NHRA Countdown to the Championship teleconference August 25, 2010 An interview with: LARRY DIXON JACK BECKMAN JEG COUGHLIN STEVE JOHNSON THE MODERATOR: This call is the preview of the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship beginning next...
NHRA Countdown to the Championship teleconference
August 25, 2010
An interview with:
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, how 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 has gone on. It's just gotten better.
If we can keep it up, hopefully we can end up with a better season than Iwhat '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. Allen 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 was 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.
Continued in part 2