HOT ROD FULLER 2008 NHRA Q&A
BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Dec. 1, 2008) -- Hot Rod Fuller recently completed his first season as driver of the David Powers-owned Caterpillar dragster with consecutive final-round appearances in Las Vegas and Pomona. The fan favorite posted a win at the St. Louis race and earned the pole in Norwalk in June. It was a strong finish to the season for the seven-time NHRA Top Fuel winner, who has 20 career NHRA national event wins to his credit in Top Fuel, Super Comp and Super Gas. In this Q&A, the popular Las Vegas racer chats about this 2008 season, his off season plans, 1,000-foot racing, and even makes some sports predictions.
Q: What have you been doing since the season ended?
Fuller: I took some time off and went to Southern California for a few days after the banquet and just didn't want to talk about racing. I spent some time with my family too. It was the one-year anniversary of my knee surgery on Nov. 23 and it made me feel good. When I had the surgery, they said it takes a year and the pain and rehab took some time to overcome. Where I'm at today, the doctors are very happy. After running the bases in the charity softball game, you would never know I had major knee surgery. I feel great.
Q: Do you have any fun plans this off season?
Fuller: I'm moving into a new house in Las Vegas and that's quite an undertaking. I'm real neat, so it's hard to imagine being unorganized for a few weeks. The home I'm in now, I've been in for four years. It was always a dream of mine to have a house with a pool and now that will be a reality soon. I'm not taking any vacations. I'll go home to Arkansas over Christmas break and then get ready for the season and testing in January. It seems the older I get, the less I like to travel. I'd rather be home than at a ski lodge or at some exotic place. I'm also going to train hard and attain my goal weight. I'd like to get down to 155 pounds instead of 170.
Q: Talk about the 2008 NHRA season for you.
Fuller: I've been racing full time since 1994, so that's like 15 years, and I can honestly say this was the hardest season of my career. Coming off of last season and nearly winning the championship, it seemed like it came so easy. To come out and struggle was tough to deal with. I'm real competitive and I want to go out and win and we had a streak where we didn't make it passed the second round for like eight or nine races. We developed the rivalry with Tony (Schumacher) and we didn't produce. We didn't walk the walk. I also felt like we weren't the sixth best car in the country; we were better than that. We didn't have a lot of luck. We ran into the Army car at 11 of 24 races and managed to beat them three times. Considering the season they had, that's not bad. I think we beat them more than any other team.
Q: Were you excited about the strong finish to the season with consecutive final-round appearances?
Fuller: Yes, and it couldn't have happened at a better time. We were really struggling. After sweeping the (Las) Vegas race last year, it was a great place to rebound for us being my home track. We gave Tony (Schumacher) a great race and didn't smoke the tires. We came up just short, but hadn't been to the semis since Seattle in July. That was a long dry spell. I knew we were going to do well there and we did. We seem to do well at Vegas. At Pomona, I hate to put so much focus on Tony, but beating them might have been the biggest win of my career. That was huge to stop their run. They were trying to re-write the record books and to stop that freight train was a great momentum-builder for me and our race team.
Q: Can the Caterpillar team build on that momentum for '09?
Fuller: I'm a firm believer that adversity builds character. I thickened my armor this year, that's for sure. With Tony and Alan (Johnson) splitting and a lot of uncertainty with sponsors, we have Caterpillar back, our teammates are back with Antron (Brown) and Lee (Beard), and we have all that data. Whoever is our crew chief is going to come into a great situation. We have a really strong race car. My driving was good at the last two races and I have my confidence back. I'm really excited. I think the Top Fuel class is wide open.
Q: Is there any reason why you and Antron can't finish one-two in 2009?
Fuller: No. I really think Antron is the favorite for next season with his team being intact and with Lee Beard as his crew chief. He is one of the best in the sport and with Alan focusing on two cars and a Funny Car, I don't see why we can't win races. We have two great teams here and two great drivers and we'll be there all season long. I'm really excited.
Q: When will you announce your crew chief for next season?
Fuller: I would say after the first of the year.
Q: At the Auto Club Finals, the NHRA announced that it will begin the 2009 season with 1,000-foot nitro racing. How do you feel about that?
Fuller: I'm still a little bummed. I understand they're trying to make every effort to go back to quarter-mile racing and that's good. I volunteered our team to do testing for NHRA to help slow these cars down. We're still going really fast. We went over 318 mph at Vegas. If they can figure out how to do it and not compromise safety and not cost the teams a lot of money, I think we'll go back.
Q: Who is your favorite driver to compete against?
Fuller: Tony Schumacher. He's a champion and I'm feisty when it comes to him. They have what we want and that's to be the best and a champion. When you get to race him, I really get up for it. He tries to deny that we're rivals, but I know I get under his skin and it's kind of cool to know that. Doug Kalitta is another great driver. When I race him, I think back to my first final and losing to him on a hole shot at Bristol (Tenn.). I get up for him too. Any time you can beat him it's an accomplishment. Hillary (Will), (Larry) Dixon, Antron (Brown), there are a lot of great drivers out there that are tough to beat. From top to bottom, Top Fuel is really tough. There's no margin for error.
J Q: You're a big sports fan, who's going to win the Super Bowl and BCS championship?
Fuller: I'm an SEC guy and supporter having graduated from Arkansas. I'm going with Alabama or Florida. Whoever wins the SEC title game will win the BCS. USC is a great team, but they don't have the competition in the Pac 10. I think the Big 12 is overrated. I think Oklahoma and Texas are great, but Texas Tech was a joke against Oklahoma. The SEC has a great track record.
My favorite NFL team is the Bears, but it doesn't look good for them. They may be a Wild Card team. I like the Jets. I think (Brett) Favre is a great story at 39-years-old. We're close in age and I tell my friends that 40 is the new 20 and Brett is proving that. He's so fun to watch. I want to race like him with the enthusiasm and excitement. He's out there jumping around and having fun and we can all learn from that.
Q: How are things going with Caterpillar? How did the first year of dealer recruiting go with the NHRA program?
Fuller: I really think it was a great year. With the economy and for us to excel with the dealers is great. We worked with a lot of repeat and new dealers and the dealers hired some great personnel and we found out that Caterpillar customers and employees are NHRA drag racing fans. The NHRA program also helped sell a lot of equipment for the dealers and the CAT Undercarriage group had an awesome sales event at the fall Las Vegas race. I think we'll see more CAT groups involved and that says a lot about NHRA racing and its future.