Force Hood, Schumacher - NHRA teleconference, part 1

NHRA teleconference February 3, 2010 An interview with: TONY SCHUMACHER and ASHLEY FORCE HOOD THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. Schumacher is in the midst of one of the most remarkable...

NHRA teleconference
February 3, 2010

An interview with: TONY SCHUMACHER and ASHLEY FORCE HOOD

THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Dragster. Schumacher is in the midst of one of the most remarkable runs compiled by any driver in NHRA history. He enters the 2010 season with six straight Top Fuel Championships, and seven overall. Schumacher's most recent triumph in 2009 might have been his most satisfying as the U.S. Army team persevered following the departure of Alan Johnson, and with Mike Green making the tuning call, they defended their title by Alan Johnson's new Al-Anabi team with two-time champion, Larry Dixon, at the helm.

Tony, it's been an incredible, incredible run. Some of the results we saw in testing in Palm Beach were also off the charts. Tell us where the Army team is heading into 2010?

TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, I think we've got a team that's been together for a year now. None of these guys are new at what they do. Just like when Larry went over there and everyone said it was a new team. Of course not. It was my old team.

It wasn't like we hired anyone off a Cracker Jack box. These guys are excellent. Each one of them in their own right. Now we've been together for a year. No one changed positions. Everything's status quo. Brought out a new DSR car, and it ran fast. Two quickest runs in the history of the sport. Had amazing conditions, but just did back-to-back runs.

When you can go out and make back-to-back runs, you know you've got something. The tune-up is where you want it. The clutch disk, the performance, the engine. Everything is where you want it, and we'll head to Pomona. So really looking forward to getting it started.

It was an amazing year last year to be able do what we did. To be able to go out there after losing Alan Johnson and my whole Army team and beat them by two points, which is what everyone in the world showed up to watch. Not us beat them, but just battle. To see what the outcome would be losing a crew chief when so much is put on crew chiefs and drivers.

I think it was just an amazing year. Mike Green proved he is a very capable crew chief. Something he's wanted to do for a long, long time. Go out there and do it on his own. Just looking forward to get it started really. After the performance we had testing, I wanted to go out and race the next day.

THE MODERATOR: The next driver I'd like to introduce is Ashley Force Hood. Driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Ashley, again, 27-year-old daughter of NHRA icon, John Force. Ashley is quickly carving out her own niche in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing series as she steadily improved her performance with a sixth place and second place finish the last two seasons after finishing tenth in her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2007.

Ashley was the first woman to win a race in Funny Car, at Atlanta in 2008. And she remains the only woman in NHRA Funny Car history to have led the point standings, a feat she accomplished in 2008 and 2009. Ashley, why don't you let everyone know how testing was in Phoenix for you and what the outlook is for you in 2010?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: We had a really good test session. We were out there for four or five days and made some good runs. It's just a great feeling for everyone. Not just the driver, but the crew chiefs and the crew to get back, familiarized with everything and comfortable with the car and everything that you do.

Fortunately, we didn't have too many big changes, so, you know, to the car. A couple of different guys had come over from one of our other teams, but basically the same group. That's, you know, so we felt really confident in testing.

We had had those days out there, and we feel ready to go. We're excited for Pomona. We feel like we're going to have a strong competitive car again this year, and we're excited.

Q: Are you both done testing before Pomona and get some of your thoughts on four-wide Nationals in March?

TONY SCHUMACHER: Yes, we're done testing. We made a lot of runs out there. Actually quite glad we didn't go to Phoenix. It was just a weather disaster. We got what we needed.

For the four-wide, I'll say it almost exactly like I said it when the Countdown started, I don't get to make the rules, but I read them. It's the way it is. You know, I hear everyone going back and forth, well, what about this, you know. I can't believe the dangers.

You know what? It is what it is. We're going to sit up in the seat. We're going to do our job. When the light comes on, we're going to go. I've tried to oversimplify it. I've told you that a thousand times. Oversimplify it. When the light comes on, doesn't matter if there are 30 cars, when the light comes on, go as fast as you can to the end. When you get out, they're going to tell you if you won. And that's exactly what we're going to do.

I don't think I've read the full set of rules. It doesn't matter. Really, I look at it that light comes on, and we're going to go. And the other four cars staging, yeah, the guys can play a little bit of a game if they don't stage. But in reality, that's how NHRA chose to do it. I think it's going to be exciting. I think a drag race has always been one guy against another guy. But it's something new.

I commend them for trying to improve the sport. No matter what the outcome is, to try to make a change for the sport. You know, I love drag racing. I could have gone in many different directions and driven many different cars and I chose to stay here. I believe in it, and I think it's a great sport.

So it's two races here. Let's go out and see. If it doesn't work out, I'm sure they'll go back to the way it was. If it does work out, we have something new. Let's have some fun.

I don't think the danger is any more. We've got a guardrail between us. I've flown over it, and I'm probably the only one around this century that has. In reality, there is a guy next to you.

The hardest part we're going to have is three cars smoke the tires or four cars. You know, I'm pretty trained to hearing the car next to me. I'm sure Ashley will say the same thing. When you hear that car, you know what he's doing. You know when he's off and on the throttle. When you have four guys doing it, it's going to be nuts.

But, you know, watching it is going to be exciting. Watching four cars go out there and battle it will be pretty cool.

THE MODERATOR: Ashley the question on testing, if you're done, and then the four-wide at Charlotte?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Yes, we are done testing. Like I said, we did, I think four or five days. More than just a weekend's amount of time. So we felt comfortable. We felt we accomplished what we wanted to do and felt prepared and ready to go for Pomona.

And as for the four-wide, I am embarrassed to say I didn't even know it was announced until I had gotten a new computer. I was in the week long process of getting everything moved over. Which I've kind of been out of my -- kind of in my own little world working on that.

And I got a call from a magazine or a newspaper asking my opinion on the big news that was announced that morning. And after a moment of silence, I'm like what big news? The big news in Charlotte. I'm like don't know. The place your father's at with them and they're making a big announcement?

Well, I knew he flew somewhere but I didn't actually know where he was going. I think the guy thought I was -- I don't know what he thought of me. I was a little embarrassed. But he got me up to date on the announcement and everything.

And like Tony said, you know, it's going to be exciting, exciting for the fans. And that is a huge part of what we do. If the fans aren't there, we're not going to be there. And to give them the experience of, you know, 32,000 horsepower at one time, I mean, it is amazing.

And I'm sure there will be challenges. With anything that you try new, it's not going to go perfectly smoothly the first weekend. As long as we can go in there and know there are going to be bumps and hurdles to get over. But if we're all positive about it and excited about it, it will be a good show.

It really will be more of a change and maybe a challenge for the crew chiefs and the teams that start the car. As far as the drivers, like Tony said, we're in our car, we do our on thing. That routine is not going to change for us.

It might be a little different, but I think it will more be getting the timing right on starting the cars at the same time, and pulling the cars up into the pre-stage beam.

But I'm still going to try to just keep focused and pay attention to my own car, which is what really I should be doing anyway. The other three cars, it really is no different if you're in -- our race car doesn't know are you running in the final of the biggest race of the year? Are you on a testing run? Are you against one guy on a single or against three people? Your race car's going to do what it's going to do. We just do our job. I think it will be fun. It will be interesting, that's for sure.

Q: Now you finished testing, what is the greatest competition you're going to see this year? We have a lot of great teams coming in lots of new things happening. What is going to be the toughest part of the year, and what is going to be the easiest part, and I ask this of Tony also.

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: I believe in Funny Car the competition has gotten so close. That's why the fans love to see the Funny Car category. There are so many different teams, every pair that goes up, there is a car that can run a great time. There is nobody really dominating anything. So it's exciting to watch, and obviously, it's exciting to be a part of that.

As a newer driver it's neat that I may not have as much experience as some of the other teams out there, but my car has the consistency and ability to run with people, some of which, including my father, have been running longer than I've been alive. That's the excitement about it. It seems equal across the board.

That is going to be the toughest challenge though. There are so many, you know, every pair. Doesn't matter where you qualify, if you're number one or if you're 16 you can be knocked right out of the race. So we all need to be on our game, and every tiny detail will count.

The positive side to that is if you do have ups and downs, as Robert showed last year, as long as you can get your stuff figured out in time for the Countdown and get your ducks in a row, you don't lose that hope of chasing that championship if you do have a few bumps along the way early in the season. But you better get your stuff together by the end of the season, because you don't want to have any struggles there, or you're definitely out of the game.

Q: Same question for Tony?

TONY SCHUMACHER: I said it at Indy last year. Normally you have silly season. You have this crew chief's leaving to go here, and this driver's moving to this side. I haven't heard about any crew guys, crew chiefs, drivers, anyone leaving at all. I think that just goes to show you that I think everyone's found themselves a pretty good home.

The competition was brutal. You know, yeah, we go out and make a run, and that Saturday night run was huge in Pomona (2009 to earn the No. 1 qualifying position), but most of the time we're running close, very close. That makes it amazing for the fans. That's what we pay the money to come watch. That's what people show up for. They show up for a great battle.

Me and Dixon split up, crew chiefs leave, Dixon gets hired, and we with both win the exact same amount of rounds, the exact same amount of races. That's unheard of. So what people are going to come out and get, they're going to get their money's worth. Especially in a time when people are spending a lot of time thinking about where they're going to put their money. It's good to know we're not giving them a bad show. We're giving them the best show I've ever seen. Best show I've ever been a part of.

And like Ashley said, no one's running away with it. I never expected to win six championships in a row. And I don't expect to go on and win every championship from here on out. The competition's too tough.

We're going to show up, qualify the best and run the best we can each round. At the end of the season we'll know where it falls. But it is brutal right now. It's the hardest thing I've ever been a part of.

It's great to be in it now. It was great to win 13 races in a season or whatever we won, a ton. But 15, I think. Just a bunch of races. But the reality is that just doesn't happen.

You know, last year a lot of cars were coming off. I mean, Morgan's car is running good, Spencer's car is amazing. I know they're gone right now, but he'll drive something. And there's just a list of people you don't wake up in the morning thinking wow, you won. You got to wake up in the morning and prepare for battle. It's tough.

Q: What do you think outside of the competition which as you stated is really tough, what do you think is going to be the biggest factor this year for your class? I mean, is there something out there that we don't see as laymen that could really influence the race this year?

TONY SCHUMACHER: I'm not sure how to answer this one. The fact that we get four test days is big. It equalizes a lot of it. The big money -- we're going to start out with really the same amount of runs.

Yeah, we get a few more test runs than a low-buck team that didn't getting to out and test. But we're left with what we know. Our history and the data that we put together. I think that's pretty cool. It's probably what's made it so equal. We can't go out and test 15 different scenarios because we just don't get those runs.

So we're left with last year. The data we got, the racetrack surfaces and all that stuff, and that's the hardest part. You just can't go out. I think it's great. I bet you Ashley thinks it's fun, too. I'm sure she'd like to make a lot of runs. But I made a hundred plus test runs one year and you just go nuts. You're on the road every day running these cars.

I think it just is a good equalizer when it's done like that. Some day we're going to go back and be able to test. But right now that's pretty much the facts. You get four days to test, that's all we get. If we go anymore than that, we start to lose points, so...

Q: Are you going to be like the Cup teams initially when they hoarded those test sessions toward the end of the year or have you planned those out?

TONY SCHUMACHER: I can't even answer that. I'm sure (crew chief) Mike (Green) will have an answer when we'll test the first one or two. We'll definitely wait and use some at the end when we need it. But we've got a brand-new chassis. We've got the in-house chassis, and we'll test them when we need them. But we have our old cars. We'll take those out if we need them.

You do what you've got to do to win. We proved last year, we started testing, and you can't really call it testing. We started trying everything new in Denver, because we knew that we had a car that could win races, but not a championship. So we took out a completely new combination. Changed everything around. And although everybody was saying, you know, I should be able to still win a championship. We've got all the jobs and stuff. We didn't have anything the same in that car. It was so different. And we had to fix it and figure it out.

We figured it out at the exact right time. We went out there and did our last testing in Vegas. We went to Pomona and the stuff we learned allowed us to run low ET on Saturday night and it won us a championship.

So we read the rules like I said a million times. We study them, we know what we can do, and when we can do it, and do it to the best of our ability. That's what wins those championships. Knowing what you can and can't do, and winning the right call.

You can make that call a thousand times and get it wrong most of the time. You've just got to do it when you need to. Mike did a heck of a job last year calling those shots. So we'll take them as we need them. Some guys are going to have to go out and test at the beginning if they're getting beat. You've got to end up at the Top 10. Some guys are going to run real good and get a big enough lead where we can go out and prepare for the last couple of races.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Ashley Force