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National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Drag Racing Topics:  NHRA

National Hot Rod Association Media Conference

Jack Beckman
Jeg Coughlin
Larry Dixon
Steve Johnson
August 25, 2010

THE MODERATOR: This call is the preview of the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship beginning next week at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
With the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing series regular season just finished, drivers and teams now put their focus on the start of the countdown to the championship six-race playoff. 40 drivers in four different classes will compete for the world championship in their respective fields, beginning next week at historic O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis at the 56th running of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil.
Four of those drivers are with us today. Top Fuel pilot, Larry Dixon, Funny Car driver, Jack Beckman, Pro Stock driver, Jeg Coughlin, and Pro Stock motorcycle rider, Steve Johnson.
Let's begin with Larry Dixon. Larry enters the event with the top spot in the Top Fuel point standings, which gives him a 30-point lead over second place driver Cory McClenathan. Larry has had an impressive season so far with nine wins and nine final round appearances and five number one qualifiers. Larry is a three-time U.S. Nationals winner with his last coming in 2005.
Larry, what makes a U.S. Nationals win, let alone three, so different and unique from so many other victories?
LARRY DIXON: I really think it's the history of that particular race. From the beginning of time there was only one race on the tour and that was the nationals. So my dad never really did the tour racing Top Fuel cars back in the '60s and '70s, but that was one race we always towed back and went to. And you'd see everybody from every corner of the country.
There were a lot of Top Fuel cars back then, and they all came to Indy. So it just kind of was engrained in you early on that this is a big deal.
Even though I've lived here now for the last dozen years, I drive by the track almost every day. But when the Nationals are in town, it just conjures up all those memories of all the years of going there and different things that happened and watching Garlits and Shirley and everybody else race there. Just honored to be able to compete in that race.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now turn to Funny Car driver, Jack Beckman. Jack is currently third in the point standings entering the countdown to the championship next week. He's had an impressive regular season and is riding a wave of success that includes two runner up finishes and the number one qualifier in the past three races.
Jack, with this being the first race of the countdown to the championship, how much more important is a win at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals?
JACK BECKMAN: You know, it's interesting. Larry and I and Steve Johnson all grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and, for me, it was always Pomona. I didn't have a dad who raced and Pomona had a lot of history, and Indy was 5,000 miles away. So every year I kind of get a little bit more idea of the flavor of Indy and how important and how big it is.
You know, we've got 24 rounds left in the season, and it's all about points right now. It's not even really about race wins. It's about points that go with round wins. A win at Indy is huge no matter if there's no points, no trophy, or a big trophy or a 50th anniversary or a countdown race, no matter what it is, it's Indy.
If we can win Indy we're going to be pretty close to the top of the points chase. If we don't win Indy, we've got five more races to capitalize on.
But you get one more run here than any other race, so I always tell people our goal is to make eight good runs. This race it's going to be nine good runs here. So it's not lost on us how important it is.
We brought our chassis back which wasn't that old. We've got a brand-new body just to shave ten pounds off this thing to be closer to the minimum weight. Everybody here at Don Schumacher Racing realizes this is significant.
THE MODERATOR: We move to Jeg Coughlin now. Jeg is currently third in the Pro Stock point standings and is coming off a win at Brainherd just two weeks ago. He's a three-time Pro Stocks U.S. Nationals winner and the defending event winner in his class.
Jeg, with the points now reset, how important is that experience and success that you've had at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals as you make a run for the championship?
JEG COUGHLIN: Well, it certainly doesn't hurt. But as far as the U.S. Nationals it is the most prestigious event on the tour. It seems no more fitting than to start our countdown in 2010 at the U.S. Nationals. It's the biggest race of the year, and we're now starting the biggest turn of the season at the biggest race of the year.
And it's going to add that much more pressure, of course, to the drivers, to the crews, to the crew chief, to the team owners to perform. Because there is six races in our countdown to one effort, but momentum is king. I'm sure every driver or writer on the call today is like we want to get a great start at Indy for all the reasons we've heard because Indy is so prestigious. But also to get a good shot in the arm for the countdown to one effort.
Indy to me, growing up here in the midwest, has been like a second home track to me like trail raceway. We don't compete at trail raceway now. I look to Indy as my home track on the NHRA tour. I've spent a lot of -- I think I've covered every inch of that ground on foot, on bicycle, on moped as I got older. Fortunately, I've covered quite a bit of the quarter mile too and had great success there.
For all those reasons, Indy is going to be just probably the most superior Indy we've ever seen. And I think the fans will be treated to some great racing. The media's going to see some great action get kicked off on our countdown to one. It's going to be awesome. I can tell you I'm fired up.
The momentum with the recent successes certainly doesn't hurt going into this big go.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeg. We'll now move to our final driver on the panel today, Pro Stock motorcycle driver, Steve Johnson. After Steve's remarks, we'll open it up for questions from the media.
Steve is fifth in the Pro Stock motorcycle point standings. He's a two-time U.S. Nationals event winner and is coming into this event five spots behind number one, Andrew Hines.
Steve, you've had obvious success at the U.S. Nationals. How will that play toward moving up in the point standings and possibly taking that number one spot?
STEVE JOHNSON: Thanks for having me, for starters. As the two-wheel contingent representative, it's not only representing the class and being part of the fraternity of the four-wheel guys, but it's our special deal because when it's special for those guys it's like, wow, it's got to be big.
I got out of the political end of it, and to most the traditional and the mental part of it Charlotte has always been what I've thought as my special deal just because it's a $70 million facility or whatever it was. Winning over there was so cool after winning here at Indy when we went back-to-back.
When you tie it together, these are the two most special races for me, and we're here testing today with a relatively small budget in this economy, I knock on Dixon's door, and I'm standing in his basement.
Let me tell you, if any of you are fans of racing, when you go into Dixon's basement, there are like 700 Wallys -- well, not 700, but there's Wallys everywhere. It's like wallpaper.
So I'm looking at those and I'm like I'm sleeping there on the couch, and I'm shivering because it's so -- but I'm looking at those trophies, and I'm like this is motivation to win Indy.
I told him I was going to lose five pounds. I'm going to do my best to do what I can for the team.
We're here testing, we're spending money, and at the end of the day I've been racing 24 years nonstop. It's the only thing I know. I probably couldn't even get a job at McDonald's, but I know about Pro Stock motorcycle racing.
If you can win this race and have not only points momentum, but you can have just a mental moment on these guys. And I see them on TV. When we don't win and their team wins, there's tons of people in the other people's lane and they're screaming and hollering like we beat that guy.
So now I'm like I'm mad at everybody else. It ain't no treat, but I've been here forever, so maybe that was the treat. So I really want to wear those guys out, and I will be the first person pushing star 1 because I've got to ask questions on how to win this race.

Q. Larry, do you compare this season to the two championship seasons?
LARRY DIXON: So far it's better. You've just got to wait to see how it comes out. The Al-Anabi Team as a whole since it got formed at the beginning of last year it's made improvements. Throughout last season it kept getting better, and the start of this year, even from where we were at the beginning of this year we've improved.
I think my driving has gotten better. Jason and Alan have made better calls on the car. The car has been more consistent as everything that's gone on. It's just gotten better.
If we can keep it up, hopefully we can end up with a better season than what I've had in a championship year.

Q. Jeg, with your strong finish at the end of the regular season, the points being reset and now Mike Edwards is within reach, how do you plan on capitalizing with the momentum you've got going into Indy?
JEG COUGHLIN: Good question. Mike Edwards has certainly been the pinnacle of the class in 2010 with the race wins that he's accumulated. You look back at the last five or six races and he struggled. We don't foresee that in the countdown at Cagnazzi or with the JEGS Team for that matter.
So for us to capitalize in Pro Stock we've got to get out and not make any mistakes in the pit area. Not make any mistakes on the racetrack, and really prepare ourselves as aggressively as we can.
That's one big question that we've made in the last couple of races is the approach to the race being more aggressive in the pit area and being a little more aggressive behind the wheel and driving aggressive.
So I think we're going to try to continue to build on that momentum, without question. We've got some strong teams in the Top 10 right now. They're going to all challenge for this championship. Alan Johnson, and the KB Racing teams have been tough, and they're working some kinks out of their system because they've been struggling a little bit.
Both the Gray Motorsports cars with Shane and Johnny Gray are going to be tough, and that's not mentioning Rodger Brogdon or Greg Stanfield or the rest of the group. It's going to be a tough, tough season in Pro Stock, and for that matter, the rest of the classes.
But that's what the countdown is all about. The regular season is over. It's behind us. It's time to march forward. As we say, it's game on. Let's go. It's going to be exciting.

Q. Steve, your first win at Indy shrouded in a little controversy. You win again the next year. What would it mean to you and your team knowing that you run on a pretty tight budget to take three Indy wins in a row?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, hopefully, I do it -- hopefully, we can do that. I think to answer your question what it would mean is I'm a pretty fragile guy when it boils down to it. It's a mental thing.
If I go in there and I ride good and the team makes the right calls and we win the race, I'm going to just -- having said what I've said -- I'm going to get in everybody's face and say, I'm winning.
I don't know anybody in our sport or any Motorsport that we were leading the points in 2005 maybe, and we went to the first race. We won the Nationals, and the second race we went to the finals. I put a big No. 1 on the back door. It was 12 feet high the No. 1. I was like we're No. 1.
It all backfired, but I was rubbing it in everybody's face. But I was just so damn proud to be number one. Our sport's pretty humble.
For me to win, it would be great to have the money because we need the money. I'd love the points. But it would be so fun at the next race to tell everybody, hey, who is number one right now (laughing)? I thought it was funny.

Q. Jeg, recently Mike Dunn picked you as the best driver in drag racing. I'd like your comment on that. And is it possible that maybe the Coughlin family has a real speed gene that seems to work for you guys? And also do you think you have kind of like a humility gene, too, because here you are being picked out to be the best racer in drag racing, and I have a feeling you're going to down play that like you're not? Go ahead.
JEG COUGHLIN: Yeah, that's a tough one. It was exciting to learn that. But I've grown up in this sport, and it's pretty much all I know as well. Our business evolves around the sport. When I got into racing, that's all I wanted to do. I wanted to learn why I got beat from day one, whether I was racing a moped or a car later, or competing in the NHRA series or super gas all the way through my current ride in a Pro Stock car.
I've got a great family behind me, and I've got great crews behind me that really made me look good at times when maybe I wasn't at my best. It's very flattering to say the least, you know, his comments. To put me ahead of the greats in the sport currently and in the past is awesome.
I don't know about his comments about me hopping in a fuel ride and doing well. I definitely don't have that in my blood at this point. I don't know where I was going with all of this, but it's pretty neat to be picked by one of your fellow peers and someone you've looked up to that has driven in the sport and won races in the sport. You know, it's pretty cool.

Q. If I could, you know, most all of your entire Funny Car career you've got to go up against the Force Camp. Could you give a statement on what that's like? Do you think that makes you better? Do you think it makes it a big hill to climb? How does that affect you?
LARRY DIXON: Our racing is so different. You're passing; you're bumping; you're doing strategy based on what the other cars are doing. For 20 years, I ran sportsman cars, and you're not drafting or bumping.
But in the sportsman car you're racing against the other car. In fuel racing it's really not the case. You're racing against your lane. The way they've got the shields and the drive throughs now and especially not the Funny Car, you sit so far back, you really can't see the other car. If you see them, you're in trouble anyway.
So I hear a lot of racers say I don't care who is in the other lane. I do care who is in the other lane because a lot of drivers have their own staging idiosyncrasies.
So racing John Force, I do remind myself that not to get myself worked up with any other approach, but it's just that John takes a lot more to staging than a lot of the other drivers. So you've got to adjust your routine for him, otherwise you sit there with the clutch pedal out too long and it heats up.
I've got to tell you though, the fan in me is just itching to get to race against John Force. And the first time I beat him, I want my little kid to grow up fast and have grand babies for me so I can tell them their grandpa beat John Force.

Q. You won the inaugural NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway. The second race on the countdown to one. How important is that race especially when you consider what Robert Hight did last year to win the championship? How important is that race in the success that you've had there as well?
JACK BECKMAN: I don't mean any disrespect by this, but none of these next six races are more important than the other. All they represent is 24 rounds and an opportunity for us to pick points .
But if you really want to dig deeper, Indy is Indy. You really want to win that one. Charlotte, well, you can make a strong argument that is the best facility on the tour and winning the inaugural race there, and I've had a lot of success. We've been really fortunate at Charlotte. I want to win that one.
Then we go to Dallas, and that's going to be -- that can be a really tricky track with the tight groove. Yes, I want to win that one too.
Then you go to -- What's going to be exciting about the next six races is different weather conditions, different parts of the country. The fan base is totally different, you know. Different accents at the places you go to, people are socially a little bit different. It's really exciting. I think it's a nice balance of six facilities to finish up the year with. And yes I want to win.
I mean, right now it's about points. You have to race for the 80 points. But if you go to the semifinals in the next six races and you're not sitting tenth in the countdown right now
You're going to be pretty tough in the point deal.
Interesting thing with Pro Stock, Mike Edwards pretty much -- and I don't mean any disrespect, they have to not show up the rest of the year if they didn't go into the countdown reset. The way Larry's been running with that car, they have to have a really major problem for anybody that got around them in the points.
The pro-stock and Funny Car, you almost could have left the points alone, not reset them and had a pretty interesting countdown.

Q. Jack, of course you want to win all the rest of the races. You've kind of quietly this season through the regular season found yourself in third going into the countdown. Do you have anything -- have you left anything on the table coming into the last six races that you're going to put back in the car to flex some muscle?
JACK BECKMAN: At the end of the year I don't think you ever want to look back and say, God, if we had only done that differently. And one of the cool things about driving for Don Schumacher is he'll never put you in that position.
We might make mistakes, too many mistakes and I might make driving mistakes, but Don's never going to short change us. And the proof in that is we're putting a brand-new body on these cars for Indy. I think all three of the Schumacher cars have brand-new bodies.
And by the time you do paint and work and mount all of that bracing underneath, it's about $50,000 dollars. We're doing that to save 10 pounds. If we're already at minimum weight we can move that ten pounds where we want to the car.
We debuted a brand-new chassis in Chicago. We got 53 runs on it. We built it in house, we brought it back and put brand-new tubing on it. We did that to all three of our Funny Cars, and it's not because they were due to be front halfed. It's because there is a cycle life on these chassises, and we didn't want to get two-thirds of the way through the countdown and say, gosh, we wish we should have done it this way.
So we looked at the long-term strategy and right now we're doing everything we can so we don't say we left anything on the table. We're going to go talk tomorrow to make sure we're on the right page here.

Q. Larry, what you guys do is a high stakes game for you almost every round, every race. Could you learn to handle the high stakes? Is that something you came with when you got here?
LARRY DIXON: I don't know. You just -- I mean, it's competition. Everybody's kind of obviously friends off the track for the most part. But when you pull up to the line and light that top light it's game on. You don't have any friends or want any friends at that point. You just want to go out there and earn your spot.
I think just growing up and watching my dad and others race, it made me such a fan of the sport. I'm really enjoying my time driving and being out there competing. Whether I'm racing number 100 in the points or number 1 in the points, it's just I enjoy it. I mean, I have fun.
So pressure-wise you just put pressure on yourself to do well, but that's pretty much it. Just I love what we do.

Q. If I could ask the same question to Steve Johnson. How do you feel about the high stakes you've done a lot of it?
STEVE JOHNSON: I think Larry summed up a lot of the perimeter of the deal, but I think about it probably more than I should. I dirt bike race, and, you know, there's a lot of things that we do if I read you right on the high stakes kind of thing, you're talking about safety and all that stuff.
Motorcycles only go 200 in 6 seconds. But the Fuel cars, we look at those guys and we can't even believe them. But I tell you, when you see somebody that's not a real seasoned rider and they struggle, it really gives you a lot of respect for how fast a pro-stock motorcycle is.
I don't think the fans can even comprehend what it's like to hang on and not have the roll bar and seat belts and all that kind of stuff.
But at the end of the day, I go back to the McDonald's thing. It's all high stakes or having to do dishes. This is what I do to pay my bills. I'm very fortunate at 3:00 o'clock in the morning when I'm doing more and more proposals all the time that I'm sitting there and falling asleep and I just work through it. I'm like I must be doing this because I love racing.
I talked to Larry about that. We were just talking about that last night. It's funny that you brought it up. We love what we do. You guys know this is not a money deal for us. I'm talking about making my bills and stuff like that.
You know, 100 grand a year, Jeepers-Creepers, you could do that anywhere. I absolutely love what I do. That's why this championship, this Full Throttle Championship for me is way more important than anybody on this call or anybody that's going to be racing. It's just everything to me, and this last six races is my shot to take our team and my company to the final promised land.

Q. Larry, you've won at almost every track you've ever raced at with the exception of zMAX Dragway. You've struggled there, had troubles trying to find the winner's circle there. How important is that race for you in winning this championship this year?
LARRY DIXON: I didn't have a shot at Charlotte. There were quite a few on the tour. As a matter of fact, Reading, Pennsylvania, didn't win that race until last year and have been running there for 15 years.
So it will be -- it's obviously important, momentum and being able to get around wins like Jack was saying. Right now in the early part of the deal I watched Robert Hight last year who squeaked his way in and slid into the tenth spot, and he ran off a few wins and nobody could catch him.
So the early part of the chase, I guess it pays the same amount of points as the last part. But it's a lot more fun being out front I think than having to chase.
So, yeah, it would certainly be good to do well at Charlotte. I mean, we'll go there and try our best and hope it's enough. But we certainly enjoy racing that racetrack and just a big fan of Bruton Smith. The fact that he loves NHRA Drag Racing and has four of the finest drags that we have on the tour. It's just certainly an honor.
It's an honor that he thinks that much of our sport. So we'll certainly go in there and try to put on a great show for everybody.

Q. With your new found performance with the rules change and getting to have a little bit bigger engine, does that give you any additional confidence going into the countdown that you can sew up the championship?
LARRY DIXON: I tell you, qualifying number one at Norwalk was really cool. Because at Chicago we did good, and in English Town we were number two, and all of a sudden it took all of those races. I just did a report on it, and we were 30 rounds of racing into this thing with this new engine with bigger, cubic inches. So they just changed the rule right before the race, before the Nationals.
So we got the engine in, and it was a pig because we weren't tuning it right. And when Tim finally found, my crew chief, finally got his handle around it, and I could ride it good, some people couldn't even ride it. It was really cool. It was like wow, and I was just thinking about this.
The bike was so fast. I'd never had the fastest bike that was my own team. I only qualified number one in 1995, so then to do it again a thousand years later was awesome because it was my team.
But I thought I'm still riding the bike. I still shift when the light comes on. I still do all this stuff, nothing else. So I know everybody knows this, but there ain't nothing cooler than having a lot of horsepower and to get those extra six cubic inches when the Harleys and V-twins only have 106 cubic inches, and the Suzuki's have 107 cubic inches. We've been needing that since 2002 is what I've been screaming about. So finally we got it.
When we have the performance, if I have the mental toughness, we're going to be tough to beat because I'm going to ride the wheels off of it. And at the end of the day it is a huge advantage, so I love that extra cubic inches.
The problem is we blew up our best engine in Denver. They don't seem to want to come back to life until you beat on them for a little while, and that's why we're here. We've got our engine back, and we're going to go beat on it a little bit, and hopefully it will come back to its all mighty self, and when it does, it's game on.

Q. You talked about just the different markets, and the different weather patterns of the final six races in the countdown to the championship. Talk about that and just how important it is for the sport to have week-in, and week-out such an eclectic group of fans that were visiting those final six races?
JACK BECKMAN: I just want to know who I can submit my fuel bill to. You guys are sending us from Indy, to Charlotte, to Dallas, to Redding, to Vegas. That's a lot of diesel.
If you had all 23 races in Pomona, you could say the weather's fairly predictable out there. The track's nice. That would be cool, especially for me, I'm 20 minutes away. But then the idea is to expose our sport to as many people as possible.
NASCAR is a very easy sport to follow. All the competitors are on the racetrack for one race and it's over. Drag Racing is kind of difficult to explain the rules. You have four pro categories, 12 total categories. Some with four rounds of elimination, some are eight rounds are of elimination.
Our sport is one of those where people have to (Indiscernible). I've always looked at it as a Motorsport, if you like it on TV, you're going to love it in person. If you come in person, you're probably going to come back.
I think our duty as drivers and teams and the sanctioning body is to get people into the stands for the first time as possible. And the other drivers might agree one of the great things about our sport is the fans can come up and interact with the drivers. We get introduced to a whole lot of them.
And I really love going to Charlotte for the inaugural race and running in front of a lot of die hard NASCAR fans. And our goal is never to take fans from any other sport, but our goal is to build fans that are fans of other sports.
To have that feed back from those people who have been to have NASCAR races and tell us how much they loved our race, and how much they appreciated getting to come up to the pit and interact with the drivers, I thought that was pretty special.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank our drivers for joining us on this conference call.

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