Leaders teleconference pre Las Vegas, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: Tim, I'm sure you're just tickled pink to hear that Tony Schumacher is thinking about moving to Funny Car next year. TIM WILKERSON: That's the first time I heard that. I think that would be fun if that's what Tony...

Continued from part 2

Q: Tim, I'm sure you're just tickled pink to hear that Tony Schumacher is thinking about moving to Funny Car next year.

TIM WILKERSON: That's the first time I heard that. I think that would be fun if that's what Tony wanted to do. Tony and I did a lot of Funny Car racing back in the (Top Alcohol Funny Car) days. He's got a great organization over there that his dad's put together. He can surely step into one of them things and do a good job. I'm sure about that.

If I was him, like he said, I'd want to continue racing against A.J. That would be a fun deal to be able to beat him at his own game, if I was him. That would be my main goal, to show the world that just 'cause A.J. left don't mean we're going to stumble. I hope and pray that he stays in the dragster just because of that, because I would if I was him. I'd make sure they were unhappy about the day they all left. I'd make their life as miserable as I could. I'm not saying that to be mean or anything. I just think they had a great team there that they split up. I'd make sure they had the worst time they could making it successful on the other side.

Q: Tim, what has been the one thing, if there is one thing you can nail down, as to what has turned your season around and made you such a strong competitor this year and a championship contender?

TIM WILKERSON: Well, again, I've kind of mumbled about it all year long, that we just really have kept our eye on the ball this year and worked hard together as a team. We kind of have the same exact chemistry I guess is the word you'd like to use that Schumacher's dragster team does. We all get along. We all know what we're up to. Everybody can stay on the same page and understand the reason why we're going. I got some young guys. This is their second year. That's really been better because last year they started out. When they first get in there, it's kind of a dream job that they all wanted to do. Then it's all of a sudden, 'Wow, this is a lot of work.' So after we got that through their head, then this year we've been a lot better team.

Of course, the alliance with Don Prudhomme has given us some opportunities to use some equipment we really didn't have available to us before. In the end of the '07 season, Don Schumacher actually let me use some of his equipment over there. That made us a little bit better team at the end of that year.

I don't know. Again, I like to think that we were this good a team before; we just didn't quite have the opportunities and (resources). (Primary sponsor) Dick Levi stepped up and gave us more money than we ever had this year. I just think it shows you with the right amount of money, the right amount of perseverance, any team out there can do it. I mean, you seen Tony Pedregon do it last year. Cruz (Pedregon) is coming on good this year. (Jack) Beckman's car is running good. Some of the others have faltered. That's just the way it's going to be. Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield. Fortunately this year we get to be the guy going into the last couple races ahead of schedule.

Q: Keep up the good work. You may end up being a teammate of Schumacher in Funny Car next year.

TIM WILKERSON: That would be fun. We could be a two-car team. There would be stranger things than that that ever happened. We could sure use the big check at the end. I hope we can figure out a good way to get there.

Q: Tony, any update on crew chief status for next year for the Fuel car?

TONY SCHUMACHER: You know, I keep hearing different rumors. Really, until my dad announces it, I'm not exactly sure. Then I threw the whole curve ball into them last week and said, 'What about a Funny Car?' He said, 'We got a lot of parts and pieces.' We're still taking that kind of slowly. There's very good guys out there. We'll make a decision soon.

I'm sure we'll hear something by Vegas. I have to decide if I want to do Top Fuel or Funny Car first. More than likely I'll stay in Top Fuel just because as much as you hear A.J., A.J., A.J. won a championship, there's been a lot of stuff that led us to win championships for many years. It's a great team. It's a great overall group of people. So I do want to be part of the team that gets to race against him, not egotistically, not to go out and say ha-ha, but to let people know there's other great people out there. We've beat them before. We'll definitely give him a fight and a run for his money. Whoever we put will be a great team. Whoever our crew chief is will be a great crew chief. Whoever we hire will be the best of the best. We will work together. We'll motivate people.

You know, I'd love to give you an answer. But if I had one, I would. I think if I had one and I wasn't supposed to tell you, I would. I'm dying to know myself. There's a short, short list of people that we're going to put there, I just don't know which one it is yet.

Q: Are you really going into next year in a no-win situation if you go back into a Top Fuel car? The greatest season ever in Top Fuel. If you only win 10 races next year, you won 14 with A.J., it seems like the Funny Car would be very appealing.

TONY SCHUMACHER: It is appealing. But I absolutely have to remind everybody, the beginning of this year, we had to run (Doug) Kalitta first round. I said, 'This is how you start a year off.' Also ran car with one of the greatest drivers ever. You rise to the occasion from the first time you hit the throttle. That will carry the momentum through the end of the year. I mentioned that. I told the papers. They printed it. I am all about the challenge.

So the Funny Car does seem great. But the Top Fuel car does, too. It's not about those trophies. It's about how deep you can dig to beat A.J., to beat those other guys that are going to be great. It's going to be a different season. Believe me, A.J. is not going to go out there and win 14 or 16 races. We have not finished this season out. He's not going to do that. I don't care who he puts in the car. This was just a crazy, awesome year for one particular team. That's it. Those numbers aren't going to come up again. Whole lot of things had to go right for that to happen week in and week out. Many of the times when I smoked the tires, so did the other guy. That has to happen. That's just one of those things where this year it worked out so well for us.

No matter what I drive, it's not going to be (indiscernible). I get in a Top Fuel car next year, if I do win six, it's going to be harder, having to compete against a guy like A.J. That will be gratifying. It's not impossible. I've seen what he uses. It's all great stuff. What wins those races is not just a great tune-up. It's eight guys that build that car without mistakes. We can build that again. We can build great people. We have great people in our shop.

It's keeping a lot of our stuff private, too. Our shop, we keep our stuff pretty locked up over at the Army camp. We don't let all the other teams dig. Like Tim said, when you go back and you have yourself a shop that no one else can go in and check your barrel valve three times a week when you're not in the shop, mess it up. We lock our stuff down. We're very careful. We're very disciplined. We know how to do that. A.J. just doesn't know how to do, that our team doesn't just know how to do that. Overall, my dad, myself, we know how to do that so we'll be able to build it again.

Q: Tim, you've been on the NHRA safety task force created after Scott (Kalitta)'s death. What has this group accomplished so far and are there any changes in the works for next year that will alter either what you do or the show that the fans see?

TIM WILKERSON: Boy, I can tell you that the accomplishments, they appear to be minimal from the outside because I've had other people ask me this, but I think they're not. I think there's a tremendous amount of effort that went into the end of the racetracks where we feel there was an issue there in the demise of Scott.

I don't think that our work is near done. Dan Olson, who heads that safety council, is just doing a terrific job. He's done a tremendous lot of research on safety barriers. Jim (Head) and I have got together on nets. I mean, it's the kind of sand we're putting in, the aggregate changes, depending on where it's at in the sand trap. There's just a ton of things that went on that I believe has made us a lot safer.

Our biggest obstacle is just, quite frankly, to try to get the racetracks to participate in it because it's just such a tremendous cost. No matter what you think, whether life's involved or not, you can't go to a place and say you need to spend a quarter million of a dollars to get it done. In this economy, it's hard to do that.

We're all trying to figure out ways to get every racetrack involved and get the thing done. But NHRA's committed to making it better. I think they've put Dan on it and he's the guy that needs to be on it because he does a good job and he cares. They just implemented some new devices on Funny Cars. You're going to see them on Top Fuel before next year comes that has a device on it that when you throw the fire bottles off, it shuts the car off, throws the parachutes out. That's a neat deal, too. They're talking about in the future maybe having some type of device at the end of the racetrack that if the driver is unconscious it does all that.

There's a lot of things that's been going on, so it's not stagnant by any means. It's hard to get all that stuff implemented in a matter of a month or so. We're trying to get it done first off so it's not financially disabling to smaller teams and second off so it's the correct thing to do. You know what I mean? Not just something to do.

But, no, I think in the big picture everybody should be pretty proud of the efforts that went on over there in that deal. I know sometimes it doesn't get done quickly enough. I'm one of the guys that's bitching. I'm down there, What the heck? This shouldn't look like that, like this. I tell you what, they're there, they're on it. You can be assured of that.

Q: Tony, could you talk about the experience of achieving your first championship. After that, any difference in your thoughts with each succeeding championship.

TONY SCHUMACHER: The first championship, we hadn't won a race all year. At the beginning of the year, we ran 330 miles an hour for the first time. We were a brand-new team. It was a brand-new experience for me to run the full season in a Top Fuel car with basically a group of guys I had never met before led by Dan Olson. The pressure was pretty brutal. When we got down near the end, we were averaging I think mid-60-some points a race. We weren't winning. We're going two, three rounds every race. We weren't going out first round, we were doing a good job. We had Joe Amato and Scelzi and everyone else behind us. I'm thinking to myself, What do you do? This is insane. It was a lot to get through as a new driver.

Now I'm a lot more comfortable in the seat. I understand the guys are great at what they do. I also understand a lot more how you can have the most perfect car and something breaks. I have broke throttle cables, silly little parts and pieces on cars that can cost you a championship. I'm much more in the belief that, 'Hey, man, make everything perfect and enjoy the moment. Believe it or not, the pressure before was a lot more.

Now with that being said, having a guy like A.J. tune your car and a group where you should win every race, there's a little more pressure in a different area. Now you got the car where you should win. As a driver, the only thing I can do is screw it up. If I push the pedal down at the right time, we're going to win, right? That's not the case, but that's how it seemed for a lot of the media. I hear it all the time. A.J., the car goes fast. Well, the car goes fast because I stayed shallow, which makes the numbers look better. I'm not patting myself on the chest. (Larry) Dixon, (Scott) Kalitta, myself, we stayed shallow. A lot of guys have a lot of good cars a lot of the time. So there's a lot that goes into that. That's from experience. That's from doing it.

Now, this year, unlike the last two years, we are going to actually go into Vegas just having to qualify. I'm going to enjoy the last two races as much as I ever have in my life this time. Now, that's not to say going down to the last run it's not enjoyable, but it's almost ruthless, weight of the world pressure on you. This time I'm going to go and have a good time.

Had we had the old points, I'd like to figure out, I have never done it, but I bet bead be 700, 800 points ahead if we had the old points structure, right, Michael?

MICHAEL PADIAN: People race differently with the new points format, so it's hard to really compare.

TONY SCHUMACHER: We were a great example of that last year. We did a whole lot of testing early on in the season and it paid off at the end of the year. You come down to crunch time when you have to win and do you it. I'm a firm believer in that, too.

But, yeah, you know, all things considered, I wouldn't trade the position we're in now for any of the championships. But I've enjoyed each one probably an equal amount. Every time I've shown up at Pomona, hopefully this year it will be six championships, I will have enjoyed it and it will all be a different way we've had to earn it.

Hope I answered your question. Kind of a run-on sentence.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Tony, I thank you and Tim for joining us today and all the media members on today's call.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Don Prudhomme , Don Schumacher