Ron Capps was on a plane ride returning to the West Coast after learning that the NHRA’s Gatornationals had been postponed.
The race, along with hundreds of sporting events alike scheduled to take place that weekend were being brought to a sharp halt as concerns of the COVID-19 outbreak swept across the United States.
Eventually, the NHRA made their announcement that the Gatornationals wouldn’t be happening that weekend.
Ron Capps making the most out of COVID-19 Down Time with iRacing
Some people took time to reflect before adjusting to what sports would be like over the past two months.
Capps, however, was progressive with his thinking before he could even land in his home state of California.
He had an idea that would propel an already well heralded career and brand to a house-held name in the racing world.
“I knew when they canceled the race it was going to be a while,” Capps said. “At least a month or so. Obviously, it turned out to be more than that, but we didn’t quite know how bad it was going to be. I got to thinking about how cool it would be to get on iRacing a bunch. I already had somebody painting up a couple of cars to look like my Funny Car.”
Capps was going to spend a lot of time over the next month on iRacing.com – the motorsports simulator site that has swept the racing world during the pandemic’s dead period.
Since in-person races have stopped for the most part, events on the platform have been broadcasted to a nation hungry for the smallest hint of sports. This was closer to the real thing than anyone could have hoped.
The iRacing events were drawing in record ratings, featuring more than half a million people watching the first race that Capps competed in with the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series.
NASCAR even set an e-sports TV ratings record with its Sunday series on FOX, reaching over 1 million during its March 15 debut.
“The first big event we did was the World of Outlaws race which ended up being on Fox Sports 1, (before turning into a weekly series),” Capps said. “I started thinking if I’m going to race in these, I’m going to help our sponsors and get them out there, thinking that it’s bound to get at least some coverage.”
Over the month, Capps begin competing in every race that he could.
It didn’t matter the car, the track, the drivers he was going up against… if there was a big race, Capps wanted in.
Not only has he put his name on the map, in bold, in the racing world, but Capps has also showcased a plethora of sponsors bringing them more exposure than anticipated as well.
Capps had a call with NAPA’s agency to discuss it late last week.
“They read off numbers on the reach of social media and everything we’ve had in the past month,” Capps said. “It’s crazy to hear the numbers of how many people we are reaching just off of me going on iRacing. That blew everybody away, including the agency.”
That was exactly his goal all along, although, Capps didn’t see things blowing up like this.
For fans, iRacing has provided a unique return to normalcy because of how real it feels and how real it’s being treated by the drivers.
For most of the drivers competing, it’s just a fun deal, but that doesn’t mean they like to lose any less.
Capps is the same way. He said that he spends 3-4 hours each day, at least, getting ready for that night’s action.
“It feels like I’m kind of doing it for real,” Capps said. “It’s like every day, I’ve got a schedule and my itinerary is different races coming up. I get up in the morning and kind of get ready – it’s almost like I’m going to a track. I get on the simulator and have cars (that I’d race that night) that I need to work on (for the race that evening).”
Since the start of the break, Capps has driven just about any car there is to drive on the iRacing software.
If there is an entry list that has a plethora of big names, best believe that, ‘Ron Capps’ will be on it.
“Some of them, I seem to do okay in pretty quickly, and others that I struggle in and I know I’ve got to put more seat time in,” Capps said. “It’s like I’m going to the track to really test and working on going faster. Every day is working on getting faster in whatever car you’re in that night.”
With so many different races and cars available to run, there’s an ample time required to practice for Capps to be competitive in each car.
Sometimes, he’ll start practicing even on accident.
“The funny thing is,” Capps said. “I’ll go out to the garage for something and I’ll go, ‘okay I’m going to jump for a little while, maybe a half an hour, and run some laps and see if I can get a little quicker somewhere.’ The next thing I know, two hours have gone by.”
Capps will see other heralded racers – guys like Will Power, Bobby Labonte, and Simon Pagenaud to name a few – on the software and stop to chat or race against them.
He said sometimes that they even just sit on pit road within the software and talk to each other.
It’s brought him and others a chance to talk about things with other big named drivers – one that they wouldn’t have the chance to had the break not happened.
“We’re just chatting about what’s going on in our lives and how cool it is to be able to race,” Capps said. “The next thing you know a couple of hours have gone by.”
It’s an attest to how big iRacing has become.
Capps said when he used to get on the software, a big number for online users would be around 7,000. Now it’s not abnormal to see 16,000.
“It’s never been as big, obviously, as it is right now. To watch it blow up and be involved in iRacing for this long, it’s been crazy.
Of course, the whole iRacing experiment has been a distraction for the break in real life action.
Drivers and fans are salivating for the opportunity to hop back into their race cars and watch another big race on television.
The NHRA has set plans to return to the track in June and has made room for two makeup weekends, just in case.
“It will depend on what each state does,” Capps said. “It’s up in the air right now. I can not even imagine getting back in the car right now.”
That’s not to say Capps doesn’t want to get back into the car – because he does. There is just no telling how everything will play out between now and June 5.
The only thing we know for certain, is that when the fastest hot rods on the planet return, it will be a historic site to see.
“That first time you get back into a NHRA Funny Car after not being in the seat for a couple months,” Capps said. “It reminds you how awesome these fire-breathing Funny Cars are.”
Time will tell what the NHRA decides to do with the rest of its season, but leave it up to Capps to make the most of it.