Cap in 2010 (Paul Arch Photo)
(Bill W) March 1, 2017 – “Gang, here’s the situation.” The soft reassuring voice of Cappy would come through the speakers one more time for us fans in the stands at Knoxville Raceway. There was inclement weather. We were waiting out a rain delay. How would refunds be given? Who were the latest drivers to sign in for the Nationals? As a young fan, it was my first introduction to a very special man.
Ralph Capitani was an incredible individual, and his loss stings for many. His life touched more than most of ours will, because he had many worlds. He lost his parents early and was raised by his sisters. He was the star athlete at Des Moines Dowling and UNI (then the State Teachers College). He was the husband, the proud father, the serviceman, the teacher, the coach, the mentor, the bookkeeper, one of the guys at the Country Club…and of course, Knoxville Raceway and the Marion County Fair. The list goes on and on.
Mostly a man of few words, those that he spoke were often gold. All those experiences molded a man who was perfect for Knoxville Raceway when it needed it most. Cap would deflect all recognition to his trusted officials and track and office employees. He was right to do so. Some of the best in the world have and do work at Knoxville Raceway. But it took someone to put them in place to do their jobs as well. He was the right man for the job.
As quick as he was to deflect attention, he would be just as quick to shoulder blame for any wrongdoing under his watch. If the fans had a beef or needed information, he was the first one to step forward. He was a true people’s person. He would look a fan in the eye and listen to them, whether he agreed with them or not. He would be the one to tell them why a questionable call was made. He would get on the mike and let us know that we just couldn’t race tonight, or we would try like hell to get it in if it took us until the Dingus closed. He wanted us all to come back the next week.
Cap had a way of softening any situation before it went over the edge. He could soothe a hot driver. He trusted those that he hired. Once in a while that burned him, but he was loyal. If someone needed their ass chewed or a pat on the back or even fired, he delivered impeccably and with the perfect touch.
In the stands as a fan, you felt like you knew Cap. For those as fortunate as myself, to be hired by him was a dream. My life has been spent living and breathing sprint cars at Knoxville. Writing anonymous reports online from Knoxville and making suggestions for certain procedures back then were just my passion. I didn’t want any credit and simply went by Bill W for years.
Once I started writing for publications, including the weekly race papers at Knoxville, Cap called me in. I had been found out, and my anonymity was a memory as far as he was concerned. Hell, I hadn’t pictured in a million years Cap on the computer reading my crap.
“Are you the one they call Bill W on the computer?” he asked.
“Yes, I guess so,” I said while shaking just a little bit. “You actually read that?”
I had questioned drivers on a lot of things including why we couldn’t put anybody in the stands for the 360 Nationals (it was run in June then), the weight rule, etc. I had a pretty big mouth about speeding up time between heats, not having 30 360’s out for hot laps at once on a greasy track and lots of other stuff.
“Hell no I don’t read it (I was right he didn’t…he said anyway),” he said. “But you’ve caused me a hell of a stir the last couple years with the Fair board. It seems they like a lot of your ideas and I just wanted to meet you.”
We proceeded to talk about a few things, and I was walking on cloud 9 when I got out of there. I suppose that was about seventeen years ago. Moving forward I came to work under Cap with the track’s website, some public relations, and lots of other things.
One time early on he even let me go saying they were going to do some things in house, only to bring me back two months later. “Shit, I didn’t know how much you were doing,” he said. “You need a raise.” And I’ll be damned if he didn’t give me one. Those never came easy.
As years wore on, I was fortunate to get to know him better and better. More than one fan from far away would talk of how he gave them tickets when the Nationals were sold out on Saturday night. He just had a great heart. Damn the rules.
I had to pinch myself a few times, and I still do, sitting up top at Knoxville Raceway, working at the place that I grew up on Saturday nights. Sitting with Cap during a race night, there were times I laughed so hard I never thought I’d stop. Sometimes, I tried like hell to keep from laughing out loud, because I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. All the time, he had an uncanny grasp on everything going on.
Often questions would come on the radio for him…
“Cap, what should we do with him?”
There would often be a long pause…and then… “Put him in the pits.”
That’s still one of my (and Bob Wilson’s) favorite Cappy quotes.
Thousands of employees and fans could tell hundreds of stories worth every penny about Cap. That’s just the race people.
He would try and smoke us out of that press box long after smoking was not allowed. Unless Marilyn was around. Then there was none of that…plus her chocolate cake. He was a proud father as well. He traveled often to Northwood-Kinsett High School to watch son Dave’s teams. Dave coaches football, wrestling and track there. He would be sure to tell us how those teams were doing. Often I had more information on them than the teams I coached at PCM. He was equally proud of sons of John and Steve.
I will miss running into he and Marilyn at the movies, Mr. C’s and other places. He would usually ask me what movie I was seeing, and would joke to me that he thought surely I’d be seeing whatever the animated movie was of the day.
After his retirement, the Cappy Classic has been a highlight. Visiting a few minutes with him in the suite was very rewarding and I’ll miss that too. I know the folks on the Hall of Fame side got to see him a lot more the last few years.
A great man will be missed by us all. I believe Cap’s greatest gift to us was the way he treated people. Anyone who could change Ted Johnson’s mind about anything had a great gift in that way. Knoxville Raceway became what it is today under his watch. He would be quick to deflect the credit to his employees, but he won’t be able to this time…
”Gang, he was a great one!”
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Tentative Races that will be counted for Points with the Midwest Thunder Sprint Cars presented by www.OpenWheel101.com (subject to change)
Fri, April 7 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) MOWA
Sat, April 8 – 34 Raceway (IA) IRA/MOWA
Sat, April 15 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Sat, April 22 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Sat, April 29 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Fri, May 5 – Missouri State Fair Speedway WoO
Sat, May 6 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Fri, May 12 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, May 13 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Sat, May 20 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Sun, May 21 – Angell Park Speedway (WI) All Stars
Fri, May 26 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, May 27 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Thur, June 1 – Jackson (MN) Nationals WoO
Fri, June 2 – Jackson (MN) Nationals WoO
Sat, June 3 – Jackson (MN) Nationals WoO
Fri, June 9 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway WoO
Sat, June 10 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway WoO
Sun, June 11 – 34 Raceway (IA) All Stars
Tue, June 13 – Eagle Raceway (NE) WoO
Fri, June 16 – River Cities Speedway (ND) WoO
Sat, June 17 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Sat, June 17 – Red River Valley Speedway (ND) WoO
Tue, June 20 – Granite City Speedway (MN) WoO
Fri, June 23 – West Liberty (IA) Speedway WoO
Fri, June 23 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, June 24 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Tue, June 27 – The Dirt Oval at Route 66 (IL) WoO
Thur, June 29 – Deer Creek Speedway (MN) WoO
Fri, June 30 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, July 1 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Sun, July 2 – Badlands Motor Speedway WoO
Fri, July 7 – Cedar Lake Speedway (WI) WoO
Sat, July 8 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Fri, July 14 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, July 15 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Fri, July 21 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, July 22 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Wed, July 26 – Peoria Speedway (IL) MOWA
Thur, July 27 – Tri-City Speedway (IL) MOWA
Fri, July 28 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Fri, July 28 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) MOWA
Sat, July 29 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Sat, July 29 – Macon Speedway (IL) MOWA
Fri, Aug 4 – I-55 Raceway (MO) WoO
Sat, Aug 5 – I-55 Raceway “Ironman 55” (MO) WoO
Sun, Aug 6 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway Cappy Classic
Mon, Aug 7 – Southern Iowa Speedway Front Row Challenge
Wed, Aug 9 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway Nationals
Thur, Aug 10 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway Nationals
Fri, Aug 11 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway Nationals (Friday feature only)
Sat, Aug 12 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway Nationals
Fri, Aug 18 – River Cities Speedway (ND) WoO
Sun, Aug 20 – Nodak Speedway (ND) WoO
Fri, Aug 25 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, Aug 26 – Knoxville (IA) Raceway
Fri, Sept 1 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sat, Sept 2 – Jackson (MN) Motorplex
Sun, Sept 3 – Badlands Motor Speedway Huset’s Flashback
Fri, Sept 8 – Superior Speedway (WI) IRA
Fri, Sept 8 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) MOWA
Sat, Sept 9 – Cedar Lake Speedway (WI) Jerry Richert Memorial
Sat, Sept 9 – Spoon River Speedway (IL) Tom Knowles Memorial
Fri, Sept 15 – Clay County Fair Speedway (IA) IRA
Sat, Sept 16 – Deer Creek Speedway (MN) IRA
Sat, Sept 30 – St. Francois County Raceway (MO) Queen’s Royale
Fri, Oct 6 – Fairbury American Legion Speedway (IL) MOWA
Sat, Oct 7 – Fairbury American Legion Speedway (IL) MOWA
Fri, Oct 13 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) MOWA
Sat, Oct 14 – Jacksonville Speedway (IL) MOWA
Fri, Oct 20 – Lakeside Speedway (KS) WoO
Sat, Oct 21 – Salina Highbanks Speedway (OK) WoO
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