National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
April 25, 2006
MICHAEL PADIAN: NHRA would like to welcome the members of the media participating in today's teleconference which features the four Powerade Series points leader in each of the classes in NHRA drag racing. Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Ray Anderson in Pro Stock, Ron Capps in Funny Car, and Melanie Troxel in Top Fuel.
In the wake of the ultracompetitive points races in 2005, most notably of course the Funny Car race between Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps and John Force, NHRA decided to host quarterly teleconferences in 2006 to accommodate media following the points races.
Today's call between the fifth event at Las Vegas and the sixth event this weekend at Bristol comes as NHRA transitions into the second quarter of its 23-event season. The next call we host will occur in early July between St. Louis and the start of the West Coast swing.
We'll begin with Angelle, then continue with Greg Anderson, Ron Capps and Melanie Troxel.
Angelle, three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, you've steered your US Army Suzuki to a 63-point lead over Andrew Hines so far this season who is the current and defending series champion. What do you think is the biggest reason for the fast start so far this season?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: I think that we had the same potential for the last couple of years. Luck just wasn't going our way the way it is this year. We're doing the best we can. We have a great race team. We have everything we need with the sponsors that we have to give us the financial backing that we need to be a competitive race team.
We have the right crew members. Our team has the right attitude. I mean, everything has always been there for us, it's just the past couple of years we've literally gotten bitten by the bad luck bug in the first half of the season anywhere from electrical problems to tires. I mean, it was just little weird things that were really easy to fix, but they get you at the wrong time.
So far this year we haven't had that. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't come around and get us. It just looks like everything is working for us. The team is getting along so well. Steve Tartaglia is kind of gelling into his position at crew chief. I think he feels a lot more comfortable now. I've noticed this year especially that the whole team, before people may have come up with ideas but just didn't verbalize them, and now everybody on the team, no matter what position they have, people are coming up with new ideas and we're trying everybody's ideas. These ideas are working. We're just really fortunate that everything's working the way that it is. I think that's why we're doing so well.
MICHAEL PADIAN: We'll go out to questions.
Q. Angelle, we have a very unique situation where we have yourself and Melanie leading a couple of Pro categories here. It seems when female drivers are reaching success, for the most part it's confined to the drag racing thing. Danica Patrick hasn't done much in terms of wins in the IRL, Katherine Legge has done some stuff in Atlantics. Why do you think females have come to the fore to stand directly shoulder to shoulder with the male drivers?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: I think probably the biggest reason would be just the simple fact that drag racing is more of a mental sport than a physical sport compared to every other sport out there. Danica Patrick or any NASCAR team or anything like that, I mean, there's a whole bunch of mental aspects that go along with it, but there is a big physical side of it as well, just the endurance of how long the race is, stuff like that.
I don't think there are women out there that can't win. I think Danica is very capable of winning. I think there are women that can do what those guys are doing. I think they just have to train harder. Myself in particular, the motorcycles are probably the biggest physically challenging part of the NHRA because of us being outside of the vehicle on top having to move side to side, using our body weight. I have to train harder than the guys I race against. I have to be stronger, which is why I do the type of training I do. I train in kick boxing, Jujitsu, mostly for reaction times and strength and endurance.
There is a big mental side of it, but I understand the physical part of it, I have to work harder. I just think that drag racing, there isn't a whole bunch of physical compared to everything else, so the women are more competitive. But I also believe in every sport, I personally think that any woman can do it, unless we're talking about NFL, men's hockey or something like that. But in motorsports, I just think there hasn't been as much of an interest on the women's side of it. If you find a woman that's as interested as a man, I think she'll do just as well. I don't see any separation between the two.
Q. What are your best words to describe a high-speed straight ride down an NHRA track?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: My best words to describe it?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: Definitely exhilarating. The closest thing I've ever come to describing a really fast fun run on a Pro Stock Motorcycle is like being on a rollercoaster ride. You know how when it's clicking going uphill, then it goes over the hill and shoots straight down? That's what it feels like, except you don't have that feeling of losing your stomach. You know how your stomach goes up into your throat? You don't have that. It's the same vibration, speed, excitement. I guess that's probably why I love rollercoaster rides so much because I love riding my Pro Stock Motorcycle as well.
It's the hardest thing to describe. I don't think anyone can imagine what it feels like unless you actually get to do it.
Q. Angelle, you say you have to train really hard. You're very small in size. How do you manage to handle a bicycle of the weight and speed that you do as well as you do?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: This year, our motorcycles are even heavier than last year. They have us up to a 615-pound limit. We can't go under that. I think my motorcycle is as heavy as somewhere around 40 pounds to maybe a hundred pounds heavier than everybody else's. The least amount would be 40 pounds heavier and the most amount would be around a hundred pounds heavier, except for maybe like Karen Stoffer's bike, she's probably pretty close to what I am.
It's mostly technique. You have to be really, really quick on your feet, with your hands, with your eyes. I have a target at the end of the racetrack that I point my motorcycle to when I start on the starting line. I never take my eyes off the target. From the time my eyes leave the Christmas tree till the time I turn off the track, I'm staring at that target like I'm holding a gun aiming at the target. That's what I'm driving my bike to.
If it starts to get out of the groove, I instantly have to correct it. I have to jump off the side of the bike, use my body weight off the side. If a bigger guy is doing this job, he can probably let the bike get out of the groove a little more than I can. I can't. I have to correct it immediately. That's one of the things that I've had to do.
Then just training with being physically fit, to be strong enough and quick enough to do this. But it's mostly technique with some of the physical parts to go along with it.
Q. With the fact that you've already won championships, what kind of advice would you give the other drivers, women drivers, that are leading in the points series?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: Advice on how to win?
Q. How to handle a championship run.
ANGELLE SAMPEY: How to handle it? Wow, that's a big question. It's definitely all about focus and staying in the same frame of mind as you were in the beginning. I can remember back in 1999 when I lost the championship by only eight points to Matt Hines, I was leading the points race going into the final race of the year, all I had to do was get to the second round or win the second round and I won the championship. I lost the second round. I lost the championship.
I know what happened to me. I got stuck in what they call that quicksand where I just kept thinking about all the things I could do wrong, what I could do to lose this championship was all I could think of.
My best advice to anybody, I don't think there's a difference with men or women, is that you absolutely have to stay focused, stay in the same frame of mind that you started the season off with. Don't start thinking about the negative parts. Just take it one run at a time. I best advise I can give anybody is don't count the points. The more you think about it, the more it gets to you, the more nervous you get, the more mistakes you make. You really have to focus on having a good time, whatever happens happens, do the absolute best you can each round. That's all you can ask for from yourself and your team.
Q. With the success the NHRA is having with women drivers historically, with you and Melanie doing so well this season, do you think you're going to see more women coming through this gateway?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: I've seen so many more women show up since I started, even in motorcycles. There's always been a handful of women in the cars, but now it's getting there's always new girls that I see on the sportsman level and even professional level. We had a girl named Holly showed up in Gainesville. There are a couple of girls talking about wanting to come out soon.
I think the more you see, the more you're going to see. It's just going to get bigger and better for all the women out there. I'm really happy about it. People are starting to realize, there's no difference, when the helmet goes on, we're all racers.
Q. How did you get involved with motorcycles?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: I started racing dirt bikes with my family when I was six years old.
Q. Whereabouts did you grow up at?
ANGELLE SAMPEY: In Louisiana. Born and raised. I'm a Cajun girl.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks, Angelle. I appreciate you coming on today.
ANGELLE SAMPEY: Thank you. No problem.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Angelle is a three-time Powerade Series champion, 2000 through 2002. She has two victories so far in 2006, which gives her 39 for her career. Some notes with that. That makes her ninth on the all-time NHRA victory list, second among Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers - only Dave Schultz is 45 - and first among women in NHRA Powerade Series history regardless of class.
She also has 38 No. 1 qualifiers in her career, making her 10th on the all-time list, NHRA list among No. 1 qualifiers, tied for second in Pro Stock Motorcycle behind Matt Hines with 41 and tied with Dave Schultz.
Greg, you were the winner of the last three Pro Stock World Championships. Back on top of the heat in 2006, leading Pro Stock. I think you'd agree, it has not been easy so far in '06. Interestingly enough, I look back at stats for the last couple of years at this point in the season, even during your three championship runs in the last three years, only once during those three years were you actually in first place at this point. I'm wondering, is that just kind of an unusual stat that you can throw away or is there anything to that?
GREG ANDERSON: I wish I could throw it away. It's certainly not how we planned to come at the start of this season. Just for some odd reason, we struggled to start the season the last couple years. We came out of the gate actually in good shape this year. We won Pamona, runner-up at Phoenix. Since then the wheels kind of fell off, so to speak. Everybody picked back up. Now it's a tight race again.
I don't really have the answer for it other than to say the competition level absolutely has elevated again this year, and there's a lot of more good cars out there than there's ever been. There's a lot of cars that are capable of winning races and contending for the championship. It's going to be tougher than it's ever been to win the championship this year. But, like you said, the bottom line is we're still in better shape at this point in the season than we were last year or probably even the year before.
It's not time to panic. Believe me, we don't like losing at all, Mike, no matter what time of season it is. The last couple three races, we just haven't performed like we have to win those championships. To win a championship, to win these races, you've got to be pretty much flawless right from the driver through the crew chief through the car, engine. Everything has to be pretty much flawless to win championships and races. To be honest with you, we haven't been flawless the last three, four races. It's either been the driver, the car, or something we could control and we didn't get the job done.
We're not panicking. We're not pointing fingers. We're not nervous yet. But, you know, we come home from every race after losing and go right back to that racetrack and test. In fact, we're at the racetrack right now testing. We go right back to that dyno and try to make more power because it's going to take a perfect effort again to get it done. We haven't been perfect. But the best way to become perfect is to practice, practice, practice. That's what we're doing.
MICHAEL PADIAN: That's something you've been pretty good at over the years. We'll open the floor now for questions.
Q. I know you're racing this weekend at Bristol, a place you won at a couple times. Is that somewhere where you think you can get some points?
GREG ANDERSON: I think so. I hope so. You never know. I don't have a crystal ball. I look forward every year going to Bristol. I love the facility, I love everything about the place. It's one of those great places to race. We do look forward to that race every year. It's certainly got special memories for me. It's where I won my first race back in 2001. It will always be one of my very favorite tracks.
I've got a little bit of proving to do, so to speak. We've been a little off the last three times out. Kind of got whipped early. You know, that doesn't sit well with this team, to be honest with you. We know the only ones that can fix that is ourself, we've been working hard. We need a good rebound weekend. We need a get-well weekend. I really look forward to this weekend, and a lot of the preparation we've done in the last couple weeks, hopefully we're getting ourselves refined, getting all the little bugs worked out and hopefully we're ready to go on a run.
I guess we'll see this weekend. Looks like the weather is going to shape up and fall into what Pro Stock guys like, cool temperatures, maybe 70 degrees for a high. Should be a great race.
But, yeah, we think we need to prove a point that we're not going away easy, we're not going down. It's time for us to hit our stride and put it on if we want to win that fourth championship.
Q. I know Erica has a lot of publicity. She seems to be validating that publicity.
GREG ANDERSON: Yeah, she's doing a great job. She's holding up her end, doing a great job driving that car. They've got a great team behind them. They've kind of probably modeled that team sort of after us, right across town here. They have my head engine builder that I had for the last two, three years that I let go the middle of last season. He ran right over there. Instantly they got a lot of power. They've got a great group of guys working on that car. They've got the entire cast of characters that it takes. You're not going to win one of these championships or even any of these races if you don't have every piece of the puzzle, and they've got it.
Everybody thought she would be the weak link. She's proving not to be a link. She is doing a great job. She is holding up to the pressure. She has won a lot of hole shot races already this year. That's what you got to do, to win races. They're absolutely as serious a threat as there is out there. It's hard to say what's going to happen down the road, but she is absolutely on her game, so is that team. They're going to be a tough, tough team to beat this year along with a bunch of other ones.
Q. This past week we lost a Pro Stock legend in Ronnie Sox. What are your thoughts about him?
GREG ANDERSON: Well, I never actually knew Ronnie on a personal level, but I certainly watched and idolized him when I was growing up, when I was young. He was the coolest dude. He was so smooth. He was so -- he was just absolutely laid back. Man, he could drive the wheels off of the race car.
It's kind of where the roots of this class started. He was an absolute hero, an icon, when Pro Stock first started. He could drive a four-speed car like no one ever dreamed. Even though I didn't know him on a personal level, I got to know his son quite well a few years back. Actually spent some time, he worked on a team I worked on at the same time. I kind of knew the family. I didn't know Ronnie that well. But I sure watched him and I sure admired him when he was racing.
He was a pure, pure racer. He was like Cool Hand Luke. He was laid back, like Lee Shepherd. Laid back guy, nothing bothered him, didn't get excited. That equated to a great racer. I think a lot of people have looked up to him and thought, I'd like to be like that guy, be able to race like that guy. He meant a lot to the class, a lot to the sport.
Q. How do you feel about being challenged the way you are? Does that get your juices up more than going out and putting together three or four wins?
GREG ANDERSON: It's a different kind, you're absolutely right. It's kind of I guess -- instead of being on the defensive, sometimes it throws you on the defensive. I haven't had to be on defense much the last three, four years. It's kind of a new challenge for us. But it's a challenge that we need to conquer. We need to be able to respond that way just like if we're out there leading the pack and dominating every race. To be able to maintain that level, we need to be able to bounce back and get that dominance back.
It's put a lot of extra pressure on us. But, you know, I don't think anybody here is shy to a challenge. Basically all these other teams have issued a challenge to us. And if we're going to win another championship, we're flat going to have to go out and earn it. It's going to be tougher and harder than it's ever been. That's the way it should be. That's what's going to make NHRA Powerade Pro Stock racing great this year. It's already great. Looks like it's going to be all year, a bunch of different winners. I wish I had a crystal ball. By mid-season, I guarantee you you're going to have ten teams well into the thick of the championship hunt and no margin between them. Just got to make doggone sure we're one of those teams, we start to hit or stride. We've had a couple, three off races. It's time for us to hit our stride, otherwise we could fall behind. Any one of these other half a dozen, eight people could jump into the lead right now and run away with it.
Q. What was that experience like when you used to work for Warren Johnson?
GREG ANDERSON: You know, I guess the best way I can explain it, I did not go to any kind of college. I graduated high school and I jumped right into racing full-time right then. I can't imagine a better college to go than the WJ University of Drag Racing. I learned so much there. I learned not only how to work on every end of the car, every end of the engine, I learned how to win, how to win races, how to perform at the racetrack, which is just something that's about impossible to learn on your own. You have to be around someone that can do that and has done that and can show you how to do that.
That's what he did. I mean, I respect the guy. I respect the guy, the heck out of the guy. Honestly, all those years I worked for him, I never planned on leaving there. I thought I'd probably work there the rest of my life and eventually drive one of his cars. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way. There wasn't room for another driver as time went on. I didn't perceive myself ever leaving there. It was a great opportunity, a great shop. He had great resources, a whole bunch of knowledge between him and Curt. Learned a lot from them. It certainly helped me get to where I'm at now. At the same time I've had to take some of them lessons that I learned then and move forward from there. I've had to learn a whole lot more since I left those doors out on my own. He taught me a lot of ways to learn things.
You got to pay attention. You got to surround yourself with good people. Those are a couple of the very important things that I learned from him. I couldn't imagine a better college to go to. It was a great university.
Q. Aren't you glad he's still around?
GREG ANDERSON: Sure, I am. Absolutely. I was one of the guys -- I hope he doesn't retire. He was planning his retirement, his back to school tour, whatever it was called. He's an icon, like Ronnie Sox. He's an icon in the class. If I'm going to go and win championships and I'm going to become a serious player in this sport and be able to win races and maybe even championships year after year, you want to do it against the best that there is to beat. He's certainly at the top of that class. Everybody still respects the heck out of what he can do with a race car, with an engine. If he continues racing and I can continue beating him, that validates what you can do. If he goes away, well, you know, maybe if he was still racing, I wouldn't have won that championship. You're darn right I want him out there. You want to beat the best of the best. He's there, certainly has been for a long time. Hope he never quits.
Q. Looking up to mid-season, Sonoma, what do you like about the track up here?
GREG ANDERSON: I love the Sonoma racetrack. It's a very, very smooth racetrack. We as Pro Stock racers love the nice smooth surfaces, the big barometer, sea level racetrack, you make a lot of power when you come out there just because the altitude of the track is basically at sea level. You have a big barometer, a lot of times you catch the 60, 70 degree weather, you've got a great chance of setting national records. We lick our chops when we come out there because that's one of the few chances during the season, if the weather breaks, you get those cool temperatures, that you can run those big ETs and speeds. We like that. That's a lot of fun. A lot of fun running fast.
It's a beautiful facility. We love running first class facilities. My wife loves the wine country out there. She does the wine tour every year. Everybody's happy when we come there.
Q. Sponsors, too, they seem to like the wine country.
GREG ANDERSON: Seem to get a lot of sponsors. A lot of friends want to come out there. A lot like the Vegas track. A lot of people like to come to Sonoma because there's a lot to do out there.
Q. What do you think has caused the increase in popularity of NHRA?
GREG ANDERSON: Well, I'd say there's a lot of things. I mean, it's been a great sport for a lot of years. I'm not sure what the greatest change or the biggest change has been other than it's just finally, you know, you're getting pretty good TV coverage, it's getting out to people. People are finally starting to see how great this sport is, how exciting it is. NASCAR racing's great, don't get me wrong. It fills the grandstands. There's just a zillion people that love it. I tell you, this drag race deal is a lot more exciting to watch than sitting and watching for three or four hours in the grandstand watching cars go round and round. It's hard to see who's leading, hard to tell which car is which when they go around the back straight. You don't feel the power, you don't feel the vibration and power like you do with drag cars. When you go to a drag race, they light off one of them Top Fuel cars, the earth moves, you feel the car, you feel the rush. It's just such an exciting sport.
We're finally getting it out to the mainstream people through TV. We need better TV coverage yet obviously to get bigger. But it's on its way. I feel great to be a part of it. It's starting its ascent to the top.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Greg, thanks for joining us. Not that you need any more motivation, but to follow up my introductory question, I had a couple notes for people. Over the last two years, only one win in the first 11 events. Like I said, not that you need any more motivation, but I'm sure the fact that you're still leading with those stats is probably putting fear in the rest of the class. Thanks for joining us today. We will see you out in Bristol this weekend.
GREG ANDERSON: You bet. Take care.
MICHAEL PADIAN: We're move on to Ron Capps.
Ron came up just one round win short in the dramatic Funny Car race in 2005. So far in 2006, he's left nothing to chance with two wins. He's built a 105 point lead over John Force. That's a pretty bold statement to start the season, Ron?
RON CAPPS: Yeah. And it was less than a round, eight points. Yeah, what was your question? I'm sorry.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Such an impressive start coming off last year when you were so close. You really kind of laid claim to the early part of the season in Funny Car.
RON CAPPS: Yeah, and we kind of snuck up on them in the end. The point was, we were there all year. We never led. But one thing that's gotten us to where we are now leading the points this year is just consistency. You hear every motorsports team, every stick and ball, everybody just tells you consistency is what will get you championships.
We knew we had it. We kind of peaked at the right time, right near the end of the year. Heading into Pomona, to be as close as it was... I finished second before, so I knew that feeling to. Having a real shot at the championship was something that was awesome. I knew, as soon as it was over and we didn't win a championship, that we'd be pretty strong this year.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Just as a note on Ron finishing second. He's done that three times, in '98, 2000 and again in 2005. Ron has 19 career wins, which is fifth most all time among NHRA drivers who have not won a championship and second most in Funny Cars. Ron is certainly among those, the biggest names in the sport who has yet to get in the winner's circle. This year he's made a pretty bold statement to start the season.
We'll start with questions for Ron.
Q. Could you talk about your position compared to your teammates, what you think they might be struggling with? After finishing second last year, how much has that steeled you for this season in terms of just being steady all the way through?
RON CAPPS: Well, I mean, the first part of your question, my teammates, to watch Gary, Whit for that matter, too, but to watch the champ struggle like they have early in the season, you know, I've talked about my crew guys and how I've got a pretty good mix of young guys on my crew, really young guys, guys straight out of automotive college, with a couple veterans mixed in. I felt like I had to be kind of a leader. I was quick to remind them we could be in that position very quickly. It's just the way the sport is.
A few years ago, I was in that spot. Just couldn't do anything right. It's tough because Gary, you've been in the pit area, my trailer is connected to Scelzi's. You get back from a run, you win that round, for that matter Houston, we get back after qualifying well, they didn't qualify, it's bittersweet. It's like having a brother. You're excited for yourself and your team, but you feel bad. You don't know what to say. To be honest with you, I didn't go over and say anything to Scelzi. If I was in that position, there's nothing anybody could say to make you feel better. I knew they'd snap out of it and they're going to be strong. But I also know that's what makes this whole Schumacher team strong. We saw the help that each crew chief, Ace, Zippy, now Todd, worked together. When Zippy is struggling, maybe some of the stuff he talked to Ace about might have helped him, even though they ran quite a bit better than we did last year. All three crew chiefs always put their egos aside. It's finally turned around where everybody ran good in Vegas. Believe me, I'd love to have the success I'm having right now, but I'd rather do it racing Scelzi or Baze in the final or semis.
Q. And finishing second place, how did that steel for you this year?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, it's funny because, you know, that championship came down to what it did. Not that I was looking farther ahead. I knew what was going to happen was going to happen. To be honest with you, I almost didn't feel like we deserved it in a way because we didn't lead all year, and I felt bad for Scelzi going through his hole shot loss he had in Dallas. They should have ran away with it before it got to Pomona. We beat them in the final to Vegas to put us right within a round of him with one race to go. It was like, oh, boy, we may have spoiled something here and let Force back in from a team aspect.
But I knew beyond that, once Pomona was over, and the banquet was over on Monday night, we were going to be something to contend with in '06. I knew that Ace's plan was to come right back up with everything the same. When he said that, I mean, I have such confidence driving this car right now, I'm pretty sure that we're going to win every round I roll up to.
Q. A lot of Californians have done well in all sorts of motorsports. What do you think is part of the key that so many Californians have come up through the ranks?
RON CAPPS: Well, I mean, to be honest with you, drag racing was born in California, not that it has anything to do with me, because it's about 50, 60 years later. The fact of the matter is grew up going to Sacramento, as a matter of fact, my mom and dad -- my dad raced when I was a kid. I got several pictures, we were just looking over the holidays of me four, five years old at Sacramento Raceway, Pomona, Lions. Drag racing was I think born out there.
I think you're seeing a lot of teams now moving their operations back, like Snake did. He was a guy always from Southern California. There used to be so many tracks everywhere. I think that's just kind of -- they're slowly closing down. But I think the reason for that is just -- I lived in the Bay Area, so I used to go to Fremont a lot. To have Sears Point around there, Sonoma, Infineon, whatever it's called, you know, it's a big deal that we still have a track up in that area. It's a really big deal.
Q. Whereabouts in the Bay Area did you live?
RON CAPPS: Mountainview. My wife lived in Cupertino. That's where we met. Went up to college and lived in Cupertino, Mountainview, then Palo Alto.
Q. Where did you go to college?
RON CAPPS: Santa Clara. I taught racquetball at a club in Milpitas, believe it or not. I played tournaments all over the Bay Area, that got me through college. When I go back to that race, it's funny, how many people from the health club or Silicon Valley companies that used to come into the health club that knew me that are race fans that come up. It's kind of a home track for me.
Q. I know you've been close at different times in winning the championship. Now that you're leading as well as you are this season, is it putting pressure on you or taking pressure off?
RON CAPPS: God, I don't know. It depends on what day it is, to be honest with you. I'm really trying to be the coach or the fatherly type to my crew guys because it's easy for these young guys to get excited about leading in the points. I keep reminding them about how long the year is.
But, you know, on the other hand I enjoy being where we're at right now. It almost bothers me when people say, Hey, points leader, you're doing great leading the points. It's just so early. You want to get excited, crawl off in a corner where nobody can see you and go, Yeah, yeah, we're leading the points. You don't want to jinx yourself. I'm a firm believer in karma. I don't like anybody getting up and celebrating before you score the touchdown. That's kind of the way I'm trying to treat this.
Q. With Scelzi and Whit struggling like they have, if you're not running against them, how do you handle it and keep it inside yourself? You said you didn't want to go and talk to Scelzi when he had the bad time. How do you keep a separate focus for yourself when they're not running well?
RON CAPPS: We've all been there. That's the cool part. I mean, we're dealing with the best guys in the world at what they do, Baze and Scelzi. If they want my advice, they'll come talk to me. If somebody, their crew chief, wants advice, they'll come ask. You don't want somebody forcing their opinion on anything. I sure don't.
Gary and I are really tight. We do a lot of dirt racing, spend a lot of time together away from the track. The fact that they may be struggling, I've been there plenty of times as you know in the past. There's some times things are not going your way, there's nothing you can do. The last thing you want to do is go over, pat somebody on the butt and say, It will be okay. It's just cliche. A lot of times it may not come from the heart from somebody.
These are guys that do this for a living, they are the best at what they do. You don't have to tell them things will get better. They know it. All can you do is offer your help.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Before we finish off, Ron, you talked a lot at the end of last year that John and Gary got a lot of the publicity. How has it been so far for you this year because you've been under the spotlight for the first couple months of the season?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, it's been cool. I mean, the reality show American Dragster, its two episodes have aired now. I just had this lady come up to me a minute ago in the airport and recognize me from not watching the drag racing, but seeing the show on Sunday morning. That was kind of a change. Usually we get people that are race fans that see you out in public, they'll tell you they saw you on TV or are cheering for you. Things like that are just helping the sport grow.
I think leading the points, it's automatic that you're going to get some press. But the fact that the sport is growing like it is and every year we show up somewhere, the attendance gets better and better, the tracks get better and better, I feel like we're really lucky and I'm lucky to be where I am right now with the sport.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Do you mind getting recognized in the airport?
RON CAPPS: No (laughter). Except that I was on hold with you and she went and got her cell phone and put her husband on. You were telling me I was coming up, and he was in my other ear. I was worried I wasn't going to get to you. Other than that, it's okay.
MICHAEL PADIAN: I'll let you get to your plane now. We hear beeping in the background. Appreciate your stopping in with us today from the airport in Atlanta.
RON CAPPS: No problem, appreciate it.
MICHAEL PADIAN: I just wanted to finish off a note on winningest drivers in NHRA history who have never won a Powerade Series championship. Kurt Johnson leads that unique fraternity with 33 career wins, including of course he just won in Las Vegas, that was his 33rd career win. He's finished second four times and third four times. The winningest Funny Car driver to never win a championship is Del Worsham, won 21. Ron is two wins away from that.
Moving on to Melanie Troxel, just like Ron Capps had two wins this year, Troxel has been to every final round this season, which is an NHRA record in Top Fuel for a consecutive final round to begin a season. She's built a 156-point lead over Dave Grubnic. Melanie from out of work a year ago at this time to leading Top Fuel by 156 points, in your wildest dreams, did you see that coming?
MELANIE TROXEL: No, definitely not. You know, that seems so kind of surreal to be talking about having that kind of lead early in the season. It is such a long season that we're not counting our chickens before they've hatched. Certainly a great start to the season.
While I knew that we had a team that was definitely capable, I somewhat expected us to come out and do well and win some races this year, I don't think that any of us expected this.
MICHAEL PADIAN: I will ask you a similar question that I asked Ron. What has this season been like for you in terms of all the commitments you've made for media, taking you away from the track with TV, newspapers?
MELANIE TROXEL: You know, for me, especially like you mentioned, coming from not having a job a year ago to coming into not only a great team but for us to be going out and running like we are now is a huge change. Just coming onto the team itself after spending two years out of the seat entirely has been a big change in itself. So I'm not sure that I'm completely -- you know, that I noticed -- I mean, obviously I notice this is a bigger change, but in a whole, the whole thing, I'm not really separating the two that much, but certainly I'm definitely very aware right now that in order to stay around in this sport long-term, we need to be able to bring in new sponsors and bring in new fans to the sport.
These are definitely the types of things that we as drivers need to be out there doing. They're the kind of things that are going to help us get where we need to be.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Let's get on to the folks that want to ask some questions.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about women drivers. You're doing it. You're winning week in, week out. You're at the top of the game right now. What have you seen with women in motorsports during your career? Have you seen this big upsurge where there's more women on the track?
MELANIE TROXEL: Yeah, I think so. Actually, I think we continue to see more and more women involved in the sport every year. I don't think -- you know, definitely it's become, you know, a lot more obvious to people right now just with the exposure that Danica got and we're seeing -- I think really the big change is we're seeing women who are definitely qualified getting great opportunities. There have definitely been a lot of women out here trying to compete in all different types of motorsports for quite a while. I think those numbers will continue to increase. But we're finally seeing, you know, women really get those opportunities with the great teams.
It doesn't matter how good of a driver you are, if you're not -- if you don't get into working with a team that has a car that has the capability of going out and winning, then it makes absolutely no difference. Nobody's going to know how good of a driver you are.
Q. Are you seeing more female fans out at the track?
MELANIE TROXEL: You know, I think we are. Certainly being a female, we get a large number of female fans that come by in general. We're probably more aware of the female fan than the average driver. But certainly I think having women who are having more success in the sport attracts more women to it. It does seem like there's been an increase in the past six months to a year.
Q. Are there enough words in any language to explain the starting launch at the electronic tree?
MELANIE TROXEL: That's probably one of the most common questions that especially fans will ask us. "What is that like?" My husband and I joke all the time, we've yet to find any good way to describe it. There probably are words, but it's definitely something that you have to sit down and really put a lot of thought and time into coming up with something that would really be able to describe the incredible feeling, the incredible forces that are involved with one of these cars at launch.
Q. Are you also a fan of roller coasters?
MELANIE TROXEL: I am. I consider myself a big adrenaline junky in general. I love roller coasters. Got the opportunity to go skydiving for the first time last year. Kind of funny part about it is that my husband wants absolutely nothing to do with any of this stuff. I have to find other people in order to go have an opportunity to go to do this stuff because he's definitely not chomping at the bit to go try that with me.
Q. At the time of Pomona, nobody had really used the new Goodyear tire. With this many races in, is it kind of (indiscernible) into where the teams are getting ahold on it for the new performance tire?
MELANIE TROXEL: I definitely think we're getting a handle on it. I mean, everybody involved. We've fared pretty well. We've had our fair share of struggles with it. But everybody's making strides at getting the cars down the track and understanding what this tire needs to work.
There's definitely the chance that there are struggles ahead for us. When we start heading to the hotter racetracks where the tracks are different and it's going to, again, take a different setup, that may throw everything up in the air again. It's hard to say at this point.
That's definitely what makes a crew chief's job challenging, is constantly having to adapt to the different conditions out there. I think we've made a big part of that jump already. Hopefully it won't throw us for another curve and we'll just see everybody move into the summer races smoothly.
Q. Does it bite more or less than the old tire?
MELANIE TROXEL: Honestly, I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this entirely. My feeling on it has been just that it acts different early in the run. There's a place early in the run where the tires want to shake. These tires shake a lot in that area. That can be caused by an overpower condition, it can be caused by kind of having an underpower tire shake. If there was any one obvious thing that we could say about it and say the tire bites more so we're going to throw more power at it, I think everybody would have gotten through it a lot quicker. I think it's a lot more complicated than that. I'm certainly probably not the person to be explaining that to everyone.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Melanie, have you thought about or how do you keep yourself from thinking about potentially making the record-setting final round this Sunday in Bristol?
MELANIE TROXEL: You know, honestly for me, that would be -- you know, it would be need to have that record. For me it's far more important for us to be looking at the long-term points chase, that that really doesn't even enter into my thinking. You know, I'm not concerned about, oh, are we going to be able to get that record? For me, it's much more important that we're working on a long-term plan of consistency.
We could go 10 years down the road and definitely people are going to remember you a lot more for winning a championship than that streak of final rounds. It will be one of those things that if it happens, it will be a neat record to have. Really even just worrying about going to another final isn't in the big picture because you're not going to go to every final round. You can't win every race. As long as we can continue to working on making our qualifying and our Sunday runs consistent, I'll be happy with the outcome.
MICHAEL PADIAN: The last four Top Fuel champions were leading at this point in the season. That's probably a stat you're interested in hearing.
MELANIE TROXEL: Yeah, that's definitely nice to hear. I would probably doubt that any of those teams were less than a year old. With a driver that has been out of the seat for two years prior to the team coming back, so I know we have our challenges ahead of us. But at the same time I think everybody's doing a great job and I don't think that we're getting too caught up in all the hoopla around leading the points and everything. We're just trying to stay focused on what we're doing.
If we can continue to do that and have that opportunity to hold onto this points lead, then obviously that would make me extremely happy.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Melanie, appreciate you're coming on to the call. Also want to thank all the media for joining us today in asking all the questions. We will be back in July with a similar teleconference with the four Powerade Series leaders at the midpoint of the season. Any questions you have for us or anyone here or the media department, you can reach us by telephone. Thanks again for joining us. That concludes today's call.
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