Continued from part 1 Q: To Schumacher: Do you have any involvement in that car with your business relationship with Evan Knoll and being the nitro supplier for Torco Race Fuels? SCHUMACHER: No business involvement, no involvement with that...
Continued from part 1
Q: To Schumacher: Do you have any involvement in that car with your business relationship with Evan Knoll and being the nitro supplier for Torco Race Fuels?
SCHUMACHER: No business involvement, no involvement with that car, team or anything at all. We've talked about it and all I can express to them is that they made a great choice and it was wonderful for Dave Connolly and for the whole sport for that team to stay together and continue on.
Q: To Gary Scelzi: You've had a lot of big wins in your career, but the guys on the starting line in Chicago certainly seemed to share the response of a lot of people that that might have been one of the biggest. How did you feel after that and how do you feel now coming into Englishtown?
SCELZI: My confidence level is extremely high, because we've had, I feel, the car to beat all year long. If it hasn't been myself getting beat on a holeshot or something stupid happening with a part failure or a miscue with a part, I think we would actually be ahead of John Force. I feel so good that this team has made it through all those things with Mike Neff being a great leader and actually my boss Don who everyone seems to think is a tough guy. I mean, he demands performance, he demands respect and he gets it. Through all this trouble that I've had as a driver here going through and getting the finger pointed in interview after interview with ESPN - gee, what's wrong? - he's been very supportive, and I've complimented him on his support of me, because when you've won three world championships and you've been fortunate enough to have a career like I've had, sometimes you're not as tough as you seem on the outside. It's been very good for me. My confidence level is high, my crew chief knows when to beat on the hood and get me jacked and Don knows when I'm beating myself up enough that he doesn't need to push a button. Jim Jannard (Oakley's Mad Scientist), the Mopar folks, and the Dodge folks now have been coming to quite a few races which is a lot more than we've seen as of last year. Everybody is really getting behind this effort. I think it's a great thing and I feel really, really good about going into Englishtown.
Q: To Scelzi: When we talk about crew chiefs and everything, you guys have such a great relationship. Do you think that Mike Neff gets the credit that he deserves, because he's just done a tremendous job with that?
SCELZI: No, I don't. And I said it in the press room in Chicago. I said, Do you guys remember? Go check your notes (from) three years ago, when I first started with this team and I said, Remember this name, Mike Neff. But I can tell you, the biggest compliment for Mike Neff (comes) from people like Austin Coil and John Force and (Don) Prudhomme (who) offered him (a job): 'Hey, why don't you come over to our place?' Mike takes it with a grain of salt and giggles. Just because you have all the tools and you have everything that we have at our disposal doesn't mean it's going to work or it doesn't mean you're going to get along or it doesn't mean that when you start to struggle that everything is going to be wonderful. It would have been really easy for Mike to say, 'Hey, Don, this guy is a loser, we got to get him out of there. My car's hauling ass and he keeps blowing it.' And that wasn't the case. I don't know if he took psychology or whatever he's done, but he kept telling me that there was no one else he wanted in his car but me.
If I find out two years later that it's a lie I'm still going to thank him because he made me believe it. One other thing too. On the issue of Lee Beard. Lee Beard is very instrumental in all of these teams. He is a brilliant man and he's great with aero, he's great with a lot of innovative parts that are in these cars right now that work extremely well. For whatever reason, these cars do things that no one has a clue at. And I think what you're going to see... That Don has again set the standard by not firing someone but letting him take a step back and letting everybody kind of jump in here and see if we can find what the problem is. Because certainly Bazemore deserves a car that wins and so does Lee. There are only a handful of people out here who can really tune these cars well and i believe that Lee Beard is one of those. And if you look at his record I think it shows it. He'll be fine. We'll come out of this OK and I think Lee will come back to do a lot more instrumental things to help this team to the next level. And there's no reason to let him go somewhere else and help them get to our level. I think it was a brilliant move by not firing someone, to let him take a step back, and all of us join in. I think it will make this whole team better.
Was that long-winded or what?
Q: To Scelzi: You've sort of hinted at possible retirement. Do you have a timetable in your head of when you want to do this? Is it winning a Funny Car championship, is it winning three Funny Car championships? Do you have some time frame?
SCELZI: Three would be good. I'd be OK with that. Don and I have talked about it. Mike Neff has assured me that he'll let me know when it's time I'm going to retire. But I would say it's probably going to be in the next couple of years. Don and I have a contract through next year with all our sponsors and it really depends on what happens at Scelzi Enterprises with the company and because it's grown to over 180 employees and I'm really kind of needed to come back there. It'll be something that Don and I will discuss and Mike and our sponsors and if our contracts continue on and we can make this thing work I'll do it for a little bit while longer, but I don't see myself going for more than three or four more, at max. We'll re-evaluate it at the end of next year, towards the end of next year.
Q: To Scelzi: When you see new drivers coming in Like Mike Ashley into Funny Cars, out of Pro Mod into Funny Cars, do those well-funded kind of teams get your attention?
SCELZI: No, not really. I've been very fortunate to be with good cars and good teams - with Alan Johnson in the Winston program and now with Don and Mopar and Oakley and Dodge and Matco. It doesn't really bother me. Just like it didn't bother me to race John Force in the beginning when I went Funny Car racing, because, hey, they're great. John was no better than racing Kenny Bernstein or Cory Mac when he was with the Joe Gibbs team, or Larry Dixon. They're great. It's like the Giants playing the Padres or whoever. Well, jeez, do the Padres suck or the Cubs? They're professionals and they're all bad ass. No, the water's fine. This is not an easy game and Funny Car is even worse than Top Fuel. So, I welcome them aboard. And I've helped Robert Hight, Eric Medlen. Bazemore has helped me. On and on. All of us try to keep everybody from running into each other and if we can help a younger driver or whatever it takes that's fine, but we don't tell them everything.
Q: To Neff: In regard to your tune-ups. people say like Dick LaHaie has a really good hot-weather tune-up. Do you have a preference to the type of weather that you feel your car runs the best and how you tune your motors?
NEFF: I feel that I don't really have a favorite. I think we can run good in the bad weather and I think we can run in the good weather conditions. I don't think we're great in either one, but I think we're pretty even in both of those in any conditions.
Q: To Neff: How much information is exchanged between crew chiefs from your team and other Fuel operations? Do you guys share information at all?
NEFF: No, we dEn't share any kind of information like that. It's pretty much small talk. No, I certaInly wouldn't be telling anybody what I'm doing and I'm sure they wouldn't be telling me either.
Q: To Schumacher and Bazemore: How did Lee react when you gave him this news?
SCHUMACHER: Whit wasn't there. I'm sure he has talked to Lee. Certainly disappointed. Certainly he wanted to just continue on and work as hard as necessary to turn the program around and be successful. But also accepting in my decision that this is the way we needed to go and the step that we needed to take. Lee is a very competitive individual. The last thing he wanted to do was to walk away from competition of getting the car back going and getting the car performing again. He's worked very very hard at it. And that was the reason that I made the decision that Lee's worked really hard it for months and months and months and it was time to get a new set of eyes to take a look at it and have Lee step away from it so it's looked at like a new team, a new operation from top to bottom, inside and out.
Q: To Schumacher: Will he be at the track this weekend?
SCHUMACHER: I don't think so. I haven't made that final decision. I talked to him yesterday and said that I might just have him come on out with me and he had already made some plans to spend the weekend with his son at his son's races, but he would certainly join me if that's what I wanted to have happen. And I haven't made that real decision. I kind of go back and forth, yes and no. Lee is very valuable and to have a valuable individual that's got insight and can see things not at the race track when he could be at the race track may be a detriment to us. But on the other side he needs to kind of refresh his batteries and maybe him being away from the races for the weekend and just thinking about things will be better for Lee.
SCHUMACHER: It's been a tough week, at least for me, on a personal basis and I think for my whole operation. On a personal basis, it's been tough when you have to take the type of steps that I have taken this week. It affects everybody in my operation and I have to say thank you to everyone of them for keeping their heads up and working hard at it and accepting what I had to do and going on forward. It's just going to make our organization better. I think John Torok is on the phone. I haven't heard a question get asked of him. But I have to thank John and Matco Tools for supporting my operation and understanding that I had to make these steps and we'll be a better race team because of it.
BAZEMORE: How important is this event for the rest of the season? WB: It's very important that as a team that we rebound and we continue to try to get our Matco Tools Dodge going down the race track competitively again. Don's taken the steps necessary to do that, to give me a competitive car. I'm very very confident in Dan Olson and Todd Okahara, who I don't really know that well, but I'm looking forward to working with him. When he stepped in last year with Prudhomme's car it turned around. They ran pretty well at the end of last year. I'm excited by the challenge. It's certainly going to be a lot different for me not working with Lee. We have a job to do and for me at the end of the day it's the same. My job is to drive the car as perfectly as I can and not make any mistakes. That's always the challenge and then to work with the team the best I can to get the car as competitive as we can get it. That's it for me.
SCELZI: How important is this race for you? GS: Well, it's very important. I just have in my mind that we need to sweep this three-race swing. But I feel that way every event we go to. I feel that every event we go to we can win. Englishtown is a lot like the Winternationals, or the Gatornationals or even the U.S. Nationals. It's an old race, it has a lot of tradition. I've only been to the final round there once and I want to keep this roll that we're on right now and hopefully we can pick up 5 points, 50 points, 60 points, 100 points on Force. That's our goal right now and I've never been more determined in my life and I don't think Mike Neff has, or this whole Mopar team. I'm ready to go. In fact, I'm leaving here in a couple of hours to start heading that way. I'm excited and I'm ready and I just feel like I won my first race a week ago.
NEFF: Is this going to be a challenge this weekend? MN: Yeah. It'll be just like any other race, I'm sure, You've just got to go start over and try to make the right adjustments to get off on the right foot on Friday and get yourself ready to qualify for race day. I'm excited to go there. The one thing about it: I know a lot of people think that, boy, you've got a three-car team, you've got one good running car, how come the other cars don't run good or why can't they? It looks easy, but there's so many things that could change at any time and I'm very humble about it. I know there's a possibility that we could roll into Englishtown and hit a slump and not do anything for three or four races just as easy as the next guy. That;'s the one thing I don't think people understand. All it takes is one little demon in there to go wrong that you can't put a finger on and it can sideline you for a while. Just like Don said, Lee didn't get stupid. There's just a couple of things going wrong that he couldn't see and that's what happens with teams when they start to struggle.
SCHUMACHER: Everybody understand that I have a deposition on Friday. You probably won't see me out there on Friday evening. It isn't because of the changes or anything that's happened with the teams. It's a business thing that I have to take care of and it doesn't involve the racing operation. I will see you on Saturday.