Series teleconference: Pro Stock, Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers

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NHRA Series press release

An interview with: Jason Line, Antron Brown, Del Worsham, Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon

THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome the media out to the teleconference call for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. I'm Zak Elcock with NHRA media relations. This call is to discuss the final race of the 2011 Countdown to the Championship, the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.

This is the most races I've ever won in a year, and obviously to get the chance to win even more.

Jason Line

The drivers that will be participating on this call today are those still in contention for the World Championship. We will also have on the call, our newly crowned Pro Stock World Champion. Joining us today will be Top Fuel drivers Del Worsham and Antron Brown, Funny Car drivers, Jack Beckman, and Cruz Pedregon and 2011 Pro Stock World Champion, Jason Line.

We'll begin our call with Jason Line. In what many have called his most successful season in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, Pro Stock driver Jason Line has dominated the class in 2011. Line showed early that he had the car to beat when he carted his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to back to back wins to start the season in Pomona and Gainesville, followed by a third in Atlanta.

In total, Line has raced to six wins in eight final round appearances and racked up seven number one qualifiers, and following his semifinal round appearance of the recently completed Big O Tires NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, became the first driver in 2011, to clinch the World Championship.

Jason, what did it mean to clinch your second NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock World Championship in the hometown of your team owner, Ken Black?

JASON LINE: Obviously, that's a huge deal. To show off for Ken is a great thing. We wanted to win the race and do it and clinch the championship in championship style, but it didn't quite happen, and I guess everything doesn't have a storybook ending. But still it's been a great year, and to do it there in their hometown in front of all of their friends means a lot to us.

Q. I told you just a week ago you were going to do it, good job. You got the Big Wally, you got the jacket, you've got the Happy Gilmore chat. How much time are you going to take off to relish it after the World Finals?

JASON LINE: Well, we took the red eye home, does that count or not?

Q. That means you didn't take any time off if you took the red eye.

JASON LINE: No, no, we're here trying to find more power. That is the name of the game. We never really stop. For us, that's at least half the fun. We're not going to take a whole lot of time off.

Greg and I are going on a USO tour to Germany at the end of the season, and that's probably going to be about it for us.

Q. How gratifying was it to seal the deal with all the challenges that Ken has been through the last couple of years?

JASON LINE: It was really gratifying. It's kind of a strange deal because I just lost. I red lighted. The story of my life I'm never quite on time. I'm either early or late, one of the two.

It's sort of bittersweet. Obviously, we just lost the round and felt like we had a car to go to the final round with and didn't quite do that.

At the same time, here across the street Dan Wheldon loses his life less than a week before that. So a lot of those things going through your head at at the same time.

Jason Line after his round one win against V Gaines
Jason Line after his round one win against V Gaines

Photo by: Ted Rossino

At the same time you might be happy, but there is still time to, I guess, think about things and reflect and realize how lucky we are to be doing what we're doing. It was a great feeling, but like I say, it was a little bit bittersweet.

Q. Jason, looking forward to next year, recently Jeg announced they're going to be coming back into Pro Stock and they're going to be in a Dodge. Number one, your comment on that? You're kind of rivalries, but at the same time you're kind of like friends too. What is your take in coming in in a Dodge?

JASON LINE: Well, I think we're definitely rivals, probably more rivals than friends, probably. It's a great thing that he's coming back in. Come on in, the water's fine.

Being in a Dodge is a good thing also. Dodge has put a lot of effort into Pro Stock, and hopefully our GM is up for the task. But I think it's a great thing. He's obviously a fan favorite and good for the sport. So I think that there's nothing bad about that at all, so we look forward to it.

Q. We've got a question regarding the auto club NHRA finals in Pomona this is typically a track where KB Racing has done very well, racking up quite a few wins and you yourself being very successful there. How important is it for you to finish this championship season with a win in Pomona?

JASON LINE: It's really important. This is the most races I've ever won in a year, and obviously to get the chance to win even more. Again, to go in championship style obviously is my goal, it's our goal, so hopefully we can do that, and just as important is to get Greg into second. So we have a lot of work to do for the weekend, and we're doing everything we can to make that happen.

Yeah, it's really important. If you want to be the best you should have to do it every week. So that is our goal, and hopefully we can go to Pomona and make that happen.

Q. Jason, what is the shelf life for the Pontiac GXP body style. I've kind of lost count of how many years you have left of that thing. And what is GM looking at for the next generation Pro Stock car?

JASON LINE: It's definitely going to be a Camaro from what I understand. I think it's deep into the works, and hopefully we don't have to race the Pontiac too much longer. Obviously, we need to be running a brand that's a little more relevant or at least one that exists.

I think probably you're looking at early to middle of next year us being in a Camaro. And to answer your question, I think that we actually have two more years that we can run the Pontiac, but obviously that is not something that we want to do. We want to be in a Camaro as soon as we can.

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank our 2011 Pro Stock World Champion Jason Line for coming on the call with us. We'll now move on to our second portion of the call, which is our two Top Fuel drivers, and two Funny Car drivers.

Del Worsham
Del Worsham

Photo by: Ted Rossino

We'll start the call with Top Fuel pilot Del Worsham. With one of the most impressive seasons to date, Funny Car driver Del Worsham has made the transition into Top Fuel this season very well. After he finished the regular season with the points lead heading into the countdown, a first and second round loss in the first two events seemed to dash his hopes of his first world championship. But with a runner up finish in Redding after his recent win over points leader Spencer Massey in Las Vegas, Del now sits in the seventh spot in the standings. Two points out of first place heading into the final race of the season. Del, you have the momentum, what do you now need to do to win your first world championship?

DEL WORSHAM: I believe when it's all said and done, I'm going to have to win in Pomona and win the Finals. The competition out there is awful tough, and everybody runs pretty well.

I have a question for you, at the beginning of the segment you said that you had the nitro drivers that were in contention for the championship on the phone. I'm thinking did you guys kidnap Spencer or something, because he's not on the phone?

THE MODERATOR: We've got a few drivers that couldn't join us on this call. Obviously we have things going on this weekend that kind of throw a wrench in it. These are some of our we're pretty lucky in the sport to have so many drivers in contention.

Del, you've got a lot of drivers in the Top Fuel category that it's not just one man that you're shooting for. There are plenty of other drivers that can come up and steal this thing.

DEL WORSHAM: Yeah, absolutely. Dixon is barely two rounds back, and Antron and myself are both in the same round of Spencer right now.

So at the very beginning of the season went to Winter Nationals and drove my first race in Top Fuel in 17 years, and I saw the level of competition and what was going on right away. Right away I went for our PR guy Rob, and I said, Rob, this is not going to be over officially we're not going to have a world champion until the Finals. The competition is too tough. Everybody's too good.

There are great drivers, everybody peaks at different times, and basically I feel good about going into Pomona right now with a win in Las Vegas, and a brand new car that runs great, and a team that's been in this position before.

I'm the new guy here. I'm the guy that's never been in this position before, but I have a lot of people around me who have who are definitely supporting me.

Antron Brown
Antron Brown

Photo by: Ted Rossino

THE MODERATOR: Our next driver is Top Fuel pilot Antron Brown. Antron has had a story book season thus far in 2011 with six wins and eight final round appearances including his win at the prestigious U.S. Nationals at Indy. Brown has kept his Matco Tools dragster within the top three in point standings throughout the countdown. Now entering the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Brown finds himself 14 points out of the lead.

Antron, of the Top 4 drivers in contention for the championship, you've won in Pomona at Auto Club Raceway three of the last four events. Does that give you an advantage in winning this championship?

ANTRON BROWN: No, not at all. To be honest with you, you have to come in there just like when everything's right see, the problem is with this category, there are a million ways to lose, and only one way to win. So you've just got to go in there. We always go in the last race in Pomona with nothing to lose.

Then we go out this year and we'll go out and have some fun. The winner's going to have some low scores out there. Everybody's going to be looking at what each other does at the end of the racetrack. It's going to make for a really exciting time.

I'm really amped up. I'm pumped. This NHRA Nationals, just to be there at the game to have a chance to win a championship. That is the incentive. We all go in there with our head's held high and give it our best shot and see where we end up at.

THE MODERATOR: We'll move to our two Funny Car drivers, starting with Jack Beckman. After finishing fourth in the point standings in 2010, Beckman has come out strong in 2011, racing his Aaron's/Valvoline Dodge Charger to three wins and five final round appearances, including a crucial countdown win in Phoenix that propelled him from fifth to first in the point standings. Following a second round loss in Las Vegas, Beckman sits second in the standings, just one point behind leader and fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Matt Hagan.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman

Photo by: Ted Rossino

Jack, Pomona is a home track for you. How much would it mean to clinch your first world championship at Auto Club Raceway?

JACK BECKMAN: It would mean so much. I won the Super Cup Championship in 2003. And it's interesting, Jason Line will tell you, he was a Stock World Champion, and I don't know, for some reason, with the exception of Shawn Langdon, people seem to forget about that. The pro cars are what most of us aspire to drive, but it's no less competitive in the Sportsman division.

In 2003, I had to get to the fifth round to win the championship in Super Cup, and I actually made it to the sixth round and locked that up. So it's a similar position, and I was quite a bit behind there and only one point behind now.

But with the way the point structure works for round wins, which are 20 points for round wins, even though we're only one point behind Matt Hagan right now, that means that's an entire round we've got to make up unless we can qualify. So there is definitely pressure there.

THE MODERATOR: We'll move to our final driver on the call, Cruz Pedregon. After Cruz's remarks, we'll open it up for questions.

If consistency is the name of the game and Cruz has been following those directions all season long, with one win in three final round appearances, six semifinal round appearances, and six number one qualifiers, Cruz has found a way to get as many points possible for his Snap on Tools Toyota Camry. And he's put himself third in the point standings, 26 points behind leader Hagan with one race remaining.

Cruz, you have two world championships to your name, along with two career wins at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Does that experience give you the advantage to race to your third world title?

CRUZ PEDREGON: I don't think so. I think this year is a new year, and you've got new contenders and a whole different circumstance. I'm in a different position than I've ever been. I'm basically calling all the shots on my car. I'm in a different mindset so to speak, than I have ever been.

But I'm excited and happy to be in that position, because I feel like my instincts and my car is an extension of me. So I think it's worked well for me this year. We have a lot of wins that we've brought to the table.

#1 Funny Car Qualifier Cruz Pedregon
#1 Funny Car Qualifier Cruz Pedregon

Photo by: Ted Rossino

I'm sure there are a few competitors that can say the same. I feel like we've not had our signature race. I feel like we haven't put it all together and really dominated the race, which I think we're capable of, and that's saying a lot.

That is something that I'm hoping to have because we're probably going to need it at the Finals. I think we're going to need to have one of our best paces. So I'm looking forward to it.

I'm really proud that our Snap on Toyota is in the championship hunt, even though we've had a good year, it could be a great year here in a week and a half.

Q. Del, take us back to the beginning of the season going into the Winter Nationals. What was your year end goal being your first full year in Top Fuel?

DEL WORSHAM: My goal was definitely to race for a championship, but the success that took place so early in the season, I wasn't prepared for. I didn't prepare to come out and win the second race and be in the points lead by March and carry it out through Labor Day.

I kind of thought it would take us a while to kind of find our groove and get the team going and start winning some rounds, then possibly a race.

By the time we got to the U.S. Nationals, we could have a team that was capable of winning a championship, hopefully, by that time we'd get to race for it. All in all, when you're racing for Al Anabi Sheikh Khalid, and Alan Johnson's on your team, I always felt like we had a chance to win the championship.

Pretty much whether I thought we'd be in position to win right now and be a couple points out of first place, no, I didn't think that. But I definitely thought we'd be in position to try to win.

Q. Now here we go into the World Finals. You've got a new car that's finally driving a car that was built for you. Is there a big difference in the way the car handles now versus what you've been running?

DEL WORSHAM: No, not really. And actually this is one of the three cars that we bought when they originally started the Al Anabi Top Fuel team. There were three new dragsters when we started, and this is the third one.

Again, it was built for Larry, it wasn't really built for me exactly. But the other cars had a lot of runs on it. Larry raced it to the championship last year and ten wins, and we raced it this year to six wins and a bunch of final rounds. So it just had a lot of runs on it, and that metal starts to fatigue.

And Alan Johnson, knowing Top Fuel racing the way he does, he gave the call that it's time to change cars.

Q. Antron, your entire team struggled really hard last season, and now you've had a phenomenal season up to this point. What changed?

ANTRON BROWN: What changed is just like you're going through the blues. Like we had a couple new guys on the team, and also we got like two new guys back that we're used to this year, and just gelling. We actually changed our whole combination around to like a DSR combination, and you're running a little more power and your clutch runs different.

So Brian and Mark, it just took us all to adapt to running with more power. If you want to run with the big boys, that's what you have to do. If you want to compete against the Al Anabi team and run against our teammates, we stepped up to another level. When you step up to another level, sometimes you never step forward, you step backwards sometimes.

You just have to go out there and put your best foot forward and hope it works out in your favor.

Antron Brown

Last year we just lost a lot of close drag races. Same thing that happened to our teammates this year. We were on the other side of it. We went to eight finals last year, and probably won the last one last year.

We were all racing by .002 or .003 of a second, and this year we've been very fortunate to be on the opposite side of that, winning races by .002 or .003 on the good side.

So it shows how tough the Top Fuel class is right now. It's intense. You have no idea if you're going to win and when you're going to win or who you're going to win. You just have to go out there and put your best foot forward and hope it works out in your favor.

Q. Antron, this could be I understand a pretty historic race for you and the NHRA as far as minority drivers go. How do you view yourself? Are you looking at being a trailblazer? Just a guy that has to go fast? How do you see yourself?

ANTRON BROWN: Well, I look at myself as where I come from. Where I come from is New Jersey right between Englishtown, and there is a little drag strip. My whole life my uncle ran Super Cup and super gas racers. I grew up around it.

This is a huge dream for me, and for the kid who's are on that now, if it helps anybody else change their dream or their story, I'm all for it.

I'm in this sport because I love it. I watch local racers like Manville, Bruce Larson, and people like that, real good names in our sport, and Bob Carpenter from motorcycles.

So I look back at that and I'm just where I'm at, and I'm very fortunate to be in the place that I am. Looking at color and different stuff like that, I'm just American. I love it. I embrace the sport, and that's where I stand with it.

Q. Looking back at the history of the sport, even this teleconference, Cruz, tell me, why do you think the NHRA more than any other form of Motorsport has not had a problem with diversity?

ANTRON BROWN: I think the biggest thing in drag racing is also when you come up, like my dad and uncle, I hear all the stories from my grandpa about street racing. Then my grandpa says you want to do it, you want to do it the right way. And everybody familiarizes themselves with drag racing because everybody has had a hot rod car or worked on a hot rod car.

They could trade their grocery getters. I mean, we took our cruisers, which is my grandma's station wagon on, and went to the drag race on open night, and we had a blast with it. A lot of people familiarize themselves with drag racing, because there isn't one person that I've known from high school that didn't race each other from one traffic light to the next traffic light and wanted a fast car. That's all about drag racing.

That's why I think drag racing doesn't have diversity issues or like blocks because it takes million it doesn't take millions of dollars or to come from a family with a lot of money to go drag racing. When you go go kart racing or any kind of surface racing, it takes a lot of money to do that.

But drag racing takes a little know how and initiative, and you can soup you are your Trans Am and go to the strip.

Q. For Antron and Jack because you're team members and if Del and Cruz want to chime in, that would be great. The mental aspects of the sport are really kind of interesting. Kurt Busch over in NASCAR, he races NHRA Pro Stock as you know once in a while, talks about getting into Jimmie Johnson's head. They've got a little feud going on over there. But do you see any of that mental interference or mind games going on in NHRA between competitors? And if so, what is the best way to handle that?

You're doing so many things that are interactive and dependent on what the other driver's actions are and you're feeding and reacting off of those.

Jack Beckman

ANTRON BROWN: Well, I think the biggest difference is that in drag racing, it's so short and sweet. There are some mind games that go on. But the thing about it is I think the one thing of it is when we get up there, it's like put up or shut up.

Like you've got to go over there into that work mode, because you know who you race. And a lot of people go well, we race the racetrack, and we do this, we do that. That's a lie.

I mean, I can tell you right now from experience no matter what I race, I know who I'm racing, and I know why I'm racing them. I know what they normally do, and how they normally do it. I know what I need to do to try to get that round win. That's what you try to do.

You don't go up and race the racetrack and let it fall where it falls, because if they tell you that, they're lying to you.

So it's kind of going up there and say, you know what? I'm going to go up here. I can give you a good example. I raced Del this last weekend. I went up there, his car was running well. My car ran well the round before. The thing about his is it's for a championship. I put it all on the line. I leaned on it. I looked in the tree and I thought it was yellow, and I took off. I beat myself that one there.

The thing about it is the intensity of who you're racing. Because you're racing such talented drivers and you want to give it your all, that you go up there and push. If you're not pushing it, you're not working hard for that championship.

Q. Jack, will you answer that question as well?

JACK BECKMAN: Yeah, I think one of the biggest differences between NHRA and NASCAR is we're supposed to stay in our lane. NASCAR you're drafting, you're bumping, you're blocking. You're doing so many things that are interactive and dependent on what the other driver's actions are and you're feeding and reacting off of those. I think that just fuels more passion and emotion and intensity and rivalries.

In drag racing, when we go out there, I agree with Antron. I absolutely know who is in the other lane. I know their tendencies, and for some drivers I'll make the adjustments.

But ultimately, you can kind of put your blinders on, and if it's supposed to be a contact free sport. So I also think that because ours, you go out there, you're strapped in the car for 15 minutes. It's running 2:20 seconds. And if you get that win, you come back to the pits.

You've got to come back down off that emotion and interact with the fans a little bit, get suited up and get back into that mode. It's very different.

NASCAR, they don't really have to be I hung out earlier this year in Fontana for the race with the rest of the Aaron's team and David Reutimann. We were talking, when they're following the pace car around, they don't really have to have that intensity that we do.

By no means am I down playing what their mental capabilities are. When the pace car pulls off, and the lead car throttles down on the green flag, the rest of them are going to follow suit, and they've got to be an even keel for three hours.

We've got to be at this super intense level of focus and concentration for roughly about 7 or 8 seconds. The last couple of seconds is staging, and then the run, and then the first couple of seconds of slowing down.

So even though they're both loud and they're both Motorsports, I think the differences are huge between the two.

I'd rather accelerate as fast as we are right now to 1,000 feet and than have to slow down to a quarter mile.

Del Worsham

Q. I think it would be interesting if Cruz and Del would want to comment also.

DEL WORSHAM: It's definitely a non contact sport like they said, and pretty much if you take care of your lane and you're racing against the other driver. I would say personally I'm probably my own biggest enemy out there, and I overthink the people I'm racing, and I get too much involved into the whole thing.

So I made some big mistakes back in September. You would think that after 20 years I wouldn't do that, but I did, you know. The intensity level, like Jack said, it's so great that that ten seconds up there when you're staging and you leave the Line and you're making your run, I can't even explain it.

At this level, racing for a championship, you can't make mistakes. I got behind there, and I paid for it. So this weekend in Las Vegas, I just really paid attention, and tried not to get caught up into having to be the most shallow or having to keep lane choice. But I kind of let my car do the talking for me there and did the best job I could.

CRUZ PEDREGON: Yeah, I think each driver has a very insightful, and very accurate depiction of drag racing versus NASCAR. But I think for me it's a lot like golf. Golf versus other sports isn't really a lot of physical. It leans heavily to the mental side, which sometimes can be the most difficult thing. When you're out there and you're running around, you can try to be acrobatic, and your mind kind of goes into that mode automatically.

But when you're sitting there like a golfer trying to putt it, trying to win the championship, all of a sudden somebody takes a picture or somebody yells, all of a sudden that distraction can mean a lot.

So I think we tap into the mental side of it a lot more than NASCAR. And like Jack said, not to take anything away from the in a NASCAR guys, but you have an extra lap or two or three to make up for a mistake that you made.

Like Del said a little while ago, you're up there and you have one shot at it, which to me makes it a little more difficult because we don't have a second chance. It's one shot, one shot only.

The example that Del mentioned in September in the semis. I'm racing and I thought too much, and I'm thinking about too many things, and I went out there and I screwed up. Actually what happened was I anticipated the light and I started to go. The light wasn't ready to go, so I caught myself. Then pretty soon I'm 40 feet behind the guy.

So it's just a lot of mental, and it's really, really intense. I imagine they couldn't imagine, but it's a way different ballgame. There are a lot of good drivers out there, and the three that mentioned what they go through is a good example.

Q. For the nitro guys, the 1,000 feet, there was a little bit of question about whether it would work or not, but you look at how close the standings are in both classes, and the closeness and how many wins everybody has. Do you think you could really call it a success now, and has everybody kind of embraced that distance?

If we learn something, we can keep it in house and not share it with four or five other guys.

Cruz Pedregon

ANTRON BROWN: I think thousand foot deal was just to make sure that, for me personally, we're always a quarter mile. That's what we think of in drag racing. But for what it served for the safety wise, I think it was the right decision. And it was also the right decision for all the teams that were involved from a standpoint where you don't have to change your whole engine combination around or change cars or stuff like that.

I think it was a win win. It hurt a little bit in the beginning with the fans, but I think the fans just forgot about it because of how intense our drag racing season has been in Funny Car and in Top Fuel.

So I definitely think it was a win win for the class as a whole and also for competition. We definitely tear up a lot less stuff, and a lot of people are seeing some really, really close drag racing. We've been seeing drag racing won by thousandths of a second in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

When you get to 300 miles an hour, it's pretty exciting, and I have to agree even though I'm a true quarter mile fan.

JACK BECKMAN: To add to what Antron said, I'm a huge fan of this sport and historian. When I first heard the announcement, I couldn't believe NHRA was doing this to my sport. It would be like replacing a baseball with a softball.

I think there are two things that are very difficult with about the different finish lines. One is we have two different finish lines now, and the NHRA crew has to take down and put up when we transition between Pro Stock and Nitro tag. The other thing is the conversion factor. The old numbers at a quarter mile relative to the new numbers at 1,000 feet.

However, I've got to agree with everything Antron said. If anything is made for closer racing, we get a little bit more parts life out of the cars. There are no racetracks with the exception of two that have grandstands even down at a thousand feet. So I think if you turn the scoreboards off, fans wouldn't know the difference.

At some point though, the crew chiefs being what they are, they're going to make these cars too fast again for 1,000 feet. So, ultimately, we're probably going to have to slow the cars way down and perhaps go back to the quarter mile so we each have the same finish line.

But the people that have complained about how this has altered the sport and changed it, my response to them is I'm all for a quarter mile. But recognize you're not going to achieve 337 mile an hour Top Fuel cars if we go back to the quarter mile. NHRA will have to chop us back to that 300 or 305 miles an hour. So those days are gone.

Our cars have gotten heavier over the last five years. We've added over 100 pounds to them. We're going ten miles an hour faster, and slowing these things down, especially if you have a chute failure, and at some of these racetracks, it's gotten to be a dangerous proposition. So I think it was actually brilliant on NHRA's part. I think they solved a whole lot of issues with one change there.

Cruz Pedregon
Cruz Pedregon

Photo by: Ted Rossino

DEL WORSHAM: I want to add to this. I'll tell you what I've seen especially the last few months is that I think the fans have now embraced the times. They understand when Matt Hagan had the 399, that was a great run. It took a while to transition from a 470 Funny Car to a 399 Funny Car or from a 440 Top Fuel car to the quarter mile. Like when we ran the 373, they understand now, and I think they've caught on to the times.

I'd rather accelerate as fast as we are right now to 1,000 feet and than have to slow down to a quarter mile. Absolutely, I'm not for slowing down. I'd rather keep going faster. If we have to shorten the track a little more to keep accelerating, so be it.

Q. Jack, how awkward or how cool is it that your main competition going into the final is your teammate Hagan? And what do you guys do for the next ten days? Do you keep your distance and mind your own business?

JACK BECKMAN: It's funny you ask that because Wednesday, the day before we run at Pomona, we are scheduled for the whole L.A. media circuit together. In answer to your question, I think it's awesome that Schumacher has been spending all this time, effort, stress and money over the last decade.

It means a lot to him to try to get the Top Fuel Championship that Army car dominated for years. I think the Top Fuel championship may mean even more to him this year with what Del and Larry Dixon have done with that Alan Johnson team. The competition is there are five absolutely killer Top Fuel cars this year, and another four that are tough.

But in Funny Car, John Force has been the best for a long, long time, and in 2005 when John won his first Funny Car Championship with Gary Shelton driving, I think if you asked him, that might be one of his proudest moments in drag racing. It looked like the Force cars were going to run away with the championship again this year.

I think Neff and Hight have five wins, and without the countdown format, Neff is ten ahead of us in second place, it would be tough to catch them.

I think, Del, I remember this distinctly. When you and I won Charlotte at four wide earlier this year, you made the comment I hope we didn't peak too early. And my comment was I just want to peak.

It looks like, well, obviously Del's back in the hunt. But it looks like the Schumacher Funny Cars and momentum has shifted a little bit over towards us, which may not be a good thing. Anytime you have John Force up there things happen over there.

I'm gratified that we're able to run for the championship. You knew Matt Hagan and Tommy were going to be right back in it. They barely lost the championship on the last day last year, and I think that just motivated them that much more.

But don't forget, Neff has super realistic chance. The way he's been qualifying, he could close that up to within one round before we go in to Sunday. Vegas for him put him mathematically back in to it. I mean realistically, not just an incredible long shot.

There are six funny cars going into the last day of the season that can walk away with the championship. It's fantastic.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman

Photo by: Glenn F. Katauskas

As a 7 year old kid when he went to Orange County International Raceway for my first race, and I thought these cars were the coolest thing on the planet. I never would have dreamed I'd get a paycheck to drive one of them and contend for the championship, so this is all good for me.

Q. You've been at this for a long time. How does it feel to be in position when you're still looking for that breakthrough win? And each year you get into a position that you feel the pressure coming on more?

ANTRON BROWN: This is the first season I've ever been in this position where we've come down to the final race or even the final few races in a championship, and it was even within grasp. Yeah, it feels much different not just going out there trying to win a race. I'm going out there to try to win the Full Throttle Championship.

It's something when I started driving 21 years ago, I just wanted to get down the track. I never thought about winning a race or a championship. But after my first season, it looked like it was something that was possible, and I thought maybe it was something I could do. I've been trying to do it for the last 20 years, and I'm looking forward to it.

Yeah, I definitely feel I'm excited. I'm more excited this year than I have been ever in my drag racing career.

Q. None of this new car was built at that place you have on Glassell, was it?

ANTRON BROWN: No, no, it was built for Brad Hadman for Alan Johnson it was built when they started the Al Anabi Team. The shop on Glassell is Worsham Racing. That's mine and my dad's shop. Yeah, we build funny cars there.

Q. Jack and Cruz, regarding Alexis DeJorio, and what you think about her potential as a factor next year in nitro Funny Car?

JACK BECKMAN: Actually, Alexis was a student of mine. I signed her license, and did the same thing for Ashley Force and robber height, and they've been making me regret it ever since because they've beaten me on a consistent basis.

I tell what you I like about Alexis, she ran a Super Cup car, and she didn't rush herself. She's got great financial backing behind her, and I think she could have stepped up right away if she wanted to. But she wanted to run until she won a race, and she did. Then she stepped up in the alcohol Funny Car.

She told me even when she was getting her license in Chuck and Del Worsham's car. She said I just want to win a race in the alcohol car before I step into the nitro car. So this was during the whole process, and she finally won the national event up in Seattle.

She's been her own hardest critic. I don't want to say worst critic, but hardest critic. I think she was ready months ago. I very much appreciate that she's taken her time to get her comfort level to the point where she thought she was going to be okay.

She's by far right now going to be the front runner for next year's Rookie of the Year. Which is almost a misnomer, because the amount of laps she's got in an alcohol car, she's not a rookie.

I think she handles herself fantastic. I think that car's going to be probably one of the Top 10 cars, next year, and she may even get her first national event winning that thing.

Del Worsham reacts after winning
Del Worsham reacts after winning

Photo by: Ted Rossino

CRUZ PEDREGON: I agree with what Jack says. Good backing and the fact that she could pick any sport she wanted to, but she fell in love with the sport we all love. And she's in a Funny Car, which is, to me, we love Funny Cars, and she's with a great team. She's with the Kalitta Team that's going to put her in a good position.

So I think it's great for the sport. It's great to bring in other sponsors. The alcohol angle is good, and I hope that will open up some eyes for more opportunities for other sponsors to look at us.

So I think from a corporate standpoint, from a fan standpoint and a competitor standpoint, one thing I can say is I appreciate someone that comes in and wants to get into the lower class cars instead of just jumping into a fuel car. That shows she's a smart gal, so I think it's great.

Q. Cruz, you drive the car, you're calling all the shots on the car. You're out there hustling sponsor money to keep the car on the track. Does that put you at a disadvantage to the other groups out there like Schumacher with four cars, and four crew chiefs and the brain trust the Forces?

CRUZ PEDREGON: There are some disadvantages here and there, but I try not to think too much about the disadvantages. I try to think of the advantages of not having a whole bunch of guys that have to get along. If we learn something, we can keep it in house and not share it with four or five other guys.

I'm definitely not at an advantage, that's for sure. So somewhere along the line I'm probably at a disadvantage. But for me the hardest thing, and I need to work on this for next year, is to go from thinking about the car day in and day out and then have to get in there and compete at a high level against some of these drivers.

I mean some of these guys are really, really good reaction time wise, and I might not have my best. I'll try to bust her up one last good one here for the end of the year, because I think head to head, I like our chances.

Our cars run as good or better than these other guys. Give or take there are always those rounds. But I think for sure if I've got to work on something, I've got to work on me. And that is trying to focus my attention on Sunday is to try to be the best that I can be.

Because a lot of these guys, that's all they think about, and they're good at it. I'm over there thinking about clothes and timing plots and this and that and oh, I've got to race. So for me I'll try to shore up those weak areas and hopefully we can.

So the fact that we're competing for a championship with a one car team, I think it's phenomenal. Nobody wants to hear about phenomenal. My sponsors want me to win just like the other guys. I like the fact that we're in it. We stack all the dice on racing, and we'll see what happens at the end.

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Series NHRA
Tags beckman, brown, line, pedregon

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