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National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

Drag Racing Topics:  NHRA

National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

Hector Arana, Jr.
Kenny Bernstein
Courtney Force
Eddie Krawiec
February 29, 2012

ZAK ELCOCK:  I'd like to welcome the media to this teleconference call for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.  I'm Zak Elcock with NHRA media relations. 
This call is to preview the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com March 8 through 11 at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville. 
Joining us on the call today will be Pro Stock motorcycle riders Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana, Jr., Courtney Force and NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein. 
We'll start our call today with Hector Arana, Jr.  The 2011 NHRA Full Throttle drag racing season was one that Hector, Jr. will not forget quickly.  In his first year of competition, Hector powered his Lucas Oil Buell to three wins and five final-round appearances including a win at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. 
Arana, Jr. finished second in the points standings, 90 points behind world champion Eddie Krawiec, and Hector also walked away with the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes the top-performing rookie driver of the year. 
It's going to be hard to top your first season, but what do you have in plan to help that sophomore slump for your second year? 
HECTOR ARANA, JR.:  Guys, until my media people told me, Rob and Craig, I didn't know about a 'sophomore slump'.  I'm not going to even think about that.  I finally have some experience underneath my belt. 
Starting off at the beginning of the year I'll have experience.  So my goal is to qualify at Gainesville, which I didn't last year, and go some rounds, just start strong from the very beginning. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  Thanks, Hector. 
We'll now move to Eddie Krawiec.  Just one year ago Eddie began his drive for a second NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock Motorcycle World Championship by racing to a second consecutive win at the season-opening Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals.  Krawiec went on to win a total of four races and seven final-round appearances and racked up three number one qualifiers.  Now Eddie looks to do something that he has never accomplished or has never been accomplished by any driver in the two-wheel class:  win three consecutive Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornational titles.  Though three other drivers have won the season-opening race back-to-back, no rider has ever won three in a row. 
Eddie, how excited are you to get back to Auto-Plus Raceway and defend your win there and your 102011 title? 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  Obviously it's exciting to go back to racing with the off-season.  You end up waiting around and thinking, just getting anxious, want to go back to racing.  That's the biggest plus. 
Obviously having the opportunity to be able to defend a possibility of a third win at the season opener is a pretty cool thing.  It's not many opportunities you get to go back-to-back, but to try to do it three times in a row is definitely something that I'd love to do.  Anytime you can start off the season with a win, it's a good thing. 
I'm not even going to focus on that.  I'm just going to go there, plan on going some rounds, do the best I can.  If I'm holding well at the end of the weekend, so be it.  My main goal is to go there and start off on a good note. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  We'll now open it up for questions for Eddie and Hector. 

Q.  Eddie, as far as being a champion, does that change your racing mindset at all?  Could you compare for the fans 2011 to your first championship. 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  Well, I think obviously when you carry that number one on the side of your bike you tend to be a victim of guys that are willing to take a risk a little more against you. 
In years past, obviously as we all know, the competition has gotten greater and greater and greater.  The only way that you can have that opportunity to defend your championship is you got to improve and get better as long as everybody else. 
That's my goal here.  My goal is to be a better racer on Sundays.  I struggled a little bit in the middle part of the year, I think got over my slump.  We made some tune-up changes in the motorcycle that helped it react better to the way that I'm on it.  The end result is hopefully it leads to good reaction times and consistent ones at that. 
That's the key, is being consistent.  A race day racer needs to be 20s and 30s, just be good on the tune-up.  Hopefully that will get you a couple race wins. 

Q.  Speaking of consistency, what would a three-time win at Gainesville, plus maybe a third championship all in the same year mean?
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  That would just be an awesome thing.  Right now I'm not even thinking championship, I'm thinking more Gainesville.  I want to go there.  Like you say, it would be great to start off the year with a win. 
The key thing is being able to have great starts throughout the season and going rounds.  A lot of people try to just focus on certain areas.  I focus one round at a time.  You need to go round wins to get race wins, then race wins will get you championships.  They'll all fall in line as long as you continue to do your job.  That's the way I look at it. 

Q.  Eddie, ironically you won rounds and a championship before you won races.  Now that you're winning races, how are you applying that to this year, especially with the class being so balanced with seven riders having at least one victory last year?  How do you plan to really follow up on that this year with the class being so tight? 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  I think a lot of it stems back to the work you do back at your shop.  Maintenance and preparation is key.  Every time you pull out of that water box or starting line, you need to make sure your bike starts and you go down that track.  If that doesn't happen, you're giving away qualifying points as well as round-win points. 
With that being said, obviously that one point that you may not have the opportunity to get may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, so you may say.  It's just so important.  Every single little point adds up in the end. 
For me, I really didn't have any unsuccessful runs last year.  I did have one or two mishaps where a chain broke or I had an ignition failure.  But every other time my motorcycle went down the track.  To me that is one of the keys to the whole entire success of our year. 

Q.  Do you feel like last year was probably your best overall year as a rider in terms of the way you finished in races?  Do you feel that was probably your best year ever? 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  To be honest, I feel 2009, the year I lost my championship to Hector, Sr., that year for me was my championship year.  I went to a total of eight final rounds in a row, 10 that year, won five, really was on fire, in my opinion.  Hector, Sr. was just on top of his game that much more and got the championship by two points when it was all said and done. 
But last year was the icing on the cake.  It's nice to see that you're a one-time champion, but it's even better to say a two-time.  When you're a two-time champion, nobody can turn around and say you didn't earn it.  You don't fall into championships; they're usually earned. 
I feel I earned the one.  It was a great battle all the way to the end. 

Q.  Eddie, I saw you last week and you told me the bike will have new paint for this year.  Other than the change you mentioned earlier to help the bike leave better, is there anything about the bikes we can't see? 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  Obviously we're always working on horsepower and trying to gain performance.  That's something that we're never sleeping on.  You got to always have that power. 
I think our main goal for Gainesville is going to be mostly trying to get a better percentage out of what we already had.  We had strong bikes towards the last two races of the year.  We changed our exhaust, which helped us, moved us in the right direction.  But when we did that, it sort of shifted our power band.  We went from going 104, 105 60-foots to 107s.  You can't compete with a 107 60-foot with a 102 or 103.  We need to move back that direction and get or chassis working better.  That's what we focused on the end of this year. 
I think for this coming season, you're going to see hopefully our bikes working better off the starting line and being a little more consistent, and the end result hopefully netting in some better ETs. 

Q.  You seem to be getting the job done on the team these days.  Does that create any tension between you and Andrew?  What does he need to do to give you more of a fight? 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  I'll be honest.  I think he struggled a lot last year with the motorcycle tune-up.  He rode really well, had great reaction times.  He lost a lot of races due to let's say inconsistency issues.  If you notice, his bike was never really 60-footing.  Really struggled on the tune-up side of it.  To be honest, we don't know why.  We've taken all the components off of his, put his on mine, just nets the same result.  Kind of weird. 
But I think he is a serious contender at any given race and any given time.  My honest opinion, Andrew is always on his game.  As always, we all do falter every once in a while, we all do make mistakes.  I've had them as well as everybody else in this class. 
If you're a racer that says you never made a mistake, you should be right towards the top.  I would say there's maybe one or two people I would put on that podium. 
It's just a matter of making good, clean laps, running down the track, getting your focus back.  When you have confidence in your equipment, you will be that much better.  I think one of the things this year is we took his bike completely apart and redid it over the winter.  I really expect to see it turn around and run well. 

Q.  In addition to Andrew and the Aranas, who else are you concerned about there in the field? 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  Anybody who qualifies (laughter).  There's a big list.  You look at both Hectors.  As you said, there's Matt Smith.  Man, the list goes on, Karen Stoffer, guys and girls I should say, that are potentially number one.  L.E.  Tonglet.  There's a list of them.  
I think the Suzukis are going to be a force to be reckoned with this year.  They're going to pick up some power over the winter.  We supply a lot of those guys with engines.  We definitely didn't stay still on the Suzuki engine program.  You're going to see some improvements this year with those guys. 
It's definitely going to make it for an interesting year.  I'm pretty excited and really looking forward to it.  There's nothing better than the rider having to do their job on Sunday in order to get the win.  I don't want to have a dominant bike that shreds everybody.  I want it to be close and at the end of the weekend you look back and say, We got that win because we as a team were successful. 

Q.  Your neighbors across the street have a Buell they put together over the weekend.  Do you think that's going to complicate their program or give them the boost they need?
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  I'll be honest, they have a great program over there.  I've heard reasons why they've switched, that they're going to be sort of working through both motorcycles as the year goes on. 
I think the goal needs to be focused on whatever works best for them.  They're championship contention.  Jerry is a great rider.  He proved that last year.  He was on the tree.  He put me on the trailer two or three times. 
The end result of it is, it's whatever they feel makes their program successful is what they need to focus on.  Mark I'm sure will do that. 

Q.  Hector, I'm working on a story about the vast diversity in the NHRA.  Why do you think the NHRA has been so successful at cultivating diversity without implementing programs or having to go out of its way for that?
HECTOR ARANA, JR.:  Everybody is equal in the NHRA.  They're all able to have the same equipment.  Everybody can have whatever they want.  They have the option to run the different categories, the different classes, the different makes and models, whichever one they choose, that's what they can run.  That's a big reason why NHRA is so good. 
Also just anybody who has the drive, the will to win, can race NHRA. 

Q.  Is that something you sensed right away when you first got involved? 
HECTOR ARANA, JR.:  Well, I've been involved since I was born.  My dad has been racing since I was born.  So this is all I know, is racing.  I knew from day one that I wanted to race.  I've always been really competitive in anything I did. 
I think that is a big part of why I knew I wanted to race NHRA and how I knew that I was going to do well.  I knew I didn't have the experience right away, but I stayed focused, I didn't give up, and I believed in myself, my team.  My dad believed in me.  My sponsors, Lucas Oil.  That drive just helped me to do as well as I did. 

Q.  How much do you think the sport draws more fans in when you have such diversity among the drivers? 
HECTOR ARANA, JR.:  I mean, there's women, guys, different races.  That just brings everybody in to watch NHRA.  They don't just go and sit on the stands and watch the races.  They're able to come in the pits, watch us work, talk to us, see how everything is going.  They get to see the effort, the thrashing, all of the emotions going into this, the smells.  All that comes together with NHRA.  That I think is what makes it such a great spectator sport. 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  I think one of the ways to sum it up, which Hector did pretty good, but 'fast family fun'.  That was one of our slogans at my home track.  It's a gathering of families and individuals.  It's not just a sport that a man can be competitive, a woman can be competitive.  Whether you're black, Hispanic, anything, any race, it's a cool thing. 
I'm glad.  We have a whole culture that sort of comes together and acts as one.  Everybody at the drag strip that particular day, yes, they may be different races, they may be different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common, and that's drag racing. 
NHRA does an awesome job with the backing of Full Throttle.  I think they were able to reach markets that were never reached before.  The Coca-Cola company has done an awesome job supporting the series.  We all know Coke has that logo that worldwide, no matter where you go, you have an understanding.  I think to tie the NHRA logo onto that is an important thing for the series and something that us racers pride ourselves on and definitely are proud of. 

Q.  Hector, last year you were very outspoken as a rookie, which was great for the media, although it might have riled up your competitors.  Now that you've backed it up basically, are you going to tone down the rhetoric this year or is that part of your personality? 
HECTOR ARANA, JR.:  Oh, no, I love to have fun.  Every time I go down the track is a plus.  That's why I'm so excited and so outspoken is 'cause I am enjoying every bit of it.  I'm loving every bit of racing.  I'm living my dream. 
I want everybody to understand how exciting this is for me.  That way I can get the fans excited and riled up.  They want to come watch the races more, watch it on TV.  I just love it.  I love just expressing all the moments and everything that feels that way to help the fans enjoy the sport. 

Q.  Eddie, you had to deflect a lot of criticism last year, potshots down the road, from sometimes Hector, sometimes Jerry Savoie.  Did that motivate you, did you see it as disrespect, or is it part of the game? 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  That's actually motivation.  I've been around drag racing for a long time.  I actually grew up around it.  My earliest memories are going to the track at four years old with my dad. 
The motorcycle drag racing, when I came into it in the early to mid '90s, has a whole different view.  It's a very close family that sticks together, unlike the standard racecar drivers.  The motorcycle guys, they group together.  But we all know when we pull onto that drag strip, it's no holds barred.  Whoever it is next to you, you want to whoop them, beat them.  Nobody wants to go home to loser.  I don't know one guy that pulls out of the shop and says, I hope to go first round, second round, lose in the final.  That motivates me. 
Whenever people talk junk, I'm pretty consistent, I don't let anything get in my head.  I stay with my routine.  I try not to let anything out of the ordinary throw me off.  Believe it or not, I switch up my routine quite often on what I do just for that whole spectrum of if a problem does arise, it won't throw me a curve ball.  I can handle myself in different situations. 
As years of experience come, I learn every single race I go to.  By no means am I never not learning anything.  If anybody says they're on par, know it all, so be it.  There's always going to be that one curve ball that will throw you off.  I always think the opposite way:  let's look at it from a different perspective and see what I can take and learn out of it.  Once you make a mistake, you can't make it again. 
My main goal pretty much all the time is, Don't listen to what everybody else out there is telling you, just stay in your own element. 

Q.  Hector, what do you think makes this class so balanced?  How would you classify this field in terms of you look at Andrew and Eddie's teams being real strong, but how close is this class when you look at it top to bottom? 
HECTOR ARANA, JR.:  You know, this class is extremely close.  I know we have three different makes.  The Suzukis can win a race, the Buells, and the Harleys.  You can't take any of the guys lightly. 
No. 16 qualify can win a race.  Our fields are getting tighter and tighter, everybody is getting more consistent.  I just think that the different powers of the bikes, they're in different rpms, tire bands.  Some have torque, where some don't have as much.  Between the weight, NHRA is doing a great job of evening that out, I think it has made our class really close and tight. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  We'd like to thank both Eddie and Hector for being on our call today.  We wish you the best of luck at Gainesville in one week.  Hopefully we'll see you out there. 
HECTOR ARANA, JR.:  Thank you. 
EDDIE KRAWIEC:  Thanks for having me, guys. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  We'll get started on the second half of our teleconference call with Funny Car driver Courtney Force and NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein. 
Courtney has had one of the more impressive starts to not only the 2012 season but also her career.  After racing to a second-round finish at the season-opening O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winter Nationals, Courtney posted her first semifinal round finish at the Arizona Nationals one week later.  The race also saw Courtney face her legendary father John Force for the first time in their careers.  Courtney edged out John in the first round of eliminations. 
Courtney, so far this season each race has seen an all-John Force Racing final round in Funny Car.  What would it mean to you to be a part of that final round next week at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals? 
COURTNEY FORCE:  I mean, it would be pretty cool.  I'm obviously taking this day to day.  So far it's been going well in my Ford Mustang.  I definitely can't complain.  It's been a good rookie season so far.  I have a great crew chief with Ron Douglas.  He's helped me keep a very consistent car.  It's been running good. 
I'm just trying to stay focused on getting qualified at each event before keeping my eye on the final round.  Just trying to take it round by round right now. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  We're also joined by NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein.  When one thinks of success at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, the name Kenny Bernstein is sure to follow.  He's posted four wins at the track, three in Funny Car and one in Top Fuel.  Greater than the many wins may be the impressive display Kenny showed at the 1992 Tire Kingdom Gatornationals when Kenny powered his Budweiser dragster to 301.70 miles per hour pass during Friday afternoon qualifying.  With the pass, Kenny became the first driver in NHRA history to break the 300-miles-per-hour mark and earned the nickname he would be known from that time forth, the King of Speed. 
Last year during NHRA's 60th celebration, fans voted the 300-mile-per-hour pass as one of the top five greatest moments in NHRA history.  This year's Tire Kingdom Gatornationals marks the 25th anniversary of that pass. 
Kenny, you've won so many races and World Championships over the years, but how you would rate that pass on your own top 10 list? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  I think it would be at the top.  I think it's 20 years, not 25. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  I think you're correct. 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  It is certainly the top of the pole.  Fortunately for us we got to accomplish a whole lot with great crew chiefs and teammates through the years.  That's the one thing that everyone seems to remember across the board, whether it be drag racers or just the normal person that follows the sport in general that know a little bit about racing. 
It was a great accomplishment on the day, came totally unexpected, which was better, because it caught everybody, including ourselves, off guard. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  We'll now open it up for questions for Kenny and Courtney. 

Q.  Kenny, you've done so much not only in drag racing.  First you set the speed record.  You also have managed not one but three teams in three different series at the same time.  You had the longest running sponsors in drag racing.  Is there any particular part of all of this that stands out most for you? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  I look back and say when we had all three teams, I must have had rocks in my head, I can tell you that (laughter). 
It's all geared around the people that you have around you and with you throughout the companies in those days.  Certainly Sheryl, my wife, who was instrumental in all parts of it.  But it's the people around you, the crew chiefs, the drivers, everyone that it takes. 
It was a lot of fun, I'll be honest about it, to be able to be in those three arenas.  That 1992 will always be remembered because not only were we fortunate to set that 300-mile-an-hour zone, we also won the pole in May at the Indianapolis 500 with Roberto Guerrero.  The spring of '92 was very, very special to all of us. 
It was a lot to do.  But I've enjoyed every drop of it.  The fans have been great across the board, whether it be NASCAR, IndyCar, and certainly drag racing.  We were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to be able to do a lot of those things that opened the doors.  So we're very thankful for that.

Q.  What stands out most of the four that I mentioned? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  It's always really the drag racing side because I got to be the driver there.  That's the one thing that I have always enjoyed the most of any of these racing endeavors.  An owner is fine, but there's nothing like driving, winning and competing, being at the top of your game on a certain day. 
The drag racing side, the 300-mile-per-hour feat, the things we got to accomplish in drag racing will be forefront always. 

Q.  Courtney, going across with John in the other lane, what were your emotions?  Describe what you were thinking in your mind. 
COURTNEY FORCE:  I was excited more than anything.  It is something, I grew up drawing pictures of me racing my dad.  It's pretty surreal lining up against him.  We got to race each other throughout qualifying on Saturday, so that was pretty fun.  Dad was trying to mess with me on the light to make sure I could keep my focus when I'm racing someone in the other lane. 
It was cool.  We just had fun with it.  Then when I matched up against him in eliminations, I thought, Well, one of the Fords is going on to the second round.  I was happy either way.  I definitely wanted to beat my dad.  I had a lot of drive to do that. 
But it was more fun than anything. 

Q.  Kenny, if I could look ahead a couple months, you're going to get a nice honor with International Motorsports induction.  What does that mean to you? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  Like you said, it's a great honor.  Very proud of it.  We've been fortunate enough to be in the Texas Hall of Fame there in Dallas at the Speedway and of course the Detroit people a few years ago. 
This one's very special.  I'm really, really thankful for it, for the career we were able to have, for the people that helped us build that career to make it to that at Talladega.  That's very special to us. 
Being in the NASCAR arena and the IndyCar arena, it's really special.  This particular night will be great because John goes in also from drag racing.  John and I started together back in 1978, '79.  That's great. 
But Richard Childress is a great friend, a wonderful person of mine and Sheryl's.  In the days when we had our NASCAR team, Richard and Dale Earnhardt were good friends of ours.  I've known Richard since 1980, so I've known him a long time.  It's a great honor to be inducted with those guys. 

Q.  Kenny, knowing how competitive you always have been, how difficult was it for you to finally decide you needed to get out of the sport, even at the expense of leaving Brandon out there as a free agent? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  It was hard.  There's no question about it.  And it wasn't something that was spur of the moment.  Sheryl and I had been talking about this for a couple years.  It's something that at this stage of our life, where we've been, after 32 plus years of being on the road racing, we just felt, I felt, it was time to go and enjoy life a little bit. 
My biggest fear has always been that you wouldn't be able to enjoy the later years because you wouldn't be healthy enough to enjoy them or something would happen that would cause you not to be able to enjoy them.  I just didn't want that to take place. 
I just felt that it was time for us to do that.  I look back at it today.  If Copart hadn't come aboard, we would have done this two years ago when Budweiser gave up on the program with the new ownership out there.  It could have happened two years ago or it could have gone on for two more years with the Copart people. 
There's never a good time to do it, in all honesty, with all the employees that are with you, certainly with Brandon.  But it would have been the same procedure now or two years ago, it would have been the same procedure.

Q.  Are you okay with retirement now, is that what you're saying? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  I'm fine with it.  I was fine with it when I made the decision.  When I do make a decision, I'm done with it.  I'm through.  I'm fine. 
I had concerned about employees, concerns about Brandon by all means.  But we took care of everything and made it as good as we could for everyone so we didn't throw them out on the street and say, See you later. 
I'm fine with it.  I haven't missed racing at all at this stage of the game.  I had not wished I'd been there the last couple of races.  We're actually busier right now than we have been because to shut down a business of basically 35 years of work is very difficult to do.  Sheryl is in the middle of it.  I'm right there with her in the sense of my mind is there. 
We've got a lot of things to do.  It's not easy to close down a business.  I'd say we're only about 50% finished with that procedure now.  We have another couple, three months before we're retired.  We haven't benefited at all from the word 'retirement' by now. 
Right now Sheryl said in the background, If we'd have known it was this hard, we wouldn't have retired (laughter). 

Q.  Courtney, how much of a hurdle was that for you, mental hurdle, to race your father?  How much do you feel like that's going to help you down the road?  Kenny, the whole retirement thing, you're not going to be that far from the sport in terms of your safety background.  How else do you feel you can contribute to the sport?  Will you ever really truly be away from it? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  Well, for me, I probably won't be around that much.  I really won't.  I don't have any desire to stay in the sport and do anything to keep going or I would have stayed on as an owner and continued on with the team.  I'll help in any way I can if someone calls me, Brandon calls, whatever. 
But the bottom line, the plan is to go away and enjoy whatever.  Maybe in a couple years I'll change my mind.  Maybe in a couple years I'll look up one day and say, I kind of miss that, I'd like to do some of this other stuff, pursue it at that time.  Right now I don't have any desire to do that except when somebody has some need for some advice. 

Q.  From a safety point, do you feel you have something to contribute there? 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  I think NHRA has done a good job and the teams have done a great job, especially on John Force's side of the safety aspects of these cars.  They're so much safer today than they have in the past.  Racing is racing, they're never going to be totally safe.  I have no qualms about what has taken place with these cars.  This all started years ago with the loss of a couple of our people. 
I think they're on the right track and hopefully they'll continue to go that way.  I know they all realize how quick they go down, especially the race teams.  They're the key to it.  They're the ones that drive the force. 
COURTNEY FORCE:  More than anything, I think it was pretty cool.  I grew up watching him.  I wanted to be like him.  I'm just trying to take everything that he taught me, put it towards the racetrack. 
We had a whole season last year testing in the Funny Car.  I'm lucky to have a team owner and a boss and a father like him that's taking the time with me, giving me the time to learn in the car.  He wants me to feel comfortable in the car before I went out and started racing.  It was great to have a whole year of that. 
It was pretty cool matching up against him.  I always watched him race.  It was just cool to be in the other lane. 

Q.  All the testing you did to get ready for this year, you were saying you were a little antsy, but not all that antsy.  Is everything that's happening right now what you envisioned in terms of where you wanted to be, how you wanted to learn with each race?  Is it happening faster than you thought? 
COURTNEY FORCE:  Yeah, I guess it is happening a little faster than I thought.  I did have a whole season of testing.  I think that definitely helped me to feel comfortable in the racecar.  Going into the first two races, I definitely think they went better than I had expected.  I have a great team behind me, so that definitely helps. 
I'm happy with how things are going.  I still am a rookie driver, so obviously I'm still learning every time I get in the racecar.  So far everything has been good. 

Q.  Courtney, the diversity in the NHRA, there's so much attention in NASCAR about Danica Patrick.  It seems in NHRA it's almost not an issue, very small if at all.  Would you agree with that?  Is that the case? 
COURTNEY FORCE:  Yeah, I think so.  Obviously it was a male-dominated sport.  Shirley Muldowney went in and totally paved the way for all us women to go in there and even be able to start racing.  I looked up to my sister when she went into the sport, wanted to follow in her footsteps. 
As a kid, I knew this is something I wanted to do.  Racing against the guys, I don't think they really hold it against me that I'm a woman.  I think it's pretty accepted now.  I don't think it's how it used to be. 

Q.  In an atmosphere like that, how much does that help you to go ahead and just worry about the driving without that being an issue?
COURTNEY FORCE:  Definitely without that having to be an issue, it makes me feel more comfortable in the car.  I'm always out there trying to prove myself, not only as a woman, but on its own.  The racecar doesn't know if it's a guy or girl in the car.  You just got to learn how to control it, do as well as the men that are out there.  I think the women definitely are. 

Q.  When you grew up around a situation like that, when you see women like Shirley and your sister in the sport, how much does that affect your thoughts in terms of knowing you can go in and compete?
COURTNEY FORCE:  It's pretty amazing.  Obviously Shirley has done so much for the sport as a whole.  Who knows if we would even be here without her.  She definitely went through this during a tough time when all the guys were just wanting it to be a male-dominated sport.  She stood up for herself and went for it.  That's pretty admirable as a driver, as a female.  I think that's pretty awesome.  I think it's definitely made it a lot easier for everyone else, a female, going into a male-dominated sport like drag racing. 

Q.  Kenny, having been involved for so long, can you talk about why NHRA has been so successful at cultivating diversity without having to do programs that other sports are having to do?
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  I think it's important to understand that we've had women in our sport for a very long time, like Courtney said, with Shirley first.  There's been many women along with Courtney and her sister.  Our sport has been more diversified for a long period of time other than other motorsports.  It's not new to us.  It's basically old hat.  We're used to it.  We're happy with it.  We've been happy with it for years. 
I think it's not something new here, whereas in NASCAR they've had some girls come in, but Danica is at a different plateau, so the attention is much higher. 
Our sport has been exposed to the girl side of thing for many years.  We as owners, males, have accepted that a long time ago.  Let me tell you, you better have your hat on when you pull up against the girls.

Q.  Courtney, seat time seems to be the best teacher.  Do you agree with that?  What have the first two races meant to you?
COURTNEY FORCE:  Yeah, I definitely think seat time is a big thing with learning how to work these cars.  Every time you get in this car, it doesn't want to go perfectly straight down the racetrack.  It's always throwing something new at you.  Whether it's a mistake that you're making or it's just something new that the car is throwing at you, you are learning from it as a driver.  I definitely think the more laps I make down the racetrack the more comfortable I'm getting in the car. 
As for the first two races, I'm definitely happy with how they went.  I couldn't have asked for it to go any better.  I had a consistent car.  I didn't have any major problems.  We got my car going from A to B.  Every single run, we got it going from one end of the racetrack to the other.  I think that's an amazing thing to have at the start of the season.  As long as we can continue to stay consistent, I think we'll be okay. 

Q.  What advice has worked the best for you so far? 
COURTNEY FORCE:  Probably to not just be overwhelmed with anything, not forget why I'm there.  Obviously Ashley went through this transition.  It does get pretty stressful.  There's a lot going on.  You're pulled in eight different directions.  You have to remember you're there to race the car and nothing else, not to forget the basics. 
Another thing my dad said, If you're in the racecar, if ever you think something is wrong, no one will be mad at you, step off the throttle, because you're the only person who knows what you felt in the racecar.  I think that's definitely helped make me feel more confident as a driver knowing that no one's going to be mad at me if I think that something feels wrong. 
I think that definitely helps me stay positive. 

Q.  Kenny, what is the best advice you share with your fellow drivers?
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  Some of the things that Courtney has said are things that I have said to them.  In a lot of cases, the bottom line is she's correct, the more runs you make, the better you're going to get, the more things that are going to happen.  It will take years for everything to happen that can happen in a racecar.  When you think you've done them all, something else will take place that will throw you a curve.  It takes more time in the seat.  The more comfortable you get, the better you will become. 
Courtney, I hope you like this, it works good in a Funny Car because you can't see down the racetrack, many dragsters get in the car and try to see the finish line from the starting line.  The car will move over and they won't even realize it moved over to the closer side of the wall.  In a Funny Car you can't do that.  The roof line is low.  It keeps you a lot closer to the racetrack sooner than later. 
A lot of people in dragsters that haven't driven a dragster before or never been in a Funny Car, they'll have that problem.  That's one of the things I'll tell them, they're moving around a lot, looking too far down the track.  Brandon was doing that in the beginning.  I asked him where he was looking.  I said, You can't do that, you're looking too far down the track. 
One little trick I always did, Courtney's dad may have told her, but deep breaths are the best thing you can do.  If you feel uptight and anxious, I used to stop on the burnout.  When I stopped there, I would take three or four gigantic deep breaths and let the air out and it would settle me down to be as comfortable as I could be.  That's advice I would give to anybody.  If ever you feel uptight before you go into the first light, if you feel on the edge, take a couple of really deep breaths, it will relax you enough to go ahead and get the job done. 
Those are the two things I try to focus on when I see drivers. 

Q.  Kenny, was there any one facility or facilities in north Texas that helped you when you got started as a racer?
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  That's where it all started for me.  Living in Dallas, growing up in Lubbock, but we had a circuit called the Texas Pro Fuel Circuit.  Green Valley, which was in Fort Worth at the time, Odessa, Abilene, you had Oklahoma City, New Orleans area down there in Louisiana, that was the circuit, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.  That was the circuit that the Texas Pro Fuel Circuit ran.  We ran all those places. 
One of my favorite places I went to in the beginning when I still was in high school was the one called Green Valley outside of Fort Worth.  The first time I ever drove a Top Fuel car was at Green Valley. 
The first time I ever won a race was in Amarillo and Odessa, out in those two areas.  They're very special to me from the beginning. 

Q.  Courtney, you're learning curve, where do you feel you are and how much more do you feel you have to learn over the next two or three races?  How different is it being from when you were preparing for this?
COURTNEY FORCE:  I can definitely say I have a lot to learn.  That's easy.  When I was testing last season, my car had a restrictor plate on it, so my car was pretty nice to me.  It wanted to go from A to B.  It wasn't throwing a bunch of different curves at me like it has once you take that restrictor plate off.  I'm obviously learning something new in the car. 
I talked to Mike Neff and Robert about different things, how I can improve as a driver.  Talking to my dad and Ashley as well.  It definitely helps having teammates around that have gone through it.  Ashley has gone through the transition. 
I mean, there's so much more I have to learn.  I can't even begin to say where.  I mean, every time I get in the car, the car throws something new at you.  I think just learning from your mistakes, getting it going down the racetrack, watching from the starting line, watching other cars and learning from them, the different things their car throws at them I think will definitely help me improve as a driver. 

Q.  Kenny, can you take us back to the 20th anniversary that's coming up in Gainesville, take us back to the day in 1992 when you broke the 300-mile-an-hour barrier. 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  I'll do my best. 
It was a beautiful day, number one.  It was pretty much ideal conditions.  In Gainesville we get the luxury when the conditions are good there, a lot of trees, oxygen.  Oxygen makes power in these cars.  The coolness of the day was good.
We had not even talked about this was a 300-mile-an-hour run.  We hadn't talked about getting to 300 other than we wanted to.  It wasn't like it was preplanned this was going to be the one. 
The car left the starting line, ran really good, got to the finish line.  I coasted to the turnoff area.  I told this story many times, but it's true.  When I turned on the turnoff, the guy that helps you, one of them was holding up three fingers.  The first thing I thought was that he meant we qualified number three.  I was pretty disappointed because I thought it was a number one qualifying run because it ran pretty well.  He held up those three finger.  Like I said, I was a little disappointed. 
He reached in and pounded me on the chest and said, You just ran 300.  It didn't dawn on me at first.  I said, Do What?  That's what the three fingers were.  From that point on, it was just ecstatic, as you can imagine, it was craziness. 
Again, it was so unthought that we were going to do it, anybody was going to do it that day.  We had all been running 296, 297, but to jump to 301, that's a big step to make that jump, it's really hard. 
Bill Armstrong, my crew chief, he tells the story, he looked up and saw the lights, saw the 4.82 seconds.  Turned around and started walking to the pits.  The team members had to grab him and tell him it ran 301 miles an hour.  That's what I mean by it being unexpected. 
ZAK ELCOCK:  We'd like to thank both Kenny and Courtney for being on the call, and all of the media around the country for participating.  We'll see everyone in Gainesville. 
KENNY BERNSTEIN:  Thank you.  Good luck, Courtney. 
COURTNEY FORCE:  Thank you. 

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