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NHRA champs Antron Brown, Ron Capps go it alone, add to success

They were teammates for almost too many years to count. So when champion drivers Antron Brown and Ron Capps split from juggernaut Don Schumacher Racing to form their own Top Fuel and Funny Car teams after the 2021 season, you knew they would stay in touch.

“There were a lot of phone calls where he talked me off the cliff,” Capps, 57, said before the NHRA Nevada Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which conclude Sunday.

Brown, 46, started putting together his operation a full year before Capps did his. The decision to depart DSR, the winningest team in NHRA history, was not one easily made.

But “it had been a lifelong dream to do this, to build something for our family,” the three-time Top Fuel champ said about setting out on his own.

The former teammates took different approaches to forming AB Motorsports and Ron Capps MotorSports. Brown poached key crew members and sponsors but otherwise started from scratch. After longtime sponsor NAPA Auto Parts agreed to stay with Capps, he essentially leased back what he had at Schumacher and hit the ground running.

“His deal was plug and play,” Brown said. “I had no truck, no trailer, no anything. I bought two bare race chassis from DSR with a few parts and pieces. Our shelves were empty — no office furniture, no nothing.”

And no victories for the longest time in 2022.

Brown didn’t break through for his first win as an owner-driver until the 14th race of the season at Topeka, Kansas, in mid-August. He has won two of the six races since to pull within striking distance (84 points) of Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley heading into final eliminations at LVMS and the championship-deciding race at Pomona, California, in two weeks.

Capps, conversely, won in just his fourth race as owner-driver, setting the pace in the four-wide event in Las Vegas in early April. The two-time and reigning Funny Car champion has added four more victories, including two in the Countdown to the Championship playoff series, to close within 10 points of three-time champion Robert Hight in their championship fight (before bonus qualifying points).

“Making the jump was probably the biggest thing in my life I’ve ever had to conquer,” Capps said of the significance of winning at LVMS in springtime. “You hope you have a great start and you are going to do well, but you can’t count on it. I just didn’t think we were going to get a win that quick.”

Capps said that while he has now adjusted from driver’s helmet to businessman’s hat, being consumed by off-track responsibilities might have cost him a couple of wins early in the season when his focus was not where it should be. It’s a feeling to which his buddy Brown also is acutely aware.

“If we didn’t make it, we just don’t fold the race team up — we gotta fold the house up, too,” he said of mortgaging away his past to have more control of his future. “We are all in with the chips.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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