This is it.
Everything is on the line.
The entire year comes down to one final weekend, one final race to secure a place in racing history.
The final countdown is underway in the 2016 Countdown to the Championship – the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) season-ending championship playoff series.
For one local racer, it’s the most important three days of his 19-year professional career.
Ron Capps is ever-so-close to his first Mello Yello Championship.
The 51-year-old San Luis Obispo native leads the points race heading into the season finale – the 52nd annual NHRA Auto Club Finals this coming weekend at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Always a bridesmaid but never the bride, Capps has more second place end of season finishes – four – than anyone in NHRA history.
He is hoping that this is his time, this will be the breakthrough season for which he’s been striving since he began sweeping floors in Alan Johnson’s Santa Maria garage as a teenager many years ago.
“I’m on the verge of achieving a lifelong dream,” said Capps at last weekend’s Toyota Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas. “I ran around as a little kid with my dad on Santa Maria’s drag strip over on Foster by the airport. That’s where I grew up. And to be here as a professional racer and to have a chance at a world championship – that’s surreal.”
Capps is close but he’s not yet clearing a space in his trophy case for the "Wally", the championship trophy named after NHRA founder Wally Parks.
“We have a lead,” said Capps at last weekend’s Toyota Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas. “Some people think it’s a big lead but I don’t.”
It’s an 86-point lead over his Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Matt Hagan heading to Pomona.
There are as many as 20 points up for grabs during the four rounds of qualifying next Friday and Saturday.
And drivers earn an increasing number of points for each round in Sunday’s final elimination – up to 100 for winning the final round.
While it is conceivable that Capps can win the Mello Yello world championship by sweeping all four qualifying rounds, it is more likely that he’ll have to win at least two elimination rounds on Sunday.
“I’ve been there before,” said Capps. “We’ve fought for a championship where we’ve been close five times before and we’ve come up short by very, very few points so I know what it’s like to have the heartbreak of not winning it.”
Capps is one of the most liked and likeable drivers on the NHRA circuit.
He has thousands of fans, many of them coming right from the ranks of the NHRA.
“I want to win the championship. That’s why we keep coming to the races,” said legendary Funny Car racer John Force. “If it can’t be me or one of my teammates (daughter Courtney and Robert Hight in Funny Car and daughter Brittany in Top Fuel), then I want it to be Ron Capps. I love Ron Capps. In my mind, he is already a champion.”
At the Toyota Nationals, Force picked up his record 146th national event win in Funny Car.
Capps is second on that list, too, with 50 national race wins.
“You know the deal – you make your own luck. If we’re not going to get there, I’m rooting for Ron,” said Force.
There are two more championships still up for grabs at the Auto Club Finals in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle with the leaders in both groups running neck and neck.
Jason Line leads his teammate Greg Anderson by 19 points heading to Pomona in Pro Stock while Shane Gray, sitting 94 points back, still has a slim shot at the title.
It's even tighter in Pro Stock Motorcycle where defending champion Andrew Hines and his teammate Eddie Krawiec are in a flatfooted tie with Jerry Savoie breathing down their necks. Savoie is three points behind Hines and Krawiec.
While Capps is nervous heading into the finale, he’s also excited about his possible breakthrough.
“We’re in a great position right now,” said Capps. “I’m having a dream season. We’ve won five races so far this year (including the season-opening Circle K Winternationals on this same Auto Club Raceway track). We’ve set track records left and right. We’ve done so well, I’d hate to end such a great season without winning a championship.”
Win or lose, Capps will be back on the coast right after the Auto Club Finals.
“The best part is that right after Pomona we go up to Santa Maria to play in the annual Blaine Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament (which will be at the Santa Maria Country Club on Wednesday, Nov. 16) and I’d love nothing more than to show up there with a smile on my face and that Wally in my hands.”
The Auto Club Finals will air for the first time on FOX Sports 1. On Sunday, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 1 p.m. (PST).