JON CAPPS KNOWS HIS ROLE IN BOTH RACING AND MOVIES
Did you see the Oscar-winning “Ford v Ferrari” movie?
Then unless you stole a cat nap during a certain scene, you saw occasional NHRA Funny Car racer Jon Capps.
We’ll let him describe his big scene.
“There’s a crash sequence at the end of a night-time run at Le Mans,” Capps said. “There was a Porsche that would not allow the Ferraris to pass, so he kind of blocks (Ludo) Scarfiotti, and Scarfiotti ends up blowing his engine.
“Right after that, Ken Miles (portrayed by Christian Bale) tries to pass him, and the Porsche tries to block him a couple of different ways. Miles out-jukes him into the corner, and the Porsche spins out into the hay bale and crashes. That’s me, the Porsche that crashed.”
Capps is a 50-year-old who wears many hats, or racing helmets, if you prefer. In addition to his gigs as a stuntman and occasional Funny Car competitor, he serves as a consultant to multiple car companies, assists in automotive launches and oversees ride-and-drives. He’s worked at a couple of racing schools, and he’s raced USAC Midgets on dirt and asphalt.
“I’m not a big name in the entertainment industry, so I’m working hard to try and stay busy,” Capps said.
In addition to “Ford v Ferrari,” Capps has appeared in films such as: “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” with Will Ferrell; “Race to Witch Mountain” with The Rock; “Driven” with Sylvester Stallone nearly two decades ago, and the 2013 drag racing flick “Snake & Mongoose.”
He’s shot scenes for the upcoming “F9,” which stars Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel in the latest instalment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. He recently did stunt work on a TV series called “The Stand,” a post-apocalyptic horror novel written by Stephen King.
“It’s not easy to get work if you don’t live in Los Angeles,” said Capps, who lives in Las Vegas. “Fortunately, I’ve gotten to know some really great people.
“In high school, I was racing go-karts and met a guy named Greg Tracy. We ran into each other in the mid-90s when I was racing USAC Midgets, and we kind of rekindled a friendship there. So I got brought in to do some work on ‘Driven,’ and it was really cool.
“I said, ‘Hey, man, I’d really like to do a lot more of this stuff.’ He said, ‘I’ll help you where I can, but you’ve got to do a lot of it on your own.’ So I just kept working hard, making sure I did whatever I could.”
Learning the ropes of stunt driving requires practice. Stunt drivers have to be able to stop on a dime and on a specific spot for the cameras. And in filmmaking, like so many other jobs, time is money, and a stunt driver who can’t deliver on demand won’t find frequent work.
“And you never want to crash a car until the script calls for it,” he said.
So how does someone learn to become a stunt driver?
Again, it’s best to let Jon Capps explain it.
“There may have been one or two people in the past who go get rental cars and go to a parking lot and figure things out,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s what I’ve been told. I can’t confirm or deny that.”
Upon landing work as a stunt driver, it becomes time to put up or shut up. It’s a pressure-packed profession, said Capps, whose older brother Ron was the 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion.
“You like to think you did it right,” Jon Capps said, “but maybe there was a lighting change they want to make. Maybe they want to change a filter on a camera. Maybe you just missed your mark — and anybody who says they’ve never missed a mark is not being truthful with themselves.
“Sometimes there are directors I did commercials for that were brutal. I mean, I thought we were gonna fistfight when we came back to the set, but that’s just how they are. That’s how they operate and how they communicate. You definitely have to have some thick skin.”
Capps added that he has noticed a few similarities between stunt driving and Funny Car racing.
“The good thing about it is that in both situations, you’re surrounded by guys that’re really good guys,” he said. “In ‘Ford,’ we had some amazingly talented racecar drivers there and some amazingly talented stunt guys. “It’s just like jumping in a Funny Car and being reliant on all your crew members. When you’re getting strapped in, you look in the eyes of your crew guys, and if they’re comfortable, then you’re comfortable. Running side by side with guys, you know what their tendencies are and how they drive, and you trust them, and they can trust you. A lot of it is common respect and trust.”
Jon Capps is one of many drag racers to have appeared in films. His brother Ron, who is four years older, also had a role in “Snake & Mongoose, and Ron also was cast in another film with a current Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr. They were together in a 2004 flick titled “The Legend of Booger Red.”
Ron and Jon Capps also worked the sidelines as parabolic mic holders for FOX in the Feb. 2 Super Bowl won by Kansas City.
Jon Capps, though, would like nothing better than to relaunch his Funny Car career, which has been in mothballs for “a couple of years.” (Yes, he had conversations with “Ford v Ferrari” stars Bale and Matt Damon about funding his efforts, but those didn’t pan out.)
“I’m trying to possibly get some seat time this year, but it’s tough trying to find sponsor money,” he said. “Look at a multi-time champion like Tony Schumacher, who didn’t race last year and is struggling to find money. We’re not trying to find the money that he is, but even at that level, it’s difficult to find marketing partners or sponsorship people that want to come onboard.
“It’s kind of a weird dichotomy in that we need X amount of money to make it happen, but the people you’re talking to want to be with a top-notch team. Then they find out that to get that, they’d better double the amount of money they’re going to spend.”
Capps said he thought he “had something” to compete at Las Vegas and Pomona at the close of the 2019 season, but that those deals fizzled.
“But we may be coming back with that same company, maybe in the midwest or Florida,” he said. “It’s a a never-ending search, and you’d better make sure you’ve got skin thick enough to handle it when you get turned down.”
The Capps brothers’ love of drag racing came naturally as their father, John, raced at tracks throughout California. Eventually, Ron got a ride driving Roger Primm’s Top Fuel dragster, and and his younger brother was one of his crewmen.
Jon met his current wife, who at the time was a vice-president of Simpson Race Products, in Indianapolis, and one of their dates was a trip to a dirt track where USAC Midgets were in action.
“She said, ‘You want to drive one of these sometime?,’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ So then I drove a three-quarter Midget one night and had a blast, then I knew I wanted to do something like that,” Jon said. “So I quit the (Primm) team, moved back to San Luis Obispo (Calif.), got a job and bought a Midget team.”
He eventually wound up in Las Vegas to work for a driving school offering an Indy-type car experience. That led to work on “Driven,” the film that launched his stunt career.
For now, he’s “waiting to hear back on some work” on “a big-time show,” he said.
“If I get on it, I’ll be very, very happy,” he said. “If I get on that one, you’ll be able to hear me screaming from wherever you are.”