At the end of the 2022 NHRA Camping World Series season, longtime crew chief John Medlen announced that he was retiring. This not only leaves a hole in drag racing, but it meant that Ron Capps and the RCM team were going to have some huge shoes to fill.
For the past six seasons John had worked side by side with lead tuner Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli, and the co-crew chiefs have enjoyed tremendous success. Including most recently having tuned Ron and the NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car to two consecutive world championships, seven wins, 14 final rounds and 10 poles over the last two seasons.
While they could have gone the traditional route and searched through the pool of nitro crew chiefs with proven track records and resumes as long as CVS receipts, Ron and Guido decided to hire from within and are happy to announce that they have chosen Tom Buckingham to fill the position of assistant crew chief. In this new role Tom will continue to oversee the crew, but will also tasked with taking on the responsibility of many of the day to day operations such as ordering parts and coordinating work and travel schedules. He will also be learning more about the tuning aspects of the car.
Tom, who has three world championship under his belt, one as a crew member on John Force’s team in 2010 and two with Ron Capps in 2021 and 2022, had this to say about his promotion, “I’ve been a car chief for the past five years – two years with Ron and for three years before that with Jack Beckman’s team. I grew up at the track. My parents had a turkey leg stand at the race track in Brainerd, Minn. when I was a little kid, so that’s where the love of drag racing all started for me. Later, my dad was a sales manager for Budweiser, and I got to know the Bernstein team and decided I wanted to work on one of these cars. I ended up going to the University of Northwestern Ohio to learn more about working on high-performance cars, and once I graduated, I came out here and have been working on nitro teams ever since. I’m so grateful to now have this opportunity to learn from Guido, one of the best tuners in our sport, and advance in my career.”
For Guido, the chance to promote Tom felt like a real full circle moment as his own big break into the NHRA crew chief ranks came when his former bosses took an interest in the growth of his career and guided him into a tuning role.
“Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly gave me a chance back when I was working at John Force Racing,” Guido said. “They took me under their wing, and I learned under them, working as a car chief or assistant crew chief for 12 years, and in 2007, I was given the opportunity to tune Ashley Force’s car. If they would have never given me that opportunity, I’m not sure how my NHRA career would have turned out, so now I’m trying to pay it forward. It’s my turn to give someone their ‘shot.’
Tom, or ‘T Buck’ as we call him, knows all aspects of the car and has a good understanding of how the equipment operates,” Guido added, having worked with Tom since 2017. “He’s been out here for 15 years, and he’s very organized and a great leader. I have no doubt he’ll excel in this role and use it as a learning experience. He’s like a sponge.”
Someone else who knows first hand how having a big break can impact your career is team owner/driver Ron Capps. Ron’s ‘shot’ came in 1995 when he was commissioned to a Top Fuel dragster owned by Roger Primm. Despite the Primm team competing in a partial schedule, Ron nabbed his first NHRA national event win Seattle that year and that helped him catch the eye of his future boss, the legendary Don Prudhomme.
“I’ve known T Buck for quite some time, even before he joined the NAPA car, but getting to work with him for the first time in 2021, it was easy to see why he was so well-liked, and well-respected in the pit area,” Ron explained. “He was an incredible leader as a car chief. When Guido and I first started talking about a replacement for Medlen, I told him ‘this is your team to run,’ and when he suggested T Buck, it was an immediate yes from me. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving than him to get a shot at being an assistant crew chief. I’m very excited heading into next season, and having him in that role.”
Replacing Tom in his previous position is Travis Wirth, the team’s clutch specialist. Travis will be taking on the responsibilities of the car chief in addition to his clutch duties.
Ron and the NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra Funny Car team will start their quest for a third consecutive Funny Car title, March 10th – 12th when the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series kicks off at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.