To many, the smell of nitro means it's the March Meet.
For Ron Capps, the smell from a composting facility just east of Auto Club Famoso Raceway that wafts over the track at times reminds him of good times at the March Meet.
“That smell takes me right back to being five years old,” Capps said early Friday morning. “That smell to me is nirvana. It means I'm here.”
For Capps, the 2016 NHRA Mellow Yellow Funny Car champion, the Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet is a can't-miss event.
“I came here every year as a kid, either working on my dad's car or just coming with my parents … I don't think we ever missed a March Meet of Fuel and Gas Championship race” he said. “I can still walk over there (in dirt on the west edge of the pits) and there's places where I played when I was six, seven, eight years old when my dad raced. This place brings a lot of good memories.”
Most often Capps attends as a spectator but for the second straight year he's also driving an AA/Fuel Altered.
“The chance to drive a Fuel Altered has been a dream,” Capps said. “Obviously I kind of live a dream already, getting to do what I do for a living. But as a kid, the Fuel Altereds were my favorite thing.
“They were out of control, unpredictable. When they came up to run, as a kid in those grandstands, you were guaranteed something exciting was going to happen. There was a great chance they weren't going to make it to the finish line (under power) but that was alright.”
Capps is driving the 1948 Fiat Topolino-bodied car owned by Herzog Motorsports.
“These guys gave me an opportunity last year,” he said. “ It's a brand new chassis but the body is a legendary body from Mike Sullivan's car. I built models of that car as a kid. I had the center pull out of Hot Rod Magazine of that car on my wall as a kid.”
The AA/Fuel Altered class is a blend of new and old-style cars. The new style utilize what is essentially a Funny Car chassis with a bucket body with most sporting wings which add stability.
The “Good News” car Capps is wheeling is definitely old school with a bit shorter wheelbase and nothing to help aerodynamics.
“Everything I saw as a kid, it's that way it's that way in the seat when I step on the gas,” he said. “It's unpredictable, you don't know what's going to happen.”
Capps is used to traveling 330 mph in 3.8 seconds in a 1,000 feet in his NHRA Funny Car so it would seem like a cakewalk to pilot something that does around six seconds in a quarter mile at 100 mph less.
"You talk about an E-ticket ride,” he said. “Last year I went 6.18 and it was one of the most thrilling rides I've had in my life. It was just so out of control.”
His qualifying run on Friday was a few steps down from an E-ticket as he encountered problems about midtrack and shut the engine off, coasting through the light in 7.53 seconds at 118 mph. He was 11th in qualifying.
“I had to pedal it (lift on and off the throttle), shifted it but it just didn't feel right so I shut it off,” he said. “It's a little disappointing but we're having a blast.”
Capps will have one more shot on Saturday to qualify for Sunday's eight-car field.
Tom Padilla led AA/FA qualifying (which runs on a 6.0-second index) at 6.05 at 208.49 mph.
“That was awesome, the best run ever,” said Padilla. “It doesn't get any better than that.”
Dan Horan Jr. made a statement late in the afternoon when he grabbed the provisional top spot in Funny Car qualifying with a 5.563-second blast at 263.15.
The car was wounded last month at the Winternationals in Pomona when his parachutes failed to deploy. He ran through the sand pit at the end of a track and into a safety net, which flipped the car upside down.
“You know, it's been a long 28 days since we put this car in the sand at Pomona,” he said, thanking numerous people for their hard work to get it back into race ready shape. “What a helluva a hot rod.”
Matt Bynum stood second at 5.575, followed by Billy Morris (5.652), Jerry Espesth (5.680) and Jeff Arend (5.691).
Pete Wittenberg led Top Fuel Dragster qualifying at 5.731 seconds and 234.94 mph. Bryan Hall made his class debut a good one and was second after a round of qualifying at 5.76 seconds and 239.23 mph.