Schumacher, Scelzi - NHRA teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: You have been through a lot the last couple of years with different things, even off track. Both of you are so positive. How do you manage to keep it light and positive and smiling for the fans because really you have...

Continued from part 1

Q: You have been through a lot the last couple of years with different things, even off track. Both of you are so positive. How do you manage to keep it light and positive and smiling for the fans because really you have been through a lot?

GARY SCELZI: I don't think we have any choice. Of course, when Tony wins as many races as he does, his biggest problem is his construction guy to add another room to his house to put the trophies, which I guess will keep us in a good mood (laughter).

But it's funny because I talked to Don (Schumacher), and we talked about Tony. Tony doesn't know this. But between Tony and I, we probably have an hours worth of crash video that we could be millionaires on.

I think we all have to make the decision that we know what we do is dangerous, and that's never not been the issue. We've always known that. And we go into this thing knowing that something can happen.

Now, we don't think something's gonna happen, obviously, or we couldn't perform the way we do. But we're also realists. There's been so many things on the Internet about NHRA is not giving anybody raises, they want to save the racers money, they want to do this, they're trying to conserve nitro, all this baloney. I tell you right now, they're trying to make this sport safer. This was the quickest, simplest way, we have little cost, minimal cost, mainly to the racetracks, putting a thousand foot mile-an-hour clock in there, that they could do. And they're going to do a lot of research, stuff that hasn't been done in the past with engineers, knowing how much that hundred pounds adds to the Funny Car, how much further it takes to stop, different materials from the manufactures to do the parachutes. Tire barriers. F1 doesn't use sand traps any more, they use old-fashioned tire barriers. Not that they're not going to look at something more high-tech, but that could be one of the safest things going, tire barrier, which is very minimal in cost and expense.

We have to keep positive. We love what we're doing. We know what can happen. We try not to. I've even called Tony and told him how much I love him and how impressed I am with the way he drives his racecar. You guys remember a few years back, Tony and I hated each other. So for me to call him and tell him that, you know that's big.

Q: Tony, on the safety issues, help us understand what's been going on here. The top speed records were set by you three years ago in Top Fuel and two years ago in Funny Car. The cars aren't going all that much faster. What has happened in the last 15 to 18 months that suddenly has brought all of this to a head? All of the drivers, every one of them, has completely applauded what the NHRA is doing, which makes me wonder whether the drivers were worried about the safety of the cars even before Scott's accident.

TONY SCHUMACHER: Well, you know, we're worried about certain things constantly. Here's a great example. I'm going 330 miles an hour at the finish line, yet there's still score boards down there, which to me are unnecessary. Yeah, we need to know the scoreboard. But maybe someone else likes it. That's where Gary was saying, two guys, we just don't all get along, and we're coming together right now.

I always say, why not move the scoreboard to half track. That's where the stands end. But that's just my opinion. I think every one of us gets in these cars, we do know they're fairly dangerous. We do know there's a part of a risk. But we also know NHRA was formed 50 some years ago by Wally Parks to get kids off the street to make it from where it was very dangerous and put us on a racetrack to where we have the best safety guys in the world. We yeah, there's dangerous spots. We go to Seattle, there's no lights. We race into the sun. We run when it's too dark. There's a couple scary parts there.

I get in a racecar today that I feel is 10 times better than the one last year without heat-treated steel, which I love. I feel like I'm driving a much safer car. And we work towards that. We just try to get better.

Yeah, man, we know there's fear. We've had Pedregon blow up twice and be upside down. He's got some scary stuff happening. John Force blew a car in half last year. There's issues. But so long as we're working in the right direction, you can't take it away. Football is dangerous, man. What are you going to make it, flag football? There's a certain point where we know there's some risk. We get in the car. We wear our HANS devices. We wear our safety equipment. We put on the right everything that we can possibly put on. Even then we got a little bit of fear. But we're trying. We're trying to do the best thing we can. And we love racing, man.

I hate to -- don't tell my dad, but both Gary and I would do it for free.

GARY SCELZI: No, we won't (laughter).

TONY SCHUMACHER: But it's what we love to do, man. We get up in the morning, we love racing. And there's some risk. Yeah, it's scary. I can think of five or six things that would make it safer. Yeah, it would cost some of the racetracks some money. But maybe we have to do that before we lose a driver so that we can go. You know what would have been great, if Scott would have gone down there, crashed, not hit those poles, not hit a camera. We could have gone, man, I'm glad a camera wasn't there. Good thing last week we decided that was not a safe place to put it. But we didn't do that. But now we are. Now we're saying let's figure this out. Hey, you don't know how much it tears us all apart to have to lose someone to make a change. None of us want to do that. Not only do we want to lose a buddy, we don't want it to be us either. We don't want to have to call home and have our kids get that phone call like Kalitta did. That's brutal, which it could be avoided.

Putting a group of people together for safety, this is the first step. We need to go out, look at it, go, 'Why is this here, why is that here?' I think that's what we're doing. It took 50-some years. In that 50-some years, that sport was designed for safety. I think that is the thing we have to remember. When people say on TV, Those kids, got killed drag racing. That's nonsense. We know that weren't drag racing. They were on the street. If they were drag racing, they would have been on a drag strip. That's what we put them there for, with guardrails, safety people, helicopters.

Q: My question is, for people like me and the public who might be a little confused, you're going actually a tad slower than your records that were set a couple years ago, yet it's been in the last year or 15 months that we've had these terrible accidents, and now we're having a reaction when the cars are actually going a tad slower than the record. So what is it about the speeds at current levels causing all of this to happen? You're not going any faster.

GARY SCELZI: Realistically for years, if you look at it, NHRA made us go to 90% (nitromethane mixture), then 85% to cut down the explosions and things like that, trying to make things safer. They've implemented rev limiters. They've been trying to slow these cars down for the last few years. The crew chiefs have said, Uh-huh, watch this. So we put bigger fuel pumps on, more timing, better superchargers, all these things. We've known these cars need to be slowed down, too. It's not a secret.

But now what's happened, you haven't been able to get the crew chiefs and NHRA on the same page. So they've been doing things that neither one of them agree on. But they've been having to do something. Now for the first time, you've got the NHRA crew chiefs being told, 'Look, guys, we've been down this road before. You guys don't like the cures that we put to slow these cars down, so you need to come up with something because we're gonna slow 'em down.' They have to do what NASCAR has done. They have to do what the IndyCar Racing League has done. They have to slow these cars down. As long as the racing is side-by-side and there's six-foot flame coming out of these headers, they are making noise, they are shaking your body, and your nose is running from smelling nitromethane, the fans are going to enjoy it. We are not going to lose any fans. They want side-by-side racing.

As far as I'm concerned, the same people that win now, no matter what you do to the rules, are going to win later. The smart guys are going to win and the guys who aren't as smart, not as well-funded, aren't going to win. It's as simple as that.

We know they've needed to be slowed down. NHRA is doing it. They're just taking a little more forceful action right now.

TONY SCHUMACHER: Part of the reason we're going slower is we have a rev limiter. When you have an eight thousand horsepower car drop to four thousand horsepower at the finish line, we do blow some stuff up. And it wasn't NHRA's fault they had to slow it down. That's how they did it. When you have 12 gallons of fuel getting shoved through a motor, you unlight it in three or four of the cylinders, that is risky, too. We do some damage. That has done part of it. I mean, why is it more dangerous? I think when we ran 337, if we'd have gone 338 and they didn't slow is down, it would have been even more dangerous. All that's happened is we went from 337 to 325 and 330. That's not the part that's killing us isn't crashing seven miles an hour quicker, it's just a series of events, and each one of the three people we've lost in the last couple years that have done it. Eric Medlen (who died in a testing accident in Gainesville, Fla. in March, 2007) wasn't at the finish line. He was at half track. It wasn't the miles an hour that did it.

I understand your question. But I don't think the two are related. I don't think the drivers we've lost has been because we've tried to slow 'em down. I just think it was bad timing on each one of them. I'd love to give you an answer why each one of these guys died, but I can't. And I don't think it's because we're going seven miles an hour slower or seven miles an hour faster. It's just the way it is.

Q: Tony, last year you were so dominant in Sonoma (low e.t., top speed and won race). What worked so well for you guys and are you optimistic you can do it again?

TONY SCHUMACHER: You know what, I had not won Sonoma before. I have to look back. I can't even tell you why we were so dominant. (Crew chief) Alan Johnson and myself, I'd been to the finals many times there. I think it was just the year before we had lost in the final to I think JR Todd if I'm not mistaken. That would have been 10 years ago. It was the last race, we really wanted to win that race. Alan just really dedicated himself, the whole team did such a great job. But when you win a race, you look forward to getting there the next year. That's in no way, shape or form to say you're going to go pull off that miracle again. But the racetracks you go to that you win on, you definitely want to get back to. You want to carry that momentum. You can look back on simple notes and hopefully use them to your advantage.

Don Schumacher Racing has a huge advantage. With that many race teams, that many good qualified drivers, good qualified crew chiefs working together, we can share that information and try to win these races. I think that's critical to winning championships.

Q: Talking about Antron Brown (currently second in points in his first year competing in Top Fuel after many years in Pro Stock Motorcycle), are you surprised with the success he's had so far this season?

TONY SCHUMACHER: He's great. He's just a great guy. We battle. He is a great athlete. He'd be great if you put him in any sport. He just wakes up in the morning. You can put him in a badminton or ping-pong table, give him five minutes, he'll figure it out. The difference between good drivers and great drivers is that they wake up in the morning and can't wait to do it. Some of the guys we race against are doing it for a paycheck, unfortunately. But we have a handful. Don Schumacher Racing has the collection of probably the best guys that just wake up, can't wait to race, just love to race. Antron, even though he's not on our team, he was, he's one of those guys. He gets up. He doesn't think about the money, he doesn't think about the trophy, he just gets up, there's a racecar, loves to do it. That's what makes him good. He listens to people, but he doesn't take everyone's advice. He's sharp enough to separate what sounds likes good advice from bad advice. We spend a lot of time together. He just does a good job. He just does a great job driving these cars. He'd drive anything good.

Q: You answered the question about are we probably headed here in the long-term at slowing the cars down. The big question is, is always the problem of how you do that. From what I've been told, one way maybe to reduce the amount of fuel that's going through these fuel pumps, basically it's reducing kind of the size of the explosion. Is that where you think we're headed or is there other ways you guys see as better to try and slow the cars down? Both of you have been at this a long time. What do you see as the best solution in the long run?

GARY SCELZI: You know, as far as me, I can't answer that. I know that Dale Armstrong has talked about lowering compression. The fuel pump thing is obviously one thing. One other thing is one magneto. I don't know. But I can tell you one thing, Austin Coil, Alan Johnson, a lot of other major crew chiefs, are definitely working in a direction. They're going to get it because they don't want to be told what NHRA wants to do to slow these things down. They're going to come up with a way, tell NHRA what they want, and I think NHRA is going to listen.

TONY SCHUMACHER: Same thing. There's so many ways. You could simply reduce the rear wing size and then tell the crew chiefs, 'Do what you want, but you're not going to have any downforce.' By taking downforce away, you'd make the crew chiefs figure it out. A thousand different ways to do of it. Then you have to look at the tire problems. It takes people much smarter than me and Gary to figure this stuff out, trust me, and it takes a group of them. Because one way would help my crew win our championship, and one way will help Bernstein's crew. Each one of us would have, this is what we'd like, and it's going to take kind of an assembly and group of people to put their heads together and come up with something fair where we can all go out and race and give the fans a show that it's not like it was 10 years ago where one car is not two-tenths of a second quicker. This year has been the best racing I've seen in a long time. We've won and lost, but we've won and lost by feet, not car lengths. I think that's part of how do we slow 'em down, how do we slow 'em down equally so we're all in the same boat, we can still give fans a good show.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks to everyone who was able to join us on today's call, and Gary and Tony for participating as well. We'll be racing this weekend in Denver with the Mopar Mile High NHRA Nationals July 11th to 13th.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , John Force , Eric Medlen , Don Schumacher , Austin Coil