An interview with: DAVE GRUBNIC ASHLEY FORCE RON CAPPS ANDREW HINES THE MODERATOR: I'd like to begin by welcoming the media who joined us on today's NHRA POWERade Series teleconference. And thanking the drivers who carved out the time in their...
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to begin by welcoming the media who joined us on today's NHRA POWERade Series teleconference. And thanking the drivers who carved out the time in their very busy schedules to participate today.
First, couple of notes as we prepare for the 18th and final race of the Countdown to the Championship regular season. The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals which begins Friday August 29th and finish on Labor Day, Monday, September 1st.
In Top Fuel, 8 of the 10 playoff berths have been clinched, and only 10 points separate the three drivers, Dave Grubnic, Doug Kalitta and Morgan Lucas competing for the final two playoff berths.
In Funny Car, the 10-driver playoff field has been set. In Pro Stock, eight of the 10 playoff berths have been clinched. Ron Krisher and Greg Stanfield have a 96 and 72-point lead respectively over six-time world champion, Warren Johnson, as those three compete for the final two playoff berths in pro stock.
In Pro Stock Motorcycles, 7 of the 10 playoff berths have been clinched with Craig Treble and Steve Johnson holding virtual locks on two additional berths. Leaving it, for all intents and purposes, down to the 10th and 11th place drivers, Karen Stoffer and Hector Arana competing for the final playoff spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle. And only 12 points separate Karen and Hector.
In addition to its position on the schedule as the race that will set the 10-driver field for the NHRA Playoffs, and its significance of the world's most prestigious drag race, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals also features the bonus races for Funny Car, the $100,000 U.S. Smokeless Showdown, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, the $25,000 Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle.
The 8-driver fields for each of those bonus races are set based on performance and qualifying. The U.S. Smokeless Showdown pays out a total purse of $239,000, with $100,000 of that going to the winner. The defending champion is Jack Beckman who did not qualify this year.
This year's U.S. Smokeless Showdown will be contested on Sunday, August 31st, and the first round matchups are as follows: Top seeded Ashley Force against her father, John Force. Second seeded Robert Hight will meet Del Worsham, third seeded Tony Pedregon will meet his brother, Cruz Pedregon, and fourth seeded Tim Wilkerson who leads the Funny Car points this year will meet Ron Capps the three-time champion in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown.
The Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle pays out a total purse of $76,000 with $25,000 of that going to the winner. The defending champion is Andrew Hines.
This year's Ringers Glove Pro Bike Battle will be contested on Saturday August 30th, and the first round matchups are as follows: Top seeded Chip Ellis against Matt Guidera, second seeded Matt Smith against Chris Rivas, third seeded Andrew Hines versus Karen Stoffer, and fourth seeded Eddie Krawiec versus Angelle Sampay.
With that said, I'd like to proceed to introducing the drivers and ask them to make a brief opening statement.
First I'd like to introduce Dave Grubnic, driver of the DHL Dragster. One year after being bumped from the Playoffs by Doug Herbert's dramatic win at the 2007 Toyo Tires Nationals, Grubnic is looking to offer a different story line in 2008. He enters this year's final race in the same position he was in 2007, which is to say he'd be in the playoffs if they started today.
Entering the regular season finale next weekend, Dave is in ninth place in Top Fuel with 736 points. He's four points clear of teammate Doug Kalitta with 732 points, and 10 points clear of Morgan Lucas with 726 points.
Dave, what, if anything, do you take from the final regular season race last year and that experience and apply it to this year in 2008?
DAVE GRUBNIC: Here we go again. Went through this year last year, and, as you said, got bumped out by three points. And to make matters worse we had a rain delay and that race never got finished until Wednesday. So for two days I was sitting there stressing out on what was going to happen.
But it is what it is. We've got knocked out, and here we are looking down the barrel, fighting for our position again. But you know, we're definitely not going to let it go, that's for sure.
Our attitude stays the same. We get asked a lot. Are you going to do anything different? Will the pressure affect you or whatever? But we go to each event with the same goal. And that is obviously our goal is to be the number one qualifier and to win the event. So nothing really changes there.
So we're going to go back into Indy with that goal as well. So, you know, hopefully, if we can achieve that, it will keep us locked into the Countdown. But I know how it is. Morgan's going to go in there with the same attitude, and so is my teammate Doug Kalitta.
And we'll just have to wait until Indy and see how all this plays out. But it definitely makes it an exciting event, that's for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Next up I'd like to introduce Ashley Force, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Ashley is the No. 1 seed in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown, and she'll face her father, John, in the first round. Ashley is the first and only female driver to ever qualify for the U.S. Smokeless Showdown and has also already clinched her berth to the countdown to the NHRA Playoff. Ashley, your thoughts on competing in the first smokeless showdown, and for the first time you get to meet a familiar face in the other lane?
ASHLEY FORCE: I'm really excited to get to participate in (the U.S. Smokeless Showdown) this year. It's one of my strongest memories I probably have growing up. We always got to the Indy race, and it was always such a big weekend for us.
Because I think most all the times it was back then the Big Bud Shootout. But it was just an exciting time growing up. And now to actually be involved in it, it's just so special that I'm able to race my dad. It will be really exciting for the fans and of course for the media. But it will be fun for us as well. We know one of the Force's will be going to the semis of the Showdown.
THE MODERATOR: Next I'd like to introduce Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Ron is a three-time winner of the U.S. Smokeless Showdown. He won in 1998 and 1999, and also in 2002. This will be his ninth overall appearance in the U.S. Smokeless Showdown. In 2007 Ron reached the final against his teammate Jack Beckman, and he was narrowly defeated with a 4.95 for Beckman to Capps's 4.976. Ron, you're in eighth place in the overall standings and clinched your berth to the Countdown to 1. So with that out of the way, do you focus on the U.S. Smokeless Showdown or what are your intentions going into next weekend's race?
RON CAPPS: I think every year we go into the whole Indy experience and I've kind of fed off my elders. You know, that's one thing Ashley can do as well, is talk to her dad. Because in the past sometimes you go into that race, and that race is on Sunday and it still counts towards qualifying. There have been times when guys weren't in the show yet they were going around in the (U.S. Smokeless) Showdown. You know, you're trying to concentrate on getting into the show, but you're trying to win the race at the same time. That is $100,000 for the U.S. Smokeless Showdown. So I've got the same team in the NAPA guys this year. NAPA Auto Parts came on board. It's the same team we had the last three years. We went to the final last year in the (U.S. Smokeless) Showdown. So I think the approach is to get into the show, get qualified Saturday and Sunday, and then you can kind of let it all hang out and treat Sunday as the Showdown as just a race by itself. Hopefully, win that and get ready for Monday.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Ron. Finally I'd like to introduce Andrew Hines, who drives the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Andrew will be making his sixth appearance in the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle and looking for his fourth win. He's won three of the last four Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battles. I'll start there with you, Andrew, winning it three of the last four years, what's been the secret for the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines team?
ANDREW HINES: I don't want to give that secret away. If there are any competitors listening, it's something we want to keep secret with the Vance & Hines team. But we've had a good track history with that event. My brother won it three or four times back in the '90s. And our team has won it four straight years with (former Vance & Hines rider G.T. Tonglet) winning it three years ago. It's been a good event for us. What makes it really fun is you're racing for money and not points, so it takes the pressure off, and it makes the crew guys happy when you win that.
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to open it up to questions now.
Q: Dave, with so much on the line in Indianapolis as far as your Countdown hopes go, do you have to set aside the magnitude of competing the U.S. Nationals and what a win there would mean? Do you have to set that aside to focus on making rounds and more importantly, making more rounds than Morgan and Doug?
DAVE GRUBNIC: You bet. You're absolutely right. Considering the year that Kalitta Motorsports has had, there are a lot of other things that we look at as well when it comes to winning the U.S. Nationals. But you're absolutely right. That has to be set aside. We go out there like facing one round at a time. You know, we've obviously got to win that round. In qualifying we've got to run well. But that's my attitude, exactly. Sort of like well, we've got to be in the Countdown, we've got to win the U.S. Nationals. There are so many things that sort of weigh up, and you've got to set it all aside and take it one round at a time, but you're absolutely right. That's my attitude.
Q: I want to look ahead a few weeks and ask Ron to comment on the upcoming race at (the brand new, $60M zMax Dragway @ Concord outside Charlotte) and how important it is for them and the whole NHRA sport to make a really good impression right there in the middle of NASCAR country?
RON CAPPS: I can't wait. Dan Olson, who works for NHRA just got back from going there, and I talked to him yesterday morning. He said I know we called it the Bellagio of drag strips. That's what (track owner) Bruton (Smith) had called it when I met with Bruton. He said it's Disneyland. That's what Dan Olson called it. This place, he said, it's by far the most incredible drag strip we're ever going to go to. So I'm excited about it. I know the track will be good. But I'm more excited about getting into that area. I know when we first went to Bristol, that whole North Carolina, Charlotte, NASCAR country opened their arms for us, and it's been a big crowd since then. I'm looking for more of that.
THE MODERATOR: Ashley?
ASHLEY FORCE: Yeah, I'm really excited to go there. You know, this is my second season in Funny Cars, so I've had a lot of firsts. For everyone I compete with, they've been to these tracks before and been down these lanes before. Here's finally a situation where we're kind of on even ground. We're all going as a new track, and I'm excited to be part of that for the first year. I think it will be a great race. I'm excited to go there. I haven't been to the Carolinas since I was a little kid. It was just beautiful country out there. It will be a good race and exciting that the Countdown, things will be happening there. And, hopefully, we'll do well there, but it will be exciting to try out the new track.
Continued in part 2