Thanks for the memories, Tobler
January 22, 2021 • 2 Comments
The announcement of NHRA nitro crew chief Rahn Tobler's retirement this week sent waves of nostalgia through the racing community. We don't think it's much of a stretch to say that those who know him, either personally or through his work, were immediately struck with a series of Tobler memories that made you want to pick up the phone and ask him to stay.
Tobler has been a fixture in NHRA drag racing for decades. Well-honed skills, patience, and unwavering determination set him on course to land in the history books as an iconic crew chief, and he retires with four championships and 70 national event wins to his name. More than that, though, Tobler is a fun, intricate, and interesting individual who has reminded us all that there is a time to be buckle down and be serious, but there's also a time to enjoy life.
Here, we've pulled together some of our favorite shots of Tobler through the years. Come with us as we look back at the career of one of the most well-known, respected, and successful tuners in the history of NHRA drag racing. Be sure to keep scrolling to see some true vintage gems from the Tobler photo archives.
For the past decade, Tobler has been an integral part of Don Schumacher Racing. "I’m very fortunate to have worked with so many successful team owners and wonderful people," Tobler said. "I think back on Shirley (Muldowney) and the success we've had, my time with the Kalitta's, and Cruz (Pedregon), but I’d have to say, the best part of my career has been these last 10 years at DSR."
Tobler and Capps have worked together since 2012. "Ron and I had an incredible run," Tobler said. "I’m just so proud of what we were able to accomplish; what a way to go out."
The Tobler-Capps combo produced a plethora of nitro Funny Car victories, and through their trials and tribulations, they formed a friendship that extended well beyond the racetrack. “[I'm] very happy that he’ll be able to go off and enjoy his retirement and spend time with his lovely wife, Ellen," said Capps. "He deserves it. He’s been involved in the sport of drag racing since his teenage years, so this chapter closes, and a new one opens for him.”
In all, there were 33 starting line celebrations for Tobler and the team as Capps crossed the finish line ahead of their final-round opponent, including this one in Bristol on Father's Day in 2018.
He was always a tough draw, but fellow crew chiefs and competitors have – more often than not – shown great respect for Tobler. Here he is on the starting line with Tim Wilkerson in 2019.
This photo is the tale of two legends. Tobler and John Force converse before making their respective passes in Seattle in 2011. With Tobler's tune-up (from 2012-2020), Capps and Force raced one another six times and were evenly split in final-round victories.
With another legend of drag racing, Kenny Bernstein, in 2003.
Kalitta Racing team owner and drag racing icon Connie Kalitta with Tobler in 2004. The association of these two gentlemen stretches back to the beginning, when they were both part of Shirley Muldowney's team. Kalitta originally hired Tobler in 1977.
Tobler with Donnie Couch in 2003. These two crossed paths many times over the years; both laid roots in the racing scene in the 1970s. Couch was 12 years old when he worked on Tom McEwen's car for the first time.
Ed 'The Ace' McCulloch and Tobler, shown in 2004, both contributed to large portions of driver Ron Capps continuously notable career. Ace was crew chief for Capps from the end of 1999 until mid-2010.
As patient and kind as he is focused and determined, Tobler has been a fan-favorite over the years.
Drivers are typically the face of a team, but Tobler's longstanding position in racing has had him in front of the camera many times.
Even after 70 national event victories, winning never got old for Tobler. Here he is after winning Seattle in 2018.
Driver and crew chief prepare to warm up the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge on raceday.
On Sunday morning in 2014 during pre-race ceremonies with DSR teammates Ryan Elliott and John Collins.
“Don Schumacher has given me so many unbelievable opportunities to be successful," said Tobler, shown here with Schumacher in 2017.
Tobler in the pit with fellow DSR crew chief Dickie Venables. In a sense, Tobler and Venables grew up together. "I never thought when I started in 1971 with Dick Venables Sr. working with a local Top Fuel team in Houston, Texas, that I’d still be doing this almost 50 years later," Tobler marveled.
Tobler was crew chief for Shirley Muldowney for two of her three championships, in 1980 and 1982. He joined her team in 1977 (the year of her first championship). The two were married from 1988 until 2006.
Muldowney in the pink dragster that garnered so much attention on the NHRA tour. This was shot the year Tobler joined the team, 1977.
The 1980 season started with a win at the Winternationals for Muldowney and crew chief Tobler. The driver in the other lane for that final? Connie Kalitta.
The 1980 NHRA World Finals took place at Ontario Motor Speedway in front of a gigantic crowd. Under Tobler's tune, Muldowney won the race to win the championship and become the first Top Fuel driver to earn two series titles.
Tobler mixing fuel for Muldowney's rail in 1981. They won Gainesville and Atlanta that year and finished No. 5 in the Top Fuel standings.
The 1982 season saw a return to splendor for Tobler with Muldowney's team. Their four victories equated to another NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series title and marked the first time a Top Fuel driver had claimed a trio of championships.
The No. 1 car at the 1983 World Finals, just before Muldowney and Tobler sealed the deal on the event win.
Tobler and the team in the winner's circle at the World Finals in 1983. It was their second-to-last win together – they would score one final victory as a team, at the Phoenix race in 1989.
An innocuous pair of photos from 1986, but seeing Tobler and Muldowney back at work after her horrific 1984 crash at Sanair Speedway near Montreal was impactful. It showed fortitude of spirit for both driver and crew chief.
Tobler on the starting line with Muldowney's Top Fueler during the "Last Pass" tour in 2003.
Tobler continued to wrench after Muldowney made the 2003 season her "Last Pass." The two are shown here at the top end in Las Vegas in 2004.
Tobler tuned Doug Kalitta's Top Fuel dragster from 2004 and into the beginning of the 2007 season. "I’m very fortunate to have worked with so many successful team owners and wonderful people," said Tobler.
Tobler jumped from Top Fuel to Funny Car when he joined Cruz Pedregon Racing as crew chief in the latter half of 2007. Together, they secured the 2008 NHRA Funny Car world championship in Tobler's first full season as a Funny Car crew chief.
Tobler is as serious as they come when it's time for business, but he could be cajoled into a grin between serious moments at the track.
“We’ve had a great run with Rahn, and while we are sorry to see him go, we understand and support his decision," said DSR team owner Don Schumacher. "He won a lot of races for DSR and NAPA over the years and was an integral part of our organization. He’s a true champion and leaves this sport as one of the most respected names in our industry. We wish him the best of luck as he embarks on a slower-paced lifestyle away from the dragstrip.”
A scene from the championship winner's circle in 2016 with Capps and the team. "Winning aside, what I’ve enjoyed the most and also what I’ll miss the most is the people," Tobler said. "I’ve made so many great friends along the way, but I’m especially going to miss my crew guys. They’ve become family."
With Capps after securing their long-awaited championship in 2016. "I’m heartbroken that our time racing together has come to an end," Capps of Tobler's retirement. "We’ve had such a great amount of fun, and became such great friends away from the race track. In the eight-plus years, the amount of races that we’ve won, and great moments we’ve spent together is just really incredible.
On stage with the team at the 2016 NHRA Award Ceremony.
There's no winner's circle like a Tobler winner's circle.
"Without a crew, a crew chief is nothing. If you don’t have that strong group behind you, you won’t be successful," Tobler stated.
The NAPA team celebrated their fifth win of the season at the 2017 event at Bristol Dragway. Ultimately, they would win eight times that season and just barely miss winning a second-consecutive championship.
John Collins spent five years as assistant crew chief to Tobler on the NAPA Funny Car, learning and growing into the role of crew chief, himself.
In 2014, Collins was promoted to crew chief of the DSR Funny Car entry driven by Tommy Johnson Jr. He moved into the new role with the blessing of a very proud Tobler.
The sudden passing of Eric Lane in 2020 hit Tobler in a very personal way. Lane, known affectionately by all at the racetrack as 'Hop Sing' or simply 'Hop,' had moved into the position of assistant crew chief for Tobler in 2014. The pair made quick time to the championship winner's circle to win the 2016 Funny Car championship.
R.I.P. Eric Lane
In Tobler's career, which spanned from 1971 to 2020, he prepared a variety of racecars for thousands of passes down the dragstrip.
Capps saw Tobler through the windshield many times over the course of their time together. "We set the national record within a first few races together at Englishtown in 2012, won the championship in 2016, and then to run that 339-mph pass in Reading in 2019 was awesome," Capps recalled. "There’ve just been so many great moments."
“I’m very fortunate to have worked in an industry that I’ve enjoyed every single day, but I’m now looking forward to this next chapter in life," expressed Tobler, shown here in the 2016 winner's circle at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown.
Rahn Tobler, thank you for your contributions – not only to the history of drag racing, but also to every individual you've positively influenced along the way. We wish you all the best in your retirement!
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