Continued from part 1 11. Q. HAS THE NHRA BENEFITED FROM WHAT DON SCHUMACHER BROUGHT TO THE TABLE ONCE HE PUT TOGETHER A MULTI-CAR TEAM IN 2001? A. It's huge. What Don Schumacher has accomplished has to go down in history, for sure. To win a...
Continued from part 1
11. Q. HAS THE NHRA BENEFITED FROM WHAT DON SCHUMACHER BROUGHT TO THE TABLE ONCE HE PUT TOGETHER A MULTI-CAR TEAM IN 2001?
A. It's huge. What Don Schumacher has accomplished has to go down in history, for sure. To win a championship in Funny Car, to beat John Force, to have his U.S. Army dragster (and son Tony Schumacher) win again and to hold the championship trophy in both those categories at the same time as an owner is unbelievable. The amount of talent and sponsorship that Don has put together has definitely helped the sport. I think the sponsors saw something in Don Schumacher and that's the reason they went with him. So I think it's all been a positive. But I really do believe that he's kind of set a standard out there as far as being an owner is concerned.
12. Q. WITH THE INCREASED COMPETITION IN THE CLASS, AND NOT ONLY FROM DSR, DO YOU THINK JOHN FORCE'S STRANGLEHOLD ON THE FUNNY CAR CLASS IS FINALLY OVER?
A. No. I learned about karma a long time ago. Even coming down to the end of the year when we were ahead of John Force, and people kept saying, "You got him, you got him," the first thing I wanted to do was to interrupt these people and tell them to never, ever count him out, whether it's him or his team. He's a motivator and he knows how to win. And right now, in this off season, he is thinking about what to do to win the championship back, probably more than anybody else out there. I think about it a lot, and I know he's thinking about it twice as much as I am. If we can beat him next year, it's really going to be saying something, because he's going to be so motivated. I think he's going to realize he kind of got caught a little bit with his pants down at certain times during the year when he was concentrating a little bit more maybe on other parts of this team and maybe let his car slip a little bit and he was taken advantage of. I don't think that's going to happen again. I think you're going to see John motivated. I know he's on a diet. We thought this year was a fight; it's going to be a heck of a fight in 2006. So, I never, ever count out John Force. When anybody makes a statement like they think they have him or they think they're better than him, they need to take a step back and realize what they're saying. And, if you beat him, then you just need to chalk it up and just say, You know what, we beat him today, now we need to concentrate on beating him next time. That's the way to look at it.
13. Q. IS IT GOOD FOR THE SERIES TO HAVE A DIFFERENT DRIVER/TEAM FINALLY WIN THE FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 13 YEARS?
A. Absolutely. John Force, as far as I'm concerned, is the guy who IS drag racing right now. He's the big name and anytime you can beat him, it creates more press and it creates more hype. One great thing about John is he loves to spread that out. He won't hog a lot of press if he's got a chance of helping somebody out, even when the press is focused on him. Guys like Scelzi, Bazemore and especially John's teammates all know how John is and that's the way he is. He's just got a big heart. I think anytime you beat him, whether it's one round or especially for the championship, I think it's great for the sport. I think the fans now, whether they're John Force fans or not John Force fans, are going to be even more excited to see what happens this next year.
14. Q. HOW IS YOUR CREW CHIEF ED MCCULLOCH'S HEALTH?
A. He's doing well. He'll be finishing his chemo treatments right before our first test session in Vegas (Jan. 20-23), so that's going to be a good thing. We snuck over to Vegas and had a test session with the new Dodge Charger body a couple of weeks ago. He had a chemo session the night before and actually flew out to Vegas, so he was a little slow. It just takes a lot out of him. It really zaps him. I've known Ace a long time and I can really tell when he's wore out and what he's going through. So, we went out there for three days and tested and he's as tough as there is, no doubt about it. He'll be done with that chemo right before testing and he'll be raring to go and at full throttle at Pomona, and that is going to be exciting.
15. Q. WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING DIFFERENTLY TO PREPARE FOR THE 2006 SEASON?
A. We're just stocking up on more parts. We have the new Charger body we're going to be running. I think that Ace knows how I am and I know how Ace is, and we have a great rapport, a great working relationship. He knows how to motivate me and I know how to motivate him. We've talked about the upcoming season and things that we're going to change. There's not a whole lot we're going to change other than continue on what we did the last three races, and that was go for the throat in qualifying, try to qualify higher and do the same thing on race day. And if he can do the same thing on race day he did the last half of the season, we're going to be right back in the thick of it. We had such a slow start this season that that's all we're trying to do. It's status quo. We have a new chassis being built and it's exactly like our other one; it's just going to be new. Basically, we're going to roll out like we came out at the end of this season and just try to continue on.
16. Q. WILL 2006 BE YOUR YEAR?
A. I say that every year. I hope it will be. It's another season, we have the same exact crew back. We lost one guy on the crew (Ronnie Thompson), but other than that, everybody is back. That's exciting for any driver or any crew chief or owner to have the same team come back, all grouped together. Because any time they can work together and have more experience together, they work together better. So, I'm excited about that.
17. Q. WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING IN THE OFF-SEASON?
A. Pouting. Just kidding. Every off season I talk about how we all get a year older. I've just been hitting the gym. I did a lot of dirt bike riding during the off season here. I went to visit my parents through the Thanksgiving holidays and we did a lot of motocross riding, which I did as a kid. It really tells you how much shape you're in or you're not in. And we do a lot of stuff with the kids. I'm spending a lot of great time with the kids.
I had Taylor, who is 9 years old, taking her first golf lesson the other day and so we're going to be able to start playing golf. And I'm spending time with my son Caden, who is 4, watching old drag-racing movies. I've got about 10 old movies from the '60s and '70s, with old drag-racing footage, and it's all he loves to watch. So, I don't mind sitting down with him and watching two hours of that at a time. And my wife Shelley and I just spend some quality time together, something we don't get to do during the season. I'll get ready for testing, follow the Supercross season and go to the first Supercross in Anaheim (Calif.) and get a lot of exciting stuff done with the reality show ("American Dragster") that's being announced soon. Just a lot of cool stuff, but mainly trying to recharge the batteries and get ready for testing,
I can tell you, it was a week after the season ended, and I got a call from my crew guys. They were all at a bar in Indy and they called to tell me how they couldn't wait to go racing. And that was only being off for a week, so that right there told me that they were ready to go.
18. Q. WILL TAYLOR CONTINUE RACING IN JUNIOR DRAGSTER?
A. She doesn't know. She's going to do softball now and I got her six more golf lessons and we can start playing soon. I bought her a set of clubs. I'm just finding ways to spend more time like that with her.
19. Q. DO YOU SEE A FUTURE FOR YOUR KIDS IN NHRA DRAG RACING?
A. Without a doubt. Caden is only 4, but if he could get into a Junior Dragster he'd find a way to prop himself up and reach the pedals. He's just like I was when I was young. And that's all I thought about. At school, my subjects probably suffered a little bit with math and all my studies because all I thought about was racing. I drew pictures of dragsters and funny cars all over my books and that was just all I thought about. And that's what he is going through right now. Taylor can't make up her mind. One minute she wants to go do Junior Dragster racing, next minute she's dressing up like a girl. She is also just starting to play golf and things like that. But I think that they've adjusted to being around it and with a lot of the teachers, kids and other parents at school being fans of drag racing and watching, it excites them whenever their friends talk about their mom and dad watching me race and knowing that Taylor's dad is into racing. They're going to be around it for a long time.
20. Q. YOU'VE SHOWN TALENT IN OTHER RACING SERIES, SUCH AS SPORTS-CAR RACING, DIRT, ETC. DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO VENTURE FURTHER IN THOSE ARENAS?
A. I hope so. We'll see what happens with the IROC series. There's some exciting stuff they're working on and hopefully we can see if we'll be a part of it. It depends on the scheduling. IROC has to work around all those other drivers, so we'll see how that goes. I know for sure I'm doing the two dirt races with Tony Stewart at Eldora. We're going to do the Prelude to a Dream again with all the Nextel Cup drivers, like I did last year with the Dirt Modifieds. I actually talked to Casey Kahne and Tony Stewart and they're going to have a celebrity sprint-car race at Eldora sometime during the season. He called and invited me to that. I'm definitely going to do that a couple of times in the year. Any chance I can. I will do the charity go-kart deal at Sonoma for Infineon Raceway again, which we do every year. I'm reigning champion again at that and that's always been a fun thing to do for the Speedway Charities and the fans really love it to get to be able to go out there and race with us. Any chance I can get out to do that, I'm going to take advantage of it, but in 2006 I'm concentrating on the drag racing more than anything.
21. Q. YOU ARE VERY MUCH A FAMILY MAN. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE DRIVING WITH FAMILY LIFE?
A. It's been better. I have a Monaco motor home that I got last year and I spend a lot of time staying at the track instead of at hotels. Chris Richline drives it from race to race, and it just makes it a little easier. I can spend maybe another day at home, fly in, stay at the track and then fly out a little quicker from the races and get home and spend a little more time there during the week. When you're at the races you get busy, and the weekends are taken up and anything the kids do that are going to be on the weekend, sports or whatever, I'm going to miss, which is unfortunate. But you try to bring the kids and the family to as many races as you can so they can spend time there. And the good part of having the motor home there is it's already home, it's set up there and everything is in it, so the kids can come to the track and I don't have to worry about them getting back and forth from the hotel. It makes it easier to spend more quality time with the family.
22. Q. IF YOU HAD YOUR DRUTHERS, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE?
A. One thing I'd probably want to change is letting what I do for a living consume me as much as it does. Fortunately, I'm competitive and I love anything to do with competition and I thrive on it. Unfortunately, I sometimes let it get to me and I bring my job home a lot of times. If I lose a race, or something happens at the track that you're disappointed in that you did, I guess like any other job, you come home after something happens at work and you tend to dwell on it. Luckily, my family is a little more patient. They've learned that they can see when I come into the door, or they see when I get up in the morning between races, how my attitude is and they help cheer me up. A lot of times I wear my emotions a little longer than I'd like to when I come home, away from the track. I need to learn to leave it a little more at the track. A lot of times I come home I'm just so bummed out about what happened that it'll take me a couple of days to get over it. That's two days at home that I could be spending a little more time not bummed out. It's something I need to work on. I think that will come in time.
23. Q. WHEN ARE YOU THE HAPPIEST?
A. Obviously when we're winning. I'm happy when my family is at the track and they can enjoy it with me, whether it's my mom and dad, or my family. I'm happiest really not only when my family is at the track but spending time with my team. I love to take them to dinner, I love to spend time with them. One of my favorite times is in the staging lanes when it's all kicked back and the guys are done working and we're back there waiting to run and we get to joke around and talk about what's going on in each other's lives and sit in the Durango and listen to music and just spend quality time. At night a lot of times we'll go out; I'll take them out for drinks. Those guys are my extended family, so I'm probably happiest when I'm at the track, the night before qualifying, just out with my guys enjoying ourselves.
24. Q. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH TO ADD?
A. I'm driving the Jeff Gaynor-owned Nostalgia Funny Car three times this year at the Goodguys races. I did that last year. It was just a blast to do and everybody is excited about it. I'm going to have Roland Leong come out to tune it. Mopar and Direct Connection came aboard last year to help out, along with Jeg's, and they're all going to come back. There's some surprise as to how they're going to paint the car, but I'm definitely going to compete with it at three of the races. We're going to kick it off at the March meets and race two other events. That was one of the funnest times I had all year last year, driving that Nostalgia Funny Car. That was such a great time. I'm looking forward to doing that.