An interview with: Del Worsham, Mike Neff, Greg Anderson and Eddie Krawiec
THE MODERATOR: This call is to preview the upcoming Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and also the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. The drivers that will be participating on this call today will be Top Fuel points leader Del Worsham, Funny Car points leader Mike Neff, Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson, and possibly Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Eddie Krawiec.
Drivers will be calling in at different times throughout the call, so we'll have a brief introduction of each driver as they call in, then we'll open it up for questions from the media. We'll begin our call with Greg Anderson. After Greg's remarks we'll open it up for questions from the media.
I feel great about heading to Indy. I love racing at that racetrack.
To say that Greg Anderson has come out ready to defend his title in 2011 would be an understatement. With four wins for the season, which ties him for the most in the category with his teammate Jason Line, Greg has shown that the road to the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle World Championship runs right next to the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. In the past five races, Greg has been to four final rounds, with two of those being race wins. After his win at the recently completed Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Greg took the points lead away from fellow KB Racing teammate Jason Line with just one race left until the Countdown to the Championship.
Greg, is the Summit Racing Team hitting its stride at the perfect time to win a championship?
GREG ANDERSON: I think it is, Zak. We got off at the start of the season pretty decent, kind of thought we'd be a little behind the 8 ball when we came out, had a couple more distractions already in the off season with a trailer fire and things, had to replace all our equipment, race car and stuff, but we got off to a better start than we thought. Jason won the Winter Nationals and got off to a pretty decent start, but as we got into the summer months, we really started to up the ante and do a lot better, race a lot better.
We've got both Jason's car and my car right now very capable of winning any race we go to. They're running really well, guys are doing a great job with the cars and making very consistent runs, and really, it's been a real long time, but we've been able to pull through the gates at pretty much any racetrack we go for the last month or two with a lot of confidence thinking that, you know what, if we execute right, we've got a great chance of winning this race. That's pretty much all you can ask for as a driver, to have a great car and to have a chance to win the event when you roll through the gate, and we've had that lately. It seems like we're peaking at the right time. We've only got one more race before the Countdown, and I've said it before, it's a deal you've kind of got to get into winning mode before you get to the Countdown. You can't flounder, test, do whatever you want to do, I've tried this before, and then when the Countdown comes flip a switch and all of a sudden be good and be able to win races.
I think you have got to come into the Countdown off of a couple of wins and riding a lot of momentum and really at the top of your game, otherwise I think you're in trouble; it gets to be too late.
I feel real good about our chances right now. I feel great about heading to Indy. I love racing at that racetrack. I love that race. It means the world to me, and a little bit of the pressure is off. It does look like Jason and myself are kind of duking it out for first and second place as far as seeding goes for the Countdown, and that's a pretty good position to be in. It looks like the worst I'll be is second heading into the Countdown, so I can kind of relax a little bit on the points scenario and go just try to win Indy, which Indy means the world to me. I think I've won it three or four times now, and there's no other important race more important to me than that one.
I've got a lot of big ones on the schedule with the Summit races and races in Las Vegas where Ken Black is and racing in Charlotte, my new hometown, and racing in Brainerd where I grew up, but none of them quite stack up to Indy. I think it means the most to me.
I'm coming in on a high and really with nothing to lose, just going to try and win the race.
THE MODERATOR: I think we've been joined by Eddie Krawiec, as well. Are you on the line?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Yes, I am.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and move over to Eddie, as well. Eddie has had an exceptional year thus far, racking up race wins in Gainesville and Norwalk, No. 1 qualifiers in Englishtown and Brainerd and keeping his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson in the top three in the points standings all season long. With the semifinal round appearance at the recently completed Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Eddie moved from second to first in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings.
You already know what it takes to win a world championship, doing it in 2008. How important is that first place spot heading into the Countdown to the Championship?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Well, the most important thing about it is obviously getting those 30 extra points. One of the key things is having a rounds cushion. With the way the Countdown is set up now where you have the opportunity to gain some obviously very valuable points, being in qualifying, the key there is having that extra cushion because two years ago I happened to lose the championship by two points, and I watched that in qualifying during Pomona, we struggled. As a team as we didn't make good laps, and unfortunately at the end of the race, I ended up winning it, had everything fallen my direction. But the end result was I lost by two points, and you look at that and you look at the big picture, and it all came down to qualifying.
The key thing is having that extra cushion of rounds, and more important, championship points.
Q. This question is for Greg. With all of the turmoil and the loss of the car and the equipment during the post season, did you anticipate being in the position that you are leading the points coming into Indy? Did you have any insight that that might happen?
GREG ANDERSON: No, I've got to be honest with you. Probably thought we had be behind the 8 ball most of the season and trying to make a late, late season charge like we did last year. Everything has just gone so exceptionally well this year, we're just way ahead of the curve.
I don't have to depend on trying to find that extra gear once we get to the Countdown. We're kind of in that extra gear already, and I think we're operating at full song. We seem to be getting a little better each race, and I think we've got a great chance, but no, absolutely didn't have in my wildest imagination I didn't think we'd be able to win as many races as we have the first half of the season and be one two going into the Countdown. That usually doesn't happen when you lose we probably lost two months of real R & D time over the winter just trying to rebuild all the burned up stuff we had, it's been a pleasant surprise.
Q. For Eddie, the Pro Stock Motorcycle battle, and it's been a battle all season long with the person at the top changing places here and there through the season, you alluded to your loss in '09 by two points, and now it appears as though you have a shot at coming in going into the Countdown leading the points. Do you have a greater emphasis on this last race going in than you have ever before?
I've been riding really well, but I've been racing really bad.
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Yeah, 100 percent. Obviously coming into it being Indy, it doesn't take any pressure off anybody. You always want to check that little mark for Indy on your win column. You know, everybody wants to win Indy.
The pressure is off me in the aspect of having to go out there and fight for a championship spot. I know pretty much I'm going to come out of this thing in Indy, worst case scenario, third, best case scenario, first, and I'm really confident that I'm going to be first.
I have a great motorcycle under me this year. We finally have a handle on I think our tune up. We've struggled although it doesn't really look like it, we've struggled a lot this year on getting our setup right. This last race I finally have everything going in the right direction. The only thing I have been struggling with is riding let's just say. I've been riding really well, but I've been racing really bad, the reason being is that way we set up our bike now, with the changes, it's really hard to cut our reaction time, and usually the bike guys are all complaining that our stuff moves too fast, and it's actually vice versa. So it's in a different position for me this year, and all I need to do is focus on hitting the tree now, and I think that will come in Indy.
It's just a matter of making good, clean laps and going out there and enjoying what you're doing, and this is the first time I can really come into Indy and say like I'm really going to enjoy what I'm doing. Two years ago I lost a 158 point points lead coming out of Indy, but for some strange reason when I went to the race I put a lot of pressure on myself. This is going to be the first year I'm just out here to enjoy myself and go rounds and hopefully win a race or two and come out with the championship at the end.
But for me, I just need to approach the whole deal as just any other race, just like we should. But it's easier said than done.
Q. Greg, can you kind of just retrace for us a little bit just the whole scenario with the fire and what you saw and what you lost and how it affected you, and here you are leading the points anyway?
GREG ANDERSON: Well, we were still celebrating winning the world championship last year. It happened to be Thursday morning after the world finals, after the banquet. The banquet was Monday night. My truck driver spent a couple extra days at my team owner, Ken black's place, and he hit the road on Thursday morning to head for Charlotte, I hit the road Thursday morning to fly back to Charlotte and got a call when I got off the plane Thursday night that we had had a transporter fire and had no idea how bad it was until I got a hold of my truck driver and got a couple pictures from him.
Basically it started in the back of the trailer about ten miles from the Pomona raceway. We had a Blazer that we haul, a Chevy Blazer that we haul in the back of the trailer for running back and forth from hotels. Somehow a fire started underneath the hood of that within ten miles of leaving the Pomona parking lot. So we don't know to this day whether it was an electrical fire under the hood or whether it was something on the floor or on the trailer that started it. To make a long story short, it was on I 10 right by the Fontana NASCAR track basically, in five lanes of traffic and a blaze, and it basically gutted the inside of the trailer, burned right through the floor. The race car was right above this Blazer, burned right through the floor, the race car basically fell on top of the Blazer and gutted the entire trailer. Lost the race car, lost the Blazer, lost three engines in the trailer, golf carts, tires and transmissions and rear end gears, basically just everything that was in there, even banquet dresses and everything that we had used at the banquet were all hanging up in the lounge, gutted the lounge and everything.
I have no earthly idea who would be the favorite going into the Countdown...
Really lost everything. Had to start from scratch, had to find another trailer, had to find another race car, had to buy everything, transmissions, rear end gears. Had to build and buy everything, so it took a couple months of our time just trying to get back to where we were basically, and forget about trying to go forward with any R & D or anything, just basically to try and get back in business, we had to buy a used race car, had to buy a used trailer. Would have took too long to build new ones; wouldn't have had them for Pomona.
Kind of patched everything back together as well as we could, worked as hard as we could and got back in the game, and came out at Pomona and Jason won that one and really had a decent run, and by three or four or five races in, we started being able to go rounds and win with my car.
Way ahead of where we thought we'd be after what happened, but it's all history now, not worried about it anymore. It maybe offered us a few chances to do a few things different, and who knows, maybe it was for the best. You just never know on these kind of things. Everything happens for a reason.
We're going to look at the positives of it. Nobody was hurt. My truck driver could have easily been hurt, and nobody was hurt in the deal, just equipment. We replaced it, and nobody knows the difference right now.
Q. How satisfying has it been then to go from that point of losing everything to going into the Countdown perhaps No. 1 going for another championship?
GREG ANDERSON: Well, it definitely has, especially the way the competition is in this crazy class. Everybody is just absolutely out for blood. Everybody is doing a great job this year. I mean, there's so many cars that can and have won races this year, you just can't pick a favorite right now. I have no earthly idea who would be the favorite going into the Countdown just because we've won a couple races lately by thousandths of a second. Those races can change can instantly switch around the other direction with nothing happening at all.
I can't pick a favorite. It's going to be a knock down, drag out brawl, and the ten cars that qualify for the championship, any one of them ten cars could probably win the championship. It's good for the fans, good for the sport, tough on us drivers obviously but it should be fun, and whoever can get hot during the Countdown is going to be your champion.
I got hot last year during the Countdown, and I'm hoping and praying I can stay hot into the Countdown this year and do it again, but you just never know.
Q. For Eddie, I'm wondering, is Harley Davidson seeing a direct correlation to its participation in NHRA drag racing and possibly increased sales, more Harley riders at the drags?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: That's a good question. Obviously Harley's main reason for being in the NHRA series is the great exposure and great participation of all the fans, that they have access to us, and not just the drivers but being able to be in the pit area and seeing all the great displays and everything that is on the manufacturer's midway at an NHRA event. One of the key focuses of Harley Davidson obviously is to be able to go to the race and not just win it but also to make that a great marketing standpoint and media tool for them.
I can tell you from what I'm aware and what I understand, Harley Davidson has great participation and just loves going to NHRA races because of the fact that they do get good support and good feedback. You do see, which is really interesting, walking around the pits now within the last couple years since Harley Davidson has got involved, a lot of Harley Davidson shirts. You see that bar and shield, that emblem that's just world known for its shape and its design and color pattern on a lot of tee shirts at the NHRA races.
So obviously NHRA has put together a great program, a multibillion dollar business like Harley Davidson sees benefit in, and it's something that I really do hope that in the future here a lot of other big marketing companies see the benefits that not just the racers but the fans and everything in total has to offer.
I would definitely say Harley is seeing the benefit out of it because I don't think they would have been here as long as they have been, going on pretty much a nine year span with NHRA. They did get involved I believe it was right at the middle of the '02 season and '03, so it shows you the support and the loyalty and just the overall picture of how two companies can work together and have a good relationship and I think benefit from each other.
Q. Do you have a significant part of your schedule every weekend speaking to Harley riders or dealers or any of that stuff, or is that basically done by somebody else?
EDDIE KRAWIEC: Occasionally what happens is when I go to an NHRA event there will be some Thursday that we may go and participate at a local dealer or do some type of event locally. This past couple weeks for me has been very busy and has been very active with Harley Davidson. They have a bunch of rallies and events that happen around this time of the year, one being Sturgis, another one being it's called the Roundup in Las Vegas. Harley Davidson sends us out there, and it's really great cross promotion for both the sanctioning body that we race, that being the NHRA, and Harley Davidson for the media.
There are a lot of people that are aware of what we do, but they may not quite understand it. The great thing about going to rallies is these people that sort of see it on TV or understand that we're on a Harley Davidson motorcycle really may not understand what a drag bike is. I think the cross promotion part of it, of going, me as the rider and certain individuals that really may not understand what it is we're doing, we get to speak with them and do certain activities. We went out to the Sturgis drag strip just downtown Main Street, and Harley Davidson definitely uses us as marketing tools. They just did a couple magazine ads, and let's just say sort of bringing some attention to their ten year anniversary of their V Rod, they used Andrew and I as the centerfolds, which is great for not just Harley Davidson but it's great for drag racing in general because it's such a world media market that Harley Davidson hits. For them to use the drag strip in my opinion as their marketing tool for their motorcycle and also to use us as their marketing tool I think is a great thing, and it really shows their support for our sport.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank both Greg and Eddie for participating in this first half of our call and wish them the best next week at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Thanks, guys.
We'll now move on to the second half of our call with our final drivers, Funny Car driver and points leader Mike Neff, and Top Fuel points leader Del Worsham.
After tuning the same Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang driven by John Force to its 15th world championship in 2010, Mike once again climbed back into the driver's seat for the 2011 season, but unlike previous seasons, Mike has not only been the driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang but also its crew chief. That combination has seemed to spell success as Mike has racked up four wins and seven final round appearances and has held the points lead for 12 of the first 15 races of the season. Mike enters the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals with the lead, though that lead has not been locked in for the Countdown to the Championship.
Mike, John Force Racing has all but dominated the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals for the past decade. What would a win at this prestigious race mean to you?
MIKE NEFF: Well, for me personally it would be the biggest one ever. I've never won Indy as a crew chief or a driver. I've probably been on the winning team about five times probably when I was working on the crew. But Indy is the big one, and yeah, Ashley I believe has won it the last two years and Robert has won it I think a couple times. So yeah, to win Indy would definitely be a highlight of my career.
Q. What would that mean, to be able to come out of Indy locked into that top spot for the Countdown to the Championship?
MIKE NEFF: Yeah, you know, that's the best it could be at that point; those 30 points will be huge. It'll come down to it could come down to single points. You've seen at Pomona that every point is going to be huge, so 30 is better than being down 30 or 40 for sure.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now talk to Top Fuel points leader Del Worsham. Since making the switch this year from Funny Car to Top Fuel, Del Worsham and his Al Anabi racing dragster has easily been the car to beat in this class. With six race wins and seven final round appearances, Del has held the points lead for an impressive 14 straight races this season.
Entering the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Del has the rare opportunity of joining a select list of drivers who have won the prestigious event in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, including such drivers as Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Ed McCulloch and Jim Head. But maybe even more important to Del, a win would lock up his top spot in the Countdown to the Championship, a spot that as Mike mentioned includes 30 bonus points.
Del, what means more to you at this point, locking in that top spot or becoming just the fifth driver in NHRA history to win the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in both Top Fuel and Funny Car?
DEL WORSHAM: Right now the most important thing to me would be locking up that top spot in the points for the championship. I've won Indy before. It's a great race to win. It's very exciting. But my main focus right now is making sure that that spot is locked up.
Q. For Del and Mike if I could, both of you guys have commanding points leads going into the Countdown to the Championship. Did either of you foresee this in your teams as you started the beginning of the season, and what did you see along the season that created the dynamic results that you got?
DEL WORSHAM: No, I was pretty I definitely didn't foresee it that early in the season. It was pretty amazing that we were able to put this team together this fast and go out and have the kind of success we did; to go out and win the second race we entered in Gainesville was pretty amazing.
Any time you race with a team that Sheik Khalid assembled with Alan Johnson and Brian, and these guys won the championship last season with Larry Dixon, you know that that opportunity is there and that chance is there, but I thought it would take a little while to get things built up and running and up to speed, and to come out running as good as we did and as fast as we did, I was pretty impressed and I was definitely amazed.
MIKE NEFF: As well for me, definitely I didn't expect to be doing as well as we have this early. I would have expected it out of Alan and Del. Alan, they won 13 races last year, and Del is probably as experienced a driver as anybody, dragster or not.
But for us, I hadn't driven in a couple years, and it's definitely more to do when you're trying to do them both and can get a little more confusing, but we're definitely thrilled that it's gone this well. The biggest tribute is it's my team, the same team I had last year that won the world championships, so they're all doing the same thing, and that's the main part right there.
Q. You guys could be actually poster boys for adapting. Del is coming out of Funny Car, Mike is coming out of being a crew chief, and here you go jump in those vehicles and tear away like you've done. Can you comment on how you guys adapt so well?
DEL WORSHAM: Well, myself I'm pretty lucky that I got to join such an experienced team that they know what it takes to make a dragster go down the track. They know how to win, they know how to give you a good car. We weren't really ever searching for a tune up, it was just a matter of getting everything to kind of fall into place and making sure that I could drive it, and Alan Johnson, they gave me plenty of test laps and plenty of practice before we got to Pomona to make sure that we were at least heading in that direction.
I had Top Fuel cars before back in the early 90s, so it's just a matter of getting reacquainted with the car and all the equipment.
MIKE NEFF: And for me, yeah, pretty much the same. It's kind of what you're up against. You don't really have a choice. These are the circumstances, and what you've got to do is you've just do what you've got to do. It wore me out right at the beginning, especially going to the final round with a long, stressful day trying to do both it was stressful doing one or the other, and now both definitely wore me out in the beginning, but I've kind of gotten used to it, and now it doesn't really seem that bad anymore.
Q. For Del, I'm from Grand Rapids, hometown of Brian Husen, your crew chief. Just wondering if you could talk a little bit about Brian and what he's meant to the team this year, this first year as a crew chief in this position, and what are his strengths and what he's brought to the team?
DEL WORSHAM: Oh, Brian has done a great job. The strengths he brought to the team were definitely that he's been with Alan Johnson. He was with Tony Schumacher and Don Schumacher, and then when they built the Al Anabi team he was part of that working with Jason McCulloch. He definitely understands what it takes to win a championship and got to watch these guys do their work.
He's brought that same work ethic with him over to this team, very intense, very detail oriented, everything has to be absolutely perfect, and he takes it no other way. He has definitely impressed me. For being his first year in this position, I don't see any he acts like a veteran as far as I can tell.
Q. For both Del and Mike, both of you are driving last year's championship winning car, which means the car can perform. Has that added any additional pressure to the two of you as far as performing up to what the car has done in the past? Del, if you would first.
DEL WORSHAM: Well, you know, the chassis itself is the chassis that won the championship last season, and it's been front halfed since then and it's been modified obviously to fit me. The engines in the car I'm driving now are the ones out of the Funny Car and the clutch parts out of the Funny Car and the fuel pump and the ignition and all that was actually stuff that was out of the Funny Car. So the entire car just didn't come from last season and just get dropped into our laps and say here you go.
It's probably the greatest thrill I could imagine, and I definitely love doing it.
But yeah, you know, I hear lots from the spectators about, hey, you're driving Larry's car and it won 12 races, and it's kind of expected. Again, I just go out and do the best job I can, and I don't think there's any magic to any chassis, but that car has won a lot of races, and if there is something there, I'm definitely glad I'm the one driving it.
Q. Well, all that having been changed, that speaks volumes for your crew chief actually.
DEL WORSHAM: It does, and that just goes to show you the kind of work they did to put this team together and to make it perform the way they have, especially as fast as they have. I kind of think maybe it might be a little misleading with everybody talking about being Larry's car from last season. Yeah, the chassis is, but all the rest of the work and the team and the crew and the crew chief is new and having to assemble all the stuff and get it all together, plus you have a driver that's not exactly built the same as their last driver, so they've done a great job.
MIKE NEFF: Yes, and for me, actually it was a lot less pressure for me this year, even from last year. Last year with John Force driving, everybody expects John to do good, and he needed to do good. His sponsors were wanting him to get back on track, so there was a lot of pressure last year. And then the way it worked out this year with Ashley getting pregnant and me getting thrown back in here at the last minute, there really wasn't any pressure at the beginning. It was just fill in for the year and do the best you can, and knowing that all the pressure will be on John, that's who everybody is looking and expecting to do good.
But now that we've done as well as we have and now that we are in the points lead, now I'm starting to feel the pressure because you just don't want to let it slip away now. The Countdown is coming, and you're just hoping that you can finish strong and keep it going. The worst thing would be to do this well and then get to the Countdown and just bomb out. So now the pressure comes from just wanting from ourselves, just wanting to keep it going to the end.
Q. For Mike, are you more comfortable in your role as driver or crew chief? Like if you had to do one, which would you rather do and which do you think you do better?
MIKE NEFF: If I had to do one and probably what I do better, as well, is the crew chief part of it. I like that a lot more. It's a lot more of a challenge than just driving. I like working with the team and being part of all that and the car's setup and the new technology and racing the racetrack, that part of the game. There's just so much more that goes into it as far as than what the driving is. I mean, the driving is unbelievable. It's probably the greatest thrill I could imagine, and I definitely love doing it. But if I could only do one, it would be crew chief.
Q. When you were crewing for Ashley and John, did they question your judgment on setups, or was it your call basically?
MIKE NEFF: Yeah, no, they've never questioned anything. John, he doesn't know anything about it himself, so he just leaves it all up to us. He's not one of those guys that second guesses you. He's our biggest cheerleader, even when we're not doing good. Yeah, there's never been any pressure or second guessing coming from his part.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank our drivers for participating in this call and also the media for joining us today.