GM Racing - Jason Line Interview KB Framers Pontiac SC/T Grand Am NHRA Pro Stock CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 20, 2004 - He's the driver of the second Pontiac Grand Am out of the Ken Black Racing stable, and pretty handy working with an engine as well.
GM Racing - Jason Line Interview
KB Framers Pontiac SC/T Grand Am
NHRA Pro Stock
CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 20, 2004 - He's the driver of the second Pontiac Grand Am out of the Ken Black Racing stable, and pretty handy working with an engine as well. But students of drag racing know that Jason Line is no newcomer to the sport, having won the NHRA Sportsman championship in Stock eliminator in 1993, and national-event victories at Brainerd, Minn., in 1992 and 1997. Now the 34-year-old Minnesota native is living a lifelong dream, driving a Pro Stock Pontiac Grand Am with one of the best crew chiefs in the sport, Greg Anderson, making the tuning calls on his car.
Line spent a valuable tenure as a dyno operator at Joe Gibbs Racing from 1997-2003, and he was a part of that organization's two NASCAR Winston Cup championships with Bobby Labonte in 2000 and Tony Stewart in 2002. A chance meeting in Charlotte with fellow Minnesotan Greg Anderson eventually resulted in an opportunity to drive a second car for Ken Black Racing and returned Line to his roots in NHRA Drag Racing.
In the last four races this season at Las Vegas, Houston, Bristol (Tenn.) and Atlanta, Line has qualified his GM-DRCE powered Pontiac in the No. 2 position, and posted a pair of runner-up finishes at Houston and Bristol to teammate and current points leader Greg Anderson. Line also drove his Grand Am to career best numbers in e.t. and speed at Houston Raceway Park with a run of 6.723 seconds at 205.26 mph. When Anderson broke his primary engine during Friday qualifying at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, it was Line who drove back to the raceshop in Charlotte, ran the fixed powerplant on the dyno, and delivered the engine just in time for raceday back into Anderson's Pontiac. Because of Line's unselfish contribution, Anderson defeated his teammate in round three of the Atlanta eliminator on a holeshot and went on to win the race. Jason Line is currently third in the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock standings.
At the Atlanta race, you supplied Greg with the bullet that eventually took you out.
"It is pretty ironic actually. But Greg drilled me on a holeshot (.016 light), and I let a 6.79, the best e.t. of the round, go down the tube, so I really can't make any excuses. I'm happy for Greg to be able to win five races in a row, something only two other drivers have accomplished in Pro Stock, and to see his name there with Bob Glidden and Ronnie Sox, that's pretty outstanding. Everybody on the team is proud of what we've accomplished. We all give it our best, work very hard for Greg and Ken (Black), and Greg is very humble giving us probably more credit than we deserve."
Greg's not a bad crew chief to have either.
"With the success he's had driving lately, everyone has kind of overlooked, and maybe forgotten what a great crew chief Greg is. But he's the crew chief making the calls on my car and that's such a cool deal. There are a dozen guys who could get in that car and drive better than I do, and Greg and the rest of the guys on the team are making me look better than I am. I'm in first-class equipment with a first-class crew, and there's not a better team out there. The car is getting better and I'd like to think that I am also."
How did you got started in drag racing?
"My father Lawrence raced in the 60s and early 70s and finally quit in the mid-70s. He bracket-raced and competed in Stock eliminator, and after he quit, we remained in contact with other friends that continued to race. It was kind of a natural thing for me to be involved in drag racing. My father had an automatic transmission shop, so I've been around cars and the automotive industry my entire life. Growing up in northern Minnesota, we raced cars and also snowmobiles pretty much from the first time I could remember, and it's always been a family affair. Even now my whole family races. My mother Maxine races in Stock, my sister Stephanie (Diekema) races in Super Stock, and my dad and two brothers have Stockers also. We all just have a tremendous love for the sport of drag racing. That's why it was kind of a strange deal when I went to work for Joe Gibbs Racing because I'd never seen a NASCAR race before - I didn't even know who Bobby Labonte was. The guys at Gibbs Racing had a lot of fun with that. I had no idea who anybody was other than maybe Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt. But I knew who Warren Johnson was. He was a lifelong hero, he was 'the man' as far as I was concerned, he and Bob Glidden."
So you weren't star struck when you arrived in Charlotte?
"Not at all. I was more awestruck by the size of the Joe Gibbs Racing facility, the kind of equipment they were using and just the professionalism of the organization itself. But as far as the drivers, I really didn't know that much about them."
When did your Sportsman career begin?
"In the mid-80s when I was 15. I didn't have a driver's license yet, so I started a little premature really. I had what they call in Minnesota a 'Farmer's License'. If you lived on a farm you could drive a car or a truck in the daytime within 20 miles of your home, and that was the only license I had. They never asked me for a driver's license when I pulled up to the gate for my first race, so I figured we would go for it."
Winning the 1993 NHRA Stock Eliminator championship must have been pretty exciting.
"Stock eliminator is a difficult category, and I have a lot of respect for all of the guys who are out there doing it and winning. It's not easy. People race for years, my father has raced for years and has never been able to win a national event. It's a very difficult thing to do, so winning the championship in 1993 was a huge deal to me. Even when I was kid, I told my mother that some day I was going to be the Stock eliminator champion, so it was a dream come true. Getting up on the stage at Pomona (Calif.) to accept the championship award was a pretty scary deal for a young kid from Wright, Minn. I grew up in a town of 92 people, so getting up on stage in front of a crowd about 10 times that was a little intimidating."
What happened in 1997 that temporarily pulled you out of drag racing?
"I had a little difficulty buying good engines and finding good equipment to assemble. My brother Lance did all of our engine assembly work and was the one who actually pushed me to race. In 1994, we decided that to move our engine program forward we would need a dyno, so we bought a DTS dyno, built a shop and started out with that. I knew a guy at Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe Hornick, who works with us now, who was the research-and-development guy there. He knew I had a DTS dyno, which was a fairly new dyno at the time, and asked me if I would be interested in working at Gibbs Racing. I kind of blew it off because I had zero interest at all in Winston Cup, I didn't even know what it was. Joe called me a couple of more times and told me they still needed a dyno operator, so I finally said yes. I went to Charlotte thinking I'd stay for a year just to see what I could learn, and as it turned out, it was a great move for me personally. I was surrounded by people who were much smarter than I was, that's for sure, and in an environment like that, you couldn't help but learn. Gibbs was the first team to use that type of DTS dyno, it was a relatively new thing at the time. Nobody was really very happy with the other type of dynos that were out there, it was a new deal, it was different. I still have a very close relationship with the guys over at Gibbs Racing and my tenure there helped me tremendously."
That dyno must have been a big investment for a Sportsman racer.
"It was a huge investment and a huge decision. The deal was, I thought I would dyno for other people to help offset the costs, and it turned out to be a business which my brother still runs. He runs the dyno every day and builds engines for other teams that drag race."
Were you at Gibbs Racing for Bobby Labonte's championship in 2000 and Tony Stewart's championship in 2002?
"In 2000, I was the at-track engine tuner for Bobby's Pontiac Grand Prix, traveled with the team, and that was pretty cool. That was an incredible learning experience and a tough schedule as well. I'd like to think I didn't hurt their cause. More effort was put in at the shop though than at the track. You win the race at the shop and that's been our theory at KB Racing. When you go to the racetrack, the only opportunity you have is to lose the race and that's why preparedness is so important. I really enjoyed working with Joe Gibbs Racing. At the time, I thought it was the best job I could possibly have - and I was wrong. Working for Ken (Black) and Greg (Anderson) is tops for me. I've put a lot of effort into engine theory and learning how to make a racecar go faster, and all of my life I've had the opportunity to learn from some pretty smart people, from my father to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing to where I am now at KB Racing."
While at Joe Gibbs, did you still dream of drag racing again?
"Always! But racing in Winston Cup was a full-time job and didn't leave much time for anything else. I was always very interested in what was going on in NHRA. We would sit around bench racing on Monday mornings, look on the Internet to see the results and we would kind of hack on whoever was cutting bad lights. Now whenever I cut a bad light, the guys at Gibbs Racing call me up and give me a hard time - I started a bad trend there. I still talk to the guys over there about three or four times a week and I'm still very good friends with everyone. The head engine builder, Mark Cronquist, was very good to me and treated me very well."
Do they still get input from you?
"Not really, but we still talk. It's more about dyno stuff though than engine theory."
How did you and Greg get together?
"I used to hang out at Jerico Racing Transmissions, which makes manual transmissions for NASCAR and for drag racing. The guy that runs it, Jerry Hemmingson, is from Minnesota, he's a drag racer, and has a DTS dyno, so I used to spend a lot of time there. I tried working with them a little bit, helping out with the dyno, and Greg ended up renting shop space from them when he moved to Charlotte. Joe Hornick and I would visit with Greg at the shop, offered him our help and basically volunteered. He didn't have enough guys, needed some help, and I'd like to think it worked out for both of us. It was very lucky on my part. I knew Greg's brothers, and I knew Greg's dad, but I had never met Greg. We grew up about 40 miles apart. I raced snowmobiles, and so did his dad, so I'd see his dad at the snowmobile races all the time."
So in addition to you both being from Minnesota, you had a lot in common.
"We think the same on a lot of things. Greg is a working machine and he leads by example. Every night when we're at the shop until 12 a.m. or 1 a.m., Greg's not only working right along side you, he's probably working harder than anybody here. He's very motivated, and I think where we're from in northern Minnesota contributes to that work ethic. There are a lot of hard-working people from that area, and to survive in that cold, cold country you have to be tough and self-reliant."
Your move to the Pro Stock seat.
"Again, Joe Hornick was kind of involved in that also because he was working the engine deal with Greg, knew I was a drag racer and knew that's what I still wanted to do. He made the suggestion to Greg that maybe sometime if they had a spare car they could put a motor in it and let me try driving. Greg asked me if I could come work for him, and at the time I couldn't do it because my opportunity to learn was so much greater at Joe Gibbs Racing as far as engine theory and running the dyno. Financially it wasn't a smart move, either, because Greg couldn't pay me what I was making at Gibbs. The only way I could do it was if I had the opportunity to drive. Greg's response was that they were getting a second car, offered to let me drive it, and it was as simple as that. Greg gave me his word and he kept it. He's a very loyal person and I'm loyal in return. Racing in Pro Stock is just about the dream of every Sportsman racer, especially in Stock and Super Stock. I would have paid money to race in Pro Stock, and Greg and Ken Black made it happen."
How was the adjustment?
"The fastest I had ever gone before was 10.60, and I noticed a huge difference right away. I can't even begin to tell you how big of an adjustment it was. The guys that drive these cars, I have a tremendous amount of respect for them because they make it look easy and it's anything but easy. I'm still learning. I'd like to think I'm getting better each week. I didn't get off to the greatest of starts. Crashing in Columbus was not my idea of starting a Pro Stock career. All I could think of while I was upside down was that I couldn't believe I'd waited my whole life to do this, and I screw it up on my first try. I thought Greg would be upset. It was a brand-new car with just three runs, and Greg and Ken were unbelievable. They were great. They just wanted to make sure I was okay, and as it turned out, it taught me a little about having respect for these cars. They'll get away from you in a heartbeat if you're not careful. I'm getting better though. I'm certainly not good yet. I think it's good for me having Greg as a boss and a teammate because he's the best. I want to drive like he does, and I may never get there, but it's a pretty good goal to shoot for."
What do you hope to accomplish this year?
"My original goal was to make a final round, and I guess we've done that already, so the next thing is to win a Pro Stock race. That would be a dream come true for me."
Thoughts on Rookie of the Year.
"It would be a cool deal, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't win it. Eric Medlin is certainly a great competitor and there would certainly be no shame in finishing second to him. But it would certainly be an honor and a nice tribute to what Greg and Ken Black have done with this team and for Pontiac as well."
You've been very fortunate, first you worked for Joe Gibbs and now you're driving for Ken Black.
"Ken Black and the whole family, Judy and Ken Jr., are first-class people. You'll never, ever find anybody that's better than them, and I am very grateful for the opportunity from Ken and Greg and the entire Black family. I've been lucky to have worked for the two classiest team owners in American motorsports - Ken Black and Joe Gibbs. They both have a mindset that makes them successful, and that is carried over and learned by everyone that works for them. They lead by example and are the kind of owners that you want to do well for, that you want to win races for, and I have been fortunate to be a part, if only a small part, of both winning programs."