National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
September 15, 2009
MICHAEL PADIAN: Joining us today will be drivers from each of the four pro categories beginning with Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. I'll introduce each of the drivers, ask for an opening statement about the upcoming playoffs, and then I'll open it up to questions from the media.
I'll begin with Eddie Krawiec, rider of the Screamin Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Eddie had four wins and four runners up during the 12-race Pro Stock Motorcycle regular season and before that he earned the No. 1 seed entering the playoffs. Eddie claimed the 2008 title after a seventh place finish in the regular season, the lowest regular season finish of any champion in the Countdown era.
Eddie, thoughts on the Countdown and beginning this year as the hunted, rather than the hunter as you were last year.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Yeah, coming into this, it is, it's definitely different than the way it worked out last year. The Full Throttle Countdown to 1 position, I was fortunate enough to get that and be the points leader coming into it; obviously getting those important 30 points for that extra position.
Now obviously with the new change in the rules and the points that are gained in qualifying, every round point that you do get or championship round point that you do get is going to be a major factor here, because now you're rewarded points for just going and qualifying well, and that's one of our main focuses here.
We have always been one of the top performers. Our team has been fortunate enough to win the full throttle award for the past couple of seasons and we are pretty happy and proud of that. So hopefully that shines the second half of the season and we can now grab some of those important points instead of the cash.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks, Eddie. Jeg, are you on the line? We are still waiting for Jeg so I'm going to begin by opening it up to questions right now for Eddie.
Q. Matt Smith says that you've been sandbagging and that you're going to be really going for those points, those qualifying points. My big question is have you guys been holding back this anyway?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: To be honest with that answer, we go to every race with the intention of winning and we go out there to perform the best that we can and run best that we can at every event.
And I don't think it's any different than any other race that we approach for the final five. So I think you'll see our performance be right up there in the top two or three, all five races. That's the way that we have been running.
I struggled a little bit the last race. Our bike, we were just off on the tuneup. So I would expect it to turn around and hopefully go to Charlotte here and run really well. I wouldn't say we were.
I would say we were running and performing well. The only bike that was out performing us out there was Hector Arana, and he was running really strong. For Matt, also, to go out there and he ran some low ET at a couple of the races, also. I don't think we were holding back any, I think you'll really see, and other people will be stepping up their game.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Jeg, driver of the Jeg's.com Chevy Cobalt. Jeg has won four NHRA Full Throttle World Championships overall, including each of the last two. In the 2009 regular season, he led all drivers in wins with seven, and in round-wins with 47. He enters the playoffs fresh off of two straight wins and eight consecutive round-wins.
Jeg, like Eddie who came from off the pace last year entering the Countdown, you have come off the pace to win each of your two titles in the Countdown era. Now that you're in the first place, any different strategy for the Jeg's.com team?
JEG COUGHLIN: No, I don't think so. We look forward to heading into the Countdown to 1 championship, obviously this weekend at Charlotte.
The team, we have discussed our strategy at the conclusion of the 2008 championship run, how we wanted to approach the 2009 season and how we ideally will approach the 2009 Countdown season. So you know, we are really just looking to minimize any mistakes we can. It's a six-race stretch that could be a do-or-die situation.
You know, our goal is not to make any mistakes that can cost us being able to get the car to the starting line or get it down the racetrack, and you know, be able to put myself in a position to get out and do what I love to do, and that's try to work hard to turn the win right on.
But it's going to take an extremely strong run. We have got such a powerful contingent of cars running at the top of the pro stock pack right now and we have had some great, great fortune. As you've mentioned, we have led the pace with race wins this year and for that to continue is going to take some good fortune still, and some good, old-fashioned racing, so looking forward to it.
Q. More for Eddie, how do you welcome this new point structure? With the Countdown being what it is, how much do you feel it's necessary to ratchet it up and prevent that sandbagging that you were alluding to a little earlier?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: You mean the qualifying points?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: With the qualifying points, I think actually it's a good thing. There's a lot of bikes out there, or cars, that can qualify well, and sometimes struggle on race day.
Now, with the way that it's going to work out, it's just going to throw a little bit more of a wrench in there. It means you have to go out there and you have to perform well, not only on race day, but you have to perform now during qualifying.
Like I touched earlier, the full throttle award, which is something that a lot of the racers look forward to in past years, was a qualifying bonus that you received money for qualifying and making -- being the most consistent and at the end of the year, there was a bonus for the team that did it the best.
We have been fortunate enough to win that quite a few times, and that shows how good as a team we are and how good we played during qualifying, playing that factor of making good, solid runs down that track and being consistent, more important.
So it's going to be interesting. I think it's going to throw a mix in there and change things up a little bit. It's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm pretty excited about the whole Countdown all in all, and you know, I just think you're going to see some good racing here in the Full Throttle Series in the last five, six races.
Q. I guess it was a little surprising that it's coming now, but did it really matter when it came, that coming in for the Countdown was right on time?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: To be totally honest, I was pretty shocked when it did come out. You would think something like this system would sort of come out and play a factor throughout the whole season of points, because I do think that it would have changed a lot of the way a lot of these racers fell into the Countdown.
But it's obviously going to get introduced at any time, and NHRA felt that it was the time to do it during the Countdown, and sort of throw a little wrench in there. But I think it's something that will ultimately be all welcomed by all the racers. And really I think it's a good thing, and like we did say, it does prevent that sandbagging or however you may say it, but it makes you want to go out there and qualify well for every single session and make the best run that you possibly can and get rewarded for it.
Q. Talking about the qualifying points deal, are you concerned about this at all? I know qualifying has not been the strongest suit for your car, or do you figure that race wins take care of all that because of points being what they are three, two, one, per session?
JEG COUGHLIN: It can definitely have an impact on points earned without question. As you mentioned, qualifying has not been our strong suit, but I think that's for a couple of reasons. One, we are not a team that likes to spend additional money and resources on going out and testing during the season, and sometimes during -- in Pro Stock and I think Pro Stock Bike, we can say this, and it doesn't impact our fan experience, either, that are at the track, because races are a great run to us. A bad run to us is within two or three hundredth of a second and it's still a great side-by-side run, and as a team we can gather some great data.
On the Fuel cars, the make or break can be enough smoke or a ball of fire, and that can certainly impact the fan experience.
So I think the points that have been added to the Countdown here is certainly an interesting addition to the Countdown. I think it's exciting. We certainly will approach and already have approached Charlotte, slightly different. We are typically a time that would come in on the conservative side and work our tuneup and set up, by cue three and cue four, we are typically in the Top-5 or better in those sessions, typically.
I feel like with our approach, we'll approach it slightly differently coming into Friday's session and I think with the four straight races, it doesn't really allow us to go out and do much testing in between the races, maybe fine-tune on some things. But I've got a strong group of team members that will get this Jegs.com Chevy flying. But it's going to be interesting to say the least. And fortunately, we are starting in the top spot and we may need some of those points, but we'll see.
Q. Eddie, going back to what you did last year, winning without winning a race, I know it's rare in the overall history of NHRA, but Countdown format is still pretty young. Do you think we might see that, in your class or another class in the near future, somebody winning this championship without winning a race in the last six?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: I would say it is possible. For it to happen is probably going to being a slim chance. But there's a lot of contenders out there, especially in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category that have not won a race: Michael Phillips, there's Karen Stoffer. There's a bunch of bikes that are in the back of the pack that are more than capable of winning a race; not just winning a race, winning the championship.
I proved last year with our team, it was consistency that did it. It didn't mean race wins; it was round wins. And bottom line is if some of the guys up front stumble, somebody in the back can capitalize; and that's the nice thing about this system is it gives hope.
And it shows every team, if you're in the Countdown to 1, you guarantee yourself a shot at winning the championship. I guarantee you have a shot at getting a better number on your bike or on your car for the end of that season than you did if the points stayed the same way. That makes it exciting.
And more important, the fans get to see some great racing and it's going to cop down to every single race in the final five or six for all of these cars, but the final five for the bikes are going to be exciting and good for the fans to watch and more important, it's going to let everybody sit on the edge of their seat wanting to know or wondering who is going to win that next round.
Q. Jeg, the whole thing with the new qualifying points system, you guys have always approached qualifying in a certain way, and now you have to change how you do that. Do you think it was something that really needed to be done?
JEG COUGHLIN: Well, I don't think it is certainly anything negative that's been done, but it's a new opportunity that's presented itself to the Countdown and to all of us competitors.
So it's part of the rules and something we'll just work with. You know, we are typically an extremely strong team on race day, and I think we'll filter some of that backward toward Friday and approach it just slightly differently. So was it necessary? I think it's exciting, as Eddie just mentioned. The goal is to build excitement and to prove on track excitement, as well. So certainly see it being a win/win for the down the and for the Full Throttle championships as they will wrap up the 2009 season.
Q. It seems like it's a good concept. It just seemed odd that they would throw it in right before the Countdown begins.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: You know, that's part of the hype, you know, and the format itself really didn't take on any differences going into the 2009 season, and I think more than anything, it just caught some of us off-guard. But that's all part of the deal. And nothing that I think any of us are worried about. The fans are going to be treated to some spectacular racing in cues one, two, three and four and on Sunday, as well.
Q. You had a great year this year after your championship last year. What do you attribute your success to this year, and is it easier going into the Countdown, do you go into n with a little more confidence after your win last year?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Absolutely. I have a great team behind me, the Vance & Hines Screamin Eagle Harley-Davidson Team had always given me a great motorcycle come race day.
So to have the confidence that's there; I think my turnaround was myself personally. The main thing is, is mental confidence. You need to go and approach every single race as it is the last race or the final round, whatever you need to do, to approach it to get your mind-set where it needs to be to know that you have the best equipment under you, and you're going to perform the best. And I just really started getting in the groove last year midseason. I did some testing and really turned the corner, is the way I looked at it.
Fortunate for me, the way that I really started to shine was on the second half of the season, and that's when it really mattered the most and I was able to capture the final Full Throttle championship there at the end, and just to be a part of it and have the whole deal over in this team, the way that this team does it, and for them to give me the equipment that they have given me is just a huge confidence booster.
So I would say my biggest change was myself personally.
Q. Jeg, are you surprised that some of your perennial key rivals have struggled a little bit like with red lights, and do you worry that they might be peeking at the right time for them?
JEG COUGHLIN: You know, we certainly can't control, good, question but we can't control what our competitors are doing. Our goal, like I mentioned earlier, is to make sure that our car is as best prepared as we can, the guys in the shop, Stevie, John, and everybody has been working on horsepower which is extremely crucial. We have some new enhancements that have filtered into the car over the last two races and we have done extremely well.
So Mike Edwards has certainly been leading the performance trends of the entire 2009 season, whether it was first round, second one, cue one, cue two, I think we have seen Greg Anderson struggle a little; I think that's been surprising to the masses without question. But what he's missed, his teammate, Jason Line, has certainly picked up.
I think more, when you look further at the Countdown to one, and the remainder of the drivers, you have got Alan Johnson back there that has not made as much noise as I think we are going to see in some of his teammates, so it's going to be exciting, without question. You know, that's what makes this Full Throttle championship so important and so special, is because we are on the edge of our seat now, not just the fans. You have got the crew chief right on the edge. You have got the drivers and the riders right on the edge. It's game time. There's no looking back, and this is what the whole year is set up for and that's what makes it the most exciting. Obviously for us at Jeg's and Jeg's.com, we would like nothing more than to win our third straight championship.
So stay tuned. This is going to be a heck of a ride.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks for joining us today. You guys are clear for takeoff and we are going to move now to Top Fuel.
I'd like to begin with the regular season champion no Top Fuel, Antron Brown. An drone drivers the MAC Tools dragster and swept the Western Swing winning five races en route to securing the No. 1 seed in Top Fuel and he's seeking his first NHRA Full Throttle championship this season after a number of seasons competing in Pro Stock motor cycle. Antron, how, if at all, has the I am MAC could he team strategy going to change after entering the Countdown, after doing as well as you did in the regular season with five race wins?
ANTRON BROWN: I think that we changed our structure a little bit because at the US Nationals, like we have been a pretty conservative team first round in every race that we have been racing and I think now that we go into the latter part of the year with the last six races for the World Championship, I think you'll see our crew chiefs Mark and Brian, they are going to be a little bit more aggressive, and I'm going to be more aggressive myself where we are going to attack each round like it was our last round. That's pretty much what we did on the Western Swing but we were concern at that time to get the car to go to A to B because the track conditions were hot. Now we are getting to the part of the year where the track conditions are going to get tighter and the runs are going to get cool so it's going to be time to run those little 80s and high 70s, what we did at the beginning of the season but when you get to the mid of the season, throw us for a curveball and now it's going to be a time where you do it all or leave it -- or you leave yourself behind be, you can't do it with Tony and Dixon and Brandon and all those other guys and Martin Luke as's cars. All those teams are really, really funning fast right now and as you can see we have multiple different winner this is year. Our class has some intention competition and we won or last races by less than 2- or 3,000s of a second and a Top Fuel car going over 315 miles an hour.
MICHAEL PADIAN: The second Top Fuel driver on today's call is Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. Tony has won five straight championships, and six overall, he enters the playoffs fresh off of his record-tying eighth Mac Tools US Nationals win. That win was the 60th of Tony's career. He's the only driver in Top Fuel history and just the fifth overall to reach the 60-win plateau in NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing competition.
As much as you have talked about big races and big moments, you must be as anxious as anyone to get the Countdown underway.
TONY SCHUMACHER: Yeah, no question about it. You're down to six races and new points deal, just a whole lot of good things coming up.
And we are coming off a huge run. For the past five races, every time I got beat, I kind of snickered and said, that's okay, I'm just supposed to win my 60th event and race Antron or Dixon in the finals.
You can joke about it, but then when you're sitting in the finals, are you kidding me, there's nothing like it. There's nothing like that big moment. My career has been -- I've been fortunate to have so many huge bottom of the ninth, bases-loaded, full count moments.
I think the championship, all the accolades and the great stuff you get, there's nothing that compared to just being able to enjoy those big moments, because if you can't even recognize them, it's hard to win them. And as Antron and all them guys, you have to figure it out, you have to understand that it's a big moment and you have to prepare for it. There's no questions asked; we are down to six immensely huge races and just a number of big moments coming up.
So we'll see how we handle it. I think we are one of those teams that will handle it good. And I've got new guys. My guys have given me a lot of confidence, these new guys, and after the team I've had, for the past, you know, almost six years, I've known the greatest that they are in the big moments and they have proven that they can do it when it's time to do it. So look forward to it.
Q. Tony, concerning new points, new qualifying for points, does it favor certain kind of teams or drivers, or is it equal across the board do you think?
TONY SCHUMACHER: That's a good question. Probably different in each class. In Top Fuel, I would say it's fairly equal, and I'll tell you why. There are so many cars running within hundredths of a second. Maybe six or seven cars, and it's no longer that one car going fast and everyone else just trying to figure it out. There are a numerous amount of cars just running similar.
So it's going to be about -- even at the back of the pack, at each run to be able to know what you've got to do and go out there, and just try to sneak that quick run in each and every time for those points. And I think the points will matter. I think Top Fuel is going to come down to just a massive battle at the end.
I kind of wish they did one more thing. I kind of wish that on race day, low ET of each round got points. You know what, Funny Car would be fun to watch, the guys that stuff the car in real deep would be giving up points every time they do it -- inaudible -- where Top Fuel most of the drivers, fairly thin; some don't. But I would like to see that. I would like to see where it's down to the battle and a race where you got a couple extra bonus points and you could even get beat and get points. It would be kind of neat to see.
Overall it's surprising that they came out with it right now where they have to get used to it with six races to go but I'm okay with it. I think we are one of the cars. Antron has one of the cars, Dixon has one of the cars; we are all going to benefit from that at some point during the season. It's a matter of who can do it four teams in each weekend in qualifying and can really add up the points quickly.
Q. Every driver enters a season optimistic, but this year, what your team has accomplished must be just beyond your wildest expectations.
ANTRON BROWN: Well, the thing about it is is that like you know, when you enter the season, when you enter the season, it's just you've got to take it one grain at a time. And with all of the stuff that happened to our team in the off-season when we switched team owners twice, we knew the first one, but the second one came by a surprise, and you never know until you get to that -- until you get there.
So we got in there with Mike Ashley, he stepped in, was very optimistic and we found out who the crew chief was going to be, Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, it really -- I had a little sigh, because I worked with them over at DSR when I was over driving with Tony and for Don over there at Schumacher Racing. And I know Brian is very aggressive tuner, and I know Mark is like an engineer, and he's a tuner, and he knows how to drive the race car.
So it was a great package all in one where I got put into a school, another school, that's not offered to anybody. So once I got to meet those guys, and actually spend some time with them, and we sent down and talked about the changes we were doing to race cars to make it more better for them and then we got to preseason testing, that's when everything calmed down and we now knew -- we under knew about the competitive team.
But then I saw what type of team we was going to have. I knew we wanted to run and compete and compete for a World Championship but I didn't know at what level. Once we got testing and I saw really all of our crew guys gelled with our new crew guys, and Brian and Mark and our relationships and the way that we have gelled together, then I knew that we had that dynamite team.
Because you know, I was there, like you know, for five years where Tony won four straight world championships in a row. I was there for four of them, and I saw what Tony had the passion that he had for the sport and I saw what his team did, and I was there and I saw the winning formula, and the winning formula is when you get all those guys to gel and they work as one, as one tight unit.
And that's when you get those uncommon results, which is all those race wins, and being competitive and being able to bounce back when you have a problem, not taking a race to figure out, taking one round to figure out because everybody worked so well together. I saw that in my team and I said, well, it will be a matter of time till we build and build and get stronger.
We grew and built quicker than I thought we would, and it was a surprise to me at a certain extent, but then once we got into it, I said that's what our team is all about and that's how hard we work and we are still getting after it, and I feel blessed to be a part of this team.
Q. Tony, so much for anyone who might have wrote you off after Johnson left. Looks like you are sitting pretty good for maybe getting six straight.
TONY SCHUMACHER: You know what whether you get it or not, it's just so darned cool to be in the battle. You know, the five that we won, they came pretty hard. Last year, we won a lot of races but the two before, we were down to the last run of the year. They were not gimmies in any way, shape or form. It was not what we expected and not what we saw last year.
This year, just to be in the middle after reading all that stuff and hearing about it, it just goes to show you that as great of a crew chief as Alan is, there's other great guys out there and there's other great teams and the performances this year are, you know, they are giving the fans -- I don't think there's been a race for any fan in any given time, in any one of those NHRA races could walk away and didn't feel like they got their money's worth.
It's great to come out on the winning end no doubt. But I've been beaten four thousandths by Antron, and seven thousandths by Kalitta and eight thousandths by Antron again. Cars that fast, there are a lot of people running good. And it's not just AJ. Again, amazing crew chief that he is, and the whole team went over there and kind of wrote us off like they will never win another race; we have been able to go out and beat them and we beat them three out of the four races we run them. And that just goes to show that Mike did a great job stepping up.
We hired great people and we are in the middle of a phenomenal battle that at the end of the year, whoever wins the championship is going to be able to stand there with a trophy and know that they earned it, because it is truly going to be a battle and it will be fun.
Antron will be great at it, but the drivers that go out and are having fun will be good in the races. And the ones that are putting pressure on and because they are so close to being a champ now six races away with all of the points gone, those guys are going to crush. And it's a matter of being able to suck it up, dig deep at the right time and smile while you do it. Because some of the guys are going to be able to handle the weight of the world on them, like they are going to see here coming up in Charlotte, and some of them aren't and we'll know at the end of the weekend.
Q. Antron, if you were advising someone, based on your experience, how is the best way to make the transition you made from stock motorcycle to Top Fuel? What's the best way to prepare yourself for that kind of change?
ANTRON BROWN: For one you definitely need to go to some type of drag racing school. For me personally I had a little edge because you know when I worked at DSR I was around the fuel cars a lot and I saw how they operate and how they worked on them and I knew how the cars work. I am familiar with them a little bit before I actually got into it. And I went to Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School right there where I was able to actually go there and actually get my alcohol license in an alcohol dragster.
So once I was able to accomplish that, I knew somewhere -- but you don't get prepared for it or you don't know what a Top Fuel car is like until you get into one. And I was just -- and luckily, where I got with the right team and you need to get with the right crew and crew chief that can help you learn along the way, also.
And I had Dan last year where he really showed me the ropes. He was a great teacher and a great ambassador of the sport and a wealth of knowledge that he never steered me wrong. I was like a sponge learning all I could and I had great people helping me, like my teammate last year, Hot Rod, and Tony. Tony, who looked like, you know, I came into the sport as a rookie and I think last year, I was on the edge of my seat like giving him some competition. We ran second for most of the year last year and he was up there mentoring me and tutoring me. And that's where you learn about drag racing because your competitors around you there pushing you, they are there to help. But you have to be willing to be determined to do it, because it doesn't just happen.
You have to be able to do it. It's a react sport. You can't think about what you want to do. You have to do it. That's what really helped me in the transition, just you know, racing all the years of Pro Stock motorcycle, I knew how to race and I knew how to react to things. When I got in the Top Fuel car, it was like learning all over again but I knew the similarities were going to be the same mind-set, but you know, I was out there to grow and learn some new mechanical skills to become a Top Fuel dragster.
Q. You down played the whole cultural significance about your season and now it's getting attention; have you allowed yourself to think about what it could mean to the fans, and maybe those trying to -- minorities that want to get into the sport?
ANTRON BROWN: The thing about it, that's great. That's what our sport does, we have reached so many different cultures out here because so many people can relate to drag racing, and it will be huge, if it's a kid or a young adult or teenager out there that might look up to me as a hero or a mentor, and that's great, because I had my heroes and mentors, too.
Like one of my heroes, that was Big Daddy and we had a local heroes Frank Manville (ph), Bruce Larson, Eddie Hill. Those were my heroes growing up as kids, you know what I mean.
So if I can be that same deal and that same light, maybe for an inner city kid or whoever it may be, it could be a kid in the country; when I heard the John Force story, sorry how he became who he is. He used to live in a trailer home with his brothers and sisters, and he was a guy that used to drive logs on a tractor trailer. And now he's got a multi-million dollar empire driving funny cars.
That story right there will get anybody motivated because somebody like that that can do it that's a normal Joe Blow off the street means that you can do it, and that's the way I look at myself. My family loves drag racing and we are weekend warriors. And it really doesn't bother me or make a difference to me race, creed or color; we are all Americans.
I think something that our sport of drag racing does well is that we don't look at somebody being different ethnic background. If you're a good racer, you're a good racer, no matter what color you are. Look at Ricky Shower, he's a double-amputee, but people see him as being a great Pro Stock bike racer because of his skill level, not because of what color he is or they think he's handicapped or this or that. He's a great racer.
And that's one thing that drag racing brings out in all of us is that we are seen for who we are and the skills we are. If I can encourage some inner city kids and some of my cousins and nephews and nieces, that's awesome, I want them to fulfill the dreams in their lives because I love the career that I'm in.
Q. We talked about the qualifying points and one thing we haven't talked about is the chance to earn points to set a national record. What do you think is the opportunity available to set a national record and could this championship be determined by that?
TONY SCHUMACHER: First, it's going to be tough, to set a new record. But there will be cars out there, and one thing we have proven year after year is you can find a way to go a little quicker. We haven't made any drastic engine changes and car changes since we set those records.
So it's going to depend on the year and it's going to depend on the cars, and it's going to depend on the crew chief and the level he wants to after it. Is it possible, sure? Is it going to win you the championship? One car could run away here four or five races; it's been done before. And it could turn into the battle I expect it to be where four or five or six different cars and go out and win and it comes down to those few points.
So you know, again, you set a world record, qualifying Friday night usually, and you back up a world record sometimes Saturday or last round on race day. So it really comes down to the person you are running against, timing, the car that's in that lane.
I would love to give you the right answer but the fact is, it's a timing sport. It's the right place, right time that you set those records and the right people to, say the least. So we'll wait and see.
Q. The record, is that overdue, and does that mean in your mind we are going to be thousand-foot racing for a long time?
TONY SCHUMACHER: I don't know that it is going to -- the mark that says because there's records -- in any way, shape or form. I just think that it's a good plan. A lot of people come up to me and say -- well, there's your answer, we have records, now, we will go after it and try to set some records and see if we can't get the bonus points.
To be honest what we are going to do is show up at a race, tie to qualify, run fast to win the race. If we go out and win races we are going to win the championship. It's easy to get distracted, but you go out and try to set a record at every race, you are going to lose championships. I think most of the crew chiefs know that.
There's a right place and right time to set a world record. It's not always out there. If the track conditions are not right and the weather conditions are not right, you don't go for a record and give up the three points you might get just by going fast.
I think we are going to have to be careful and there is strategy here, the people, they are watching at home, there's a lot more that goes into it. The fact is, you show up and you run every time as quick as you think that particular lane can go, every time. If you go too slow, you shift and if you go too fast, you spin the tires. It's all about putting the car in the right place at the right time. You win six race -- I don't care if it's six records you've set against, if you have to win a championship you have to stay focused. You don't show up at any given race for the reason of setting a record. You show up at every race, though to win the race, and that's just the facts.
ANTRON BROWN: It's great that we have the national record back for sure and it's something we need to have. Does it mean we are going to stay at 1,000 foot? All of us would love to go back to a quarter mile and I know NHRA is working diligently to make that happen for sure. But that's something both our class need, both at Funny Car and Top Fuel both, they need record. Twenty points is 20 points. Tony, he won a World Championship by setting a record in the final round.
And in my personal opinion, I think we have two tracks that's going to be capable of setting that record, which is great for the Countdown because it will add spice to it. If you look at the back of the dragster, Richmond, I think Tony set some 70 runs in Richmond, and he also set that record, like you go to that 4:42 in Pomona.
So we have two chances to break the record and I think there's multiple teams that can get that job done that actually ran the semis already this year. Tony is one, and I think Dixon and our team ourselves.
It's going to be interesting, because it adds a twist to it and makes it a lot more exciting for the fans and it makes it exciting for our crew chiefs because when you run fast, I mean, everybody feels good. I mean, to go out there on an 81, yeah, we ran an 80, an 81, that's cool. But when you run those record breaking ETs, everybody leaves with a smile on their face. It just makes it more exciting and I look forward to it, and it's going to be an enjoyment to actually do it and get one run to do it or try to do it.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Our regular season champion, Tony Pedregon, who drives the Quaker State Chevy Impala. He has won two championships, in 2004, and 2007, and his car has been one of the best all year and his driving has been equally stout. He's left first nearly 80 percent of the time this year, and he's a perfect 6-0 and on races decided on the tree, 1-0 on Redlights and 5-0 on Holeshots.
What are your thoughts on the Countdown and what the keys will be to carry the Quaker State team to a second title in the last three years and a third overall championship.
TONY PEDREGON: Well, I think one of the keys, as usual in this business, is consistency and performance. It's always consistency but performance, is going to play a big role. In the summertime, a lot of the crew chiefs are having to pull the cars back and be smart about racing to deal with the adverse conditions, the increased track temperatures. We are going to Charlotte, last year it was pretty warm and the track was still fast.
I think you are going to see for the most part, that trend will continue. This time of the year, I think the climate is going to favor racing, the cooler conditions, maybe not 100 percent of the tracks, but I think the cars are going to be able to do both and ultimately win races. I think those are going to be the THREE key components.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Next like to introduce Ron Capps, driver of the Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger RT. Ron led the category with five wins this season to give him 30 for his career. Capps had seven career top-five finishes and is seeking his first career World Championship.
Ron, your thoughts on the Countdown and trying to compete in the Funny Car category where I think it's fair to say that all ten cars in the Countdown legitimately think they can win the championship.
RON CAPPS: Yeah, that's true. Any one of these cars, I think we entered last year in seventh place, and it was a breath of fresh air starting the Countdown, because the first year of the Countdown, I started in the lead and that evaporated the first race. And I never saw the lead again. So things can turn around quickly.
And of course with now the bonus in qualifying added with each session, you know, it's going to change everybody's strategy a little bit, and within halfway through Sunday, you could very well see the Top-10 shuffle pretty good. And definitely by the end of the day, and on top of that, you throw in four races we have in a row, you're going to take a deep breath and let it out and we are going to be done with Virginia and it's going to be two races left and it's going to be quite a bit different than you see the points right now.
Q. I guess having been on both sides of this, and you've talked about this before, now that it's here and now you've got this new points structure and everything behind you, talk about your outlook for this, and maybe how many races do you think it might take to win this thing or will it be locked up in qualifying or can it be won in qualifying?
RON CAPPS: I don't know if it can be won. I think it's like any other race you do. You're not going to win it in the first turn, but you can definitely lose it, and I think that's kind of the case here. I think everybody -- you look back at the results from last year, and it was a strange Sunday. You know, Charlotte, a bunch of cars went out first round including us, cars that looked good all weekend, look the like they were going to be good and battle for the championship went out and it was just a strange day that you know, I think a lot of it was brought on by the weather.
I've been on both sides of that where anything could happen, and I think more than anything else, you have got to look at -- you have got to look at these bonus points. I know a lot of guys complain about this new points system for each session and you just have to look at it like this is a way I can gain three points per round, not stand back and say, oh, my God, we have a chance of losing three points to somebody. It's just not a great way to look at it and not a very confident way to look at it. I think those are all going to play a big part.
But again, we have seen time and time where qualifying is over, whatever race we are at, and somebody may be a little confident that they qualified well, their top two, top three in qualifying, but it just doesn't matter until it's race day, those are the points. That's a 20-point hit, go or bad, weather way.
So those other points are going to be nice, but I'm sure every driver will tell you, you would love to be celebrating Sunday night in Vegas of all place, knowing you can clinch it, just show up at Pomona but I don't see that happening.
Q. Ron, the switch to the new qualifying points system was a bit of a surprise. When you guys found out about it, did your team have to go into scramble mode to figure out what the system means and then how to deal with it?
RON CAPPS: No. I was actually at a pro meeting for the owners and I texted my crew chief, Ed McCulloch, and this is Friday, one of the longest days we have in our circuit at indicate he because everybody gets there in the morning and you don't run until night. As soon as Bernstein, the president of pro, had told everybody in the meeting, I pulled my phone out and sent a text to Ace. He sent me some words I can't repeat right now. I think that's what most of the crew chiefs were like. You know, why, right now, in the middle of season?
But I think more -- I wrote him back in my text that, hey, I feel pretty comfortable, we qualified well this year. So I don't know. I think a lot of guys are, you know, maybe it's not the best timing in the world, but personally, I love it. I think it's another way to spice up -- and I think a lot of it again was brought on by teams, myself included, talking about us testing on Saturdays or testing at races because we could not go test somewhere else.
So we had to pull these things out of the trailer that we have been want to go try, and the only time to do that is to get in the show on Friday, know that you're qualified, and then pull out something you're going to try on Saturday. Because it's under race conditions and you know you can emulate good traction, you can throw the part on there, and see if it works or if it's going to not work.
But I've got a little bit of grief about it, talking about testing all the time on Saturday, and the fact of the matter; every team tests on Saturday. You don't just go back up there and run the same exact run you ran on Friday afternoon, the same conditions. You are going to try something different, whether it's tire pressure, wheely bar height, whatever it is. So every team is testing the limits to see how far they can go.
Now with this bonus point, will that team reel it back in like Tony talked about to make sure you get down the track? Yeah, and you're going to have some teams that are probably going to step over that edge of their comfort zone and try to be one of those top three in qualifying to gain those points.
So it's going to be fun to watch. You know what, we may not gain these points. We may not be one of these cars. I feel confident we can be, but it's going to be fun to watch as a fan and media.
Q. Ron, you set the baseline for those thousand-foot records and that has to feel really good. Do you like the idea of 1,000-foot record being kept and the fact that you can get 20 extra bonus points now for that?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, I do. I think it's a feather in the cap for ace, as soon as I got the press release that we were the ones they went back and looked at, I sent him a message saying congratulations. It's a big compliment and that they put that in there as well, that it can be broken. It's going to be tough. But I think Tony earlier was talking about Virginia and some of these tracks coming up where conditions will allow you to go for the record, and I think it can be broken. There's a lot of advancements this year I think.
But you know, I think it's a good thing. I think it's good that we have something to shoot for. Whether or not we were looking at going quarter or mile or not soon, I think for right now -- I know Tony Pedregon has a car that can run hard and has shown it can run hard to set a record and I know that obviously we have the record, so we can do it. You look at a guy like Robert Hight got barely into the Countdown and that's a car that's capable. Anybody on any given day in this Countdown can gain those extra 20 points and that's just one more thing that's going to make it exciting for everybody.
TONY PEDREGON: I would agree with that. It's something that we are all very, very accustomed to and it seems that the timing is right; that it allows anyone the opportunity to gain some points that may make a difference going into the last couple of races. So I'm all for it. I think it's a good thing.
Q. I'm doing a story on the Snake and the Mongoose rivalry and I was wondering if you can talk about how that shaped your interest in the sport and the pursuit, and how popular the rivalry made drag racing.
TONY PEDREGON: I was very fortunate growing up around racing, and I really feel that I that had I not had a father that raised I think the exposure to this sport, is really all it takes.
You know, when we were kids, and I think this is something that you know, that a lot of people don't realize; I mean, once upon a team, the sport of drag racing in my opinion was as big as -- might have been as big as NASCAR thanks to the Wide World of Sports and back in that era, only having three major networks.
I think that most of that was due to, you know, I think the exposure that drivers like the Snake and the Mongoose got. But as this sport has grown and evolved, and I know that personalities are part of it; but there's really something, some kind of electricity I think that was created back then. You had the Snake and the Mongoose and Big Daddy and Cha-Cha.
But for a kid growing up, the licensing, the merchandise, the racing, it just seemed like it all happened at the same time. And when I say the merchandising, I don't know that there were too many kids that are my age that didn't have the Snake and the Mongoose Hot Wheels set. I think that was probably the equivalent of the Lightening and the Queen, what kids are playing with and what's real popular.
I think the sport has gotten so big, in a good way, and it's gone through some growing pains that that is an era that is very special to me because you know, those were the drivers that we looked up to. In racing, there were guys like Mario Andretti, there was Richard Petty, but I think drag racing was always associated with the Snake and the Mongoose and Don Garlits.
I don't know how that compares to what we are doing today, but I think that little component, there are only a few guys that are racing that have that. So I don't know what has been lost along the way; and maybe it's not anything that was lost. I think that was just something that was created that you know, that really just snowballed into something that even today remains very -- the mystique about the race cars and the drivers back then.
RON CAPPS: I drove for Don for decades and I can tell you, getting that phone call from him, I said it before, it was like a quarterback having Joe Montana walk on the field and want to teach you how to throw the ball.
For me, like Tony said, I lived and breathed the Hot Wheels set I had, the Snake and the Mongoose, the models that I built, I drew picture, I stood out size his pit area as a kid and watched the Snake.
What the coolest part was I think, even when I started driving for Snake, was I could be anywhere, someplace that there were absolutely no drag race fans that could really be considered a huge racing fan, and when they asked me what I did for a living, I told them and I told them what kind of racing it was and then I told them who I drove for and when I would say Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, you would get people that were CEOs at companies, they would say, oh my gosh, like the Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and the Mongoose; it was such a cult following back then because they went match racing in these little towns and everybody as a kid seemed to have got a glimpse of it, whether their mom and Dad took them or whatever.
Yeah, that part of it, the nicknames, it still stands out. To this day I'm still proud to say I drove for him for a decade because I think those two really were the first guys to really market the nicknames.
Q. I'm wondering what the intensity level is between you and John Force after the blow up at Indy; have you tried to speak to him since, or do you feel it's not necessary and you just need to race?
TONY PEDREGON: Believe or not, I had a conversation with John. He and I spoke on Saturday, and I'm glad that we had a conversation. I think that we understand one another, and you know, it seemed -- I got the feeling that you know, and I share his feelings, that you know, it's time for us to move on. I mean, I think we are both bigger and better than to dwell on anything that happened.
You know, I know that any time emotions are involved, you know, sometimes you may not state things the way you want to. But for me, you know, it time to move on. It's time to focus and John is as good as it gets, and I'm certain he's doing the same thing.
Q. Might I ask who initiated the call?
TONY PEDREGON: Actually a good friend of ours, Bob Taska (ph), that called me. John was doing his annual show at Taska Ford, and I received a phone call, and you know, it was Bobby and he had me on speakerphone.
So I think that John and I agreed that that was a good thing that Bobby did, and I think more than that, it was a good conversation that John and I had. And really to be honest with you, had we not talked, I think we know each other well enough that, you know, that I didn't expect that either of us would hold any grudges and it's just one of those things that happened and we'll look back. And I know I'll look back and just think that was probably two adults that got caught up in a moment.
Q. Sort of following up on the John Force thing, but is it an interesting feeling being on top of the points here without a teammate, so to speak? You look at the rest of the Top-10, Del Worsham would be the only other driver who really doesn't have a teammate in this thing. Do you relish that part of this?
TONY PEDREGON: No, I don't think so. I think that I've always felt, you know, that multi-car teams have utilized -- if the teams work well enough together and share all the information, I think that could be an asset.
I never really felt that that would eliminate a single-car team from being competitive. And I think that we proved it. You know, I worked with my brother, but we have got two different set ups and we have got -- there's two different owners. We just so happen to be brothers.
You know, Alan Johnson I think is another team that they have proven that, you know -- as long as we only race one at a time, I'm good with that. But you know, I don't think it's going to be any advantage or disadvantage on the racetrack.
Q. Any season is all about championships. Champions are said to dig deeper. We all know why but so few of us really no how. What does digging deeper mean to you?
TONY PEDREGON: I think that expression exemplifies the fact that we consider ourselves professionals. I think we work better under pressure. We utilize that experience that we have, some of us have more than others, some of us have more experience than others. But it's really relying on those things, those facets; it's relying on your team and the people that you surround yourself with. So in the end, that is what separates.
When you talk about a driver and what a driver's capabilities are, and these cars are so evenly matched, sometimes the driver is going to make the difference. I think all of those components are going to play a role in the outcome of this. Good cars, good equipment, good sponsors, good crew chiefs, good teams. But the driver in the seat, you know, he takes the heat, he takes the credit, he's the one that catches on fire. A lot of times he's the one that's going to make the difference between winning and losing.
RON CAPPS: I don't know what to add to that other than I think a lot of times, it can bite you more that it can help you. Guys talk about digging deep, and like Tony kind of talked, we know what to do when we get the seat and you know what to do especially when you are paid to do the job in the seat.
When people say that, I've often found especially watching my teammate Tony Schumacher and some of the clutch situations that team has been in to set a record the very last run of the year and things like that; I've watched in different athletes, as well. And it seems to be that the more relaxed those people are and the less that they actually dig down deep, whether they say it or not, I know it's a cliché, but you watch some of the greatest athletes in the world, and they just seem to be more relaxed and not actually having to think about digging down deep. When somebody mentions they need to dig down deep, you're grasping at things. So you know, that's kind of my personal opinion on it.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks, Ron, and thanks to the other drivers who joined us and the media who participated in today's call.
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