.),

but once at the track, she mon­i­tors the weather sta­tion, di­als-in the Dead­en­bear throt­tle stops, and gets Mark and Sab­rina ready to race. Once it’s time to pull up into the stag­ing lanes, Diana’s job can get hec­tic. Nev­er­the­less, it’s a rou­tine she has down pat. Diana says, “First, I suit up Mark and Sab­rina. I help Mark with his hel­met, shoul­der belts and gloves. I kiss him, put up the win­dow net and give him an ‘I love you’ sign. With Sab­rina, I help her suit up and se­cure the seat­belts the way a mom knows is safe. Once she is in the race car and belted, we say a prayer and I give her some re­as­sur­ing words be­fore Mark pulls her into the wa­ter box. Then, I scoot down the track so I can back her up, pull her into the beam, ex­change fa­mil­iar ges­tures, and let her stage.” This is re­peated so long as dad and daugh­ter are com­pet­ing. As Mark says, “We run her to death; I don’t know a lot of teams do­ing it.” Oh yeah, Diana also takes out en­gines and trans­mis­sions when needed. She is the crew chief. That’s Capps Family Racing and they are darn good— just the three of them.

 “Spar­tan” best de­scribes the road­ster’s very func­tional cock­pit.

 A Steve Sch­midt big-block GM Pro Stock mo­tor func­tions quite nicely in its new home.

 The NE-1 road­ster’s Heart Breaker moniker is quite ac­cu­rate. Sab­rina Capps has crushed the dreams of many a com­peti­tor.

 BE­LOW. What would the owner of Mus­tang Ranch, a vin­tage Mus­tang restora­tion com­pany, race? Ob­vi­ously, it has to be the ve­hi­cle that ig­nited Detroit’s Pony Car rev­o­lu­tion.

 It’s Blue Oval all the way for Capps. The en­gine is a 565-ci 460 Ford sports block, built by Ric Fauset of Fauset Racing En­gines.

 Sim­i­lar to the road­ster’s in­te­rior, the Mus­tang is all busi­ness and light on crea­ture com­forts.

 Team Capps (L to R): Dad Mark, Sab­rina and Mom Diana

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