Series legends - NHRA teleconference 2010-02-02, part 2

Continued from part 1 THE MODERATOR: You talked about the 1971 race, you've talked about how important the Winternationals has been historically in debuting cars and parts. What was the reaction in 1971 when you showed up with...

Continued from part 1

THE MODERATOR: You talked about the 1971 race, you've talked about how important the Winternationals has been historically in debuting cars and parts. What was the reaction in 1971 when you showed up with your rear-engine dragster?

DON GARLITS: The wife of one of the Top Fuel guys came over. This about sums up the deal. She walked around that car and she says, I pray to God that this thing doesn't work. It is the ugliest dragster I have ever seen. And that just about sums it up.

There were a lot of guys praying to God it wouldn't work because they built brand-new cars. I remember one team particularly had two brand-new dragsters -- they were just really state-of-the-art sling shots -- but if this car worked, that meant those two brand-new cars weren't going to be the cars. So it was a lot of heady feelings in the air, you know.

But I was determined. I wanted to(sit) in front of all that stuff. I never forget the first time I actually drove it down a drag strip, and we were push starting in those days. I remember we pushed down to the end to turn around and I motioned to my crew to come over to the car. They said, what's wrong? I said over in the lane I'm was fixing to make a run in -- you were pushed down the lane you were going to run in and fire in the opposite lane and then turn around and come down that lane -- I said over in that lane is a three-inch bolt laying in the middle of my lane. Would you go over and get it. And Swindle said, Is it a fine thread or a coarse thread? I said it's a fine thread. That's how good you could see out of those cars.

KENNY BERNSTEIN: I'd like to add one thing. Some people were praying to God that thing didn't develop. I'll thank him along with everybody else for inventing it. And thanking the lord above for having him do it.

THE MODERATOR: That's a good point. Don won the Winternationals five times in his career, 1963, '71, '73, '75, and 1987. Five wins of the Winternationals over a 24-year span.

Q: Earlier in the call, Bob Glidden mentioned Don Prudhomme. And it's very ironic that he won't be competing with his team having decided to park it for lack of sponsorship. I wonder if Kenny especially, and the other gentlemen if they want to, could maybe comment on the fact that the Snake has decided to retire? And maybe comment on it as a state of the sport statement?

BOB GLIDDEN: Well, we hate that Don's not going to be performing this year and running. It's a great loss to the NHRA community and the sport in general, obviously.

He's a legend in this sport. A name in this sport that's synonymous with this sport just like Garlits. The bottom line is we don't want to lose any of those guys as long as he wants to do it, and I know that he enjoys doing it.

The facts are the facts though. This thing is very expensive out here. Has been for years, and it still continues to go. And consequently, Don and myself, and John Force, and a few people, this is how we make a living. So without sponsorships, we can't do it. You're not going to spend your own money.

I couldn't afford to do it, and I know Don doesn't want to do that either. If we had businesses to fall back on, if we were fortunate enough to have large companies to fall back on that we could utilize for advertising extents, that would be a different story. But the three of us don't. So in all reality, it's a great loss to NHRA racing and to us.

I hope that Don finds sponsorship for 2011. I think knowing him he will want to do that because he does enjoy it. But in all honesty, the bottom on line is it's dollars and cents. In some case for us without the sponsors, in our case, if COPART hadn't come aboard, if we hadn't gotten COPART, we wouldn't be here either. You would have had two of us out of the sport. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but I don't think it's good.

Q: In terms of the two guys covering all 50 years of the Winternationals, what has been the greatest advance in the sport, whether it be technology or the reliance Kenny was referring to of the heavy reliance on sponsorship? What has changed the sport the most that you guys can see?

KENNY BERNSTEIN: I think it's twofold, really. The technology has certainly changed the sport through the years. I mean if Don hadn't invented the rear engine dragster to be successful, we'd be in a world of hurt today probably more as far as physically goes. And there's been inventions in all classes from the get-go. And the bottom line is the rules dictate what you can do. So the guys are great at taking advantage of all of that.

Now I think it changed a few years ago back in the early '80s, mid '80s. It became a combination of certainly technology. Look at what Dale Armstrong brought to the table with us through the years. My goodness, I can't thank him enough. Bottom line it changed to you had to have the dollars to hire the best people, buy the best parts, and do that research and development to move to the next level. So I think sponsorship became very key along with technology side by side.

So our sport today's a little different. We've got quite a few rules that are basically there to help sustain the sport and not have us spend money just crazy. Because there's no doubt if there's a new widget or gidget, we're going to try to make it or do it. So I'm all for the rules being tougher so you can't just continue to obsolete every part every other week, that doesn't make sense. So that falls back to the monetary side.

Q: Bob, can you take it from a Pro Stock angle?

BOB GLIDDEN: Certainly the biggest change is financially. And the financial changes have brought along a lot of technology changes. But in the end it's controlled with money, so that's about what it boils down to.

DON GARLITS: I have to refer back to Kenny. He hit the nail on the head. If we didn't have the rules there would be so many new widgets and gidgets. The problem is they waited too long to put the cap on some of this stuff. This thing could have been slowed down a number of years ago and made the sport a lot less expensive and maybe not even as dangerous. Because you've got to admit, when you go 325, 330 miles an hour, and you hit something you're in a world of hurt no matter what kind of car you've got. So that's it.

It's come down to a monetary thing, and that's shown by the amount of cars entered in these fields. You take a field like the Winternationals. There ought to be 32 Top Fuel cars there easy, but they can't be there because it's too expensive.

And it's a grim situation because even NHRA realizes that. But the genie's out of the bottle now, you see? And it's hard to get him back in. If they were to come out and say we're not going to allow this, we're not going to allow that, and the car slowed down to 275, you've got disappointed spectators. So it's a tough call. It's a two-edged sword. If they slow them down and get less expensive, it might upset the spectators, so who knows. It's a tough field.

Q: Mr. Garlits and Mr. Glidden. Don, you won this five times, Bob seven. How were you able to dominate this one event so many times? Did you have a secret? Did you have a key? What was it?

DON GARLITS: All of my races were won with the same thought in mind. I went to every race trying to win the race and still leave with the engines I never blew an engine up purposely just to get around. Leaned on it beyond what I felt the thing could take.

Another thing I always did, I usually ran my car pretty close to what was right on the ragged edge of spinning the tires. And I knew that it just wasn't going to go much quicker than that without spinning the tires. So no matter who I came up against, whether the guy had a better time than me, I stayed with my game plan and planned on getting from point A to point B and have an engine on the other end. And that won me more races than you could shake a stick at.

A lot of times guys just gave up the race. They leaned on it because they thought well, Garlits is going to do something tricky so they'd lean on it and spin the tires or break it or something. And I'd just go on with my normal whatever I was running that day.

Sometimes I ran a little better, but not very often. If you look at my times, mostly they ran pretty consistent the whole day. And that was pretty much what I felt the car could get out of the track on that particular day.

Q: Your thoughts on the Winternationals and what was the secret to your success there?

BOB GLIDDEN: Well, I don't believe there were any secrets to anyone's success. I think that ordinarily we went there more prepared than most or than all of the other teams. In Pro Stock it was a little bit different than in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

When we got there, what we had for power is what we had. And you just tried to use it as best you could. Even though we won a lot of races, we probably lost a couple races that we should have won if we were really in a quicker car. But I think we went there better prepared most of the times than the other teams.

Q: All three of you when you were coming out here especially to begin with, but long tows coming out here, you didn't have the big rigs like we do now. And I'm wondering when you got here can you have recollections of being stressed out whether your equipment would actually work? You were going to be performing in front of the manufacturers and the people who made the parts, and the stress of finding on out what your competition was going to do. Like if someone was showing up with a rear engine dragster for the first time. Do you remember those kind of worries? Was that stress playing in your mind or were you just out here to have a good time?

KENNY BERNSTEIN: Well, I think in the early days and bottom line in the early days for me it was just fun to come out here and compete. I remember towing from Texas, man, 24 hours straight nonstop. Me and one other guy, and never stopping in a hotel or nothing, just doing it. And I know Garlits did the same thing and Bob. But I was just excited to get here in the early days.

Now when we got in this thing was a real business in the '80s, and you took on a different approach and you wanted to win and were expected to win. But that first one I came to in '73, I was just tickled to get out and have some fun in the sunshine. But it was cold back in Texas in January and February.

BOB GLIDDEN: Back when we first started the stress was getting there in the junction that we had to get there in, not racing the cars. The racing the car part was easy.

I can recall the first trip we made out there, going home over the mountain at Needles, I blew the engine in my truck. So the stress was really in getting there and getting home, not in racing the car.

DON GARLITS: In the beginning we came out for the fun of it, and it was fun. It wasn't any big deal about the sponsors, there were no great big sponsors. It was maybe Wynns gave us $1,000. We towed on open trailers and four-door sedans. The used ones I might add.

We were all good mechanics. Most of those cars ran real good. They didn't look all that good, but they were pretty sound automobiles. We could make that trip from Tampa to Los Angeles in 54 hours, me and Art Malone and me and Connie Swindle. And we did it many times just like that.

It was fun. And Kenny's right, it was the '80s when everything changed and the big corporate sponsors came on board, then it got to be stressful. It was not stressful up until then. It was just a fun thing, and we were having a heal hell of a time doing it.

Q: When you talk about cost reduction, safety, slowing the cars down, are you gentlemen okay with the fact that the Winternationals and all the races are run in Top Fuel and Funny Car (1,000-foot) rather than a quarter of a mile? And do you see a need to go back to a quarter of a mile at some point?

KENNY BERNSTEIN: I'm comfortable with it in the safety aspect of where we were going before we made this reduction. And I think the racing today is closer than ever. I think there are some good sides to it, and the not so good. The not so good is you very seldom will see a car pass somebody at the finish line like you did when it was a quarter mile when someone's car would give up and you would sneak by them, because 1,000 foot comes up awful quick.

It has put more pressure on drivers. They've got to be on their toes on the starting line because it's such an advantage if you happen to be a good leaver.

I think safety-wise it was the smart thing to do at the time. I don't have a problem with it today. Could we go back to quarter mile racing? Yeah, if the safety was there. In other words if you could bring the cars under control and make them not destroy themselves at the last 300 feet and run 300. All you have to do is run 300 miles an hour for the fans, 301.

It doesn't matter if it's 320. None of us knows the difference other than the fact that the number comes on the board. So I'm good with the 1,000 foot, and all safety aspects. I think it's made for good racing.

I think traditionally it's not good, of course, like the quarter mile. But it needs to be a safe quarter mile if they possibly can. I'm not sure that we can get there under what I see right now.

DON GARLITS: I concur with Kenny. When they went to the 1,000 foot I was for it 100%. But I was under the impression it was going to be a short-term deal until they got engines under control. Crew chiefs under control, I guess I should say. They're the ones that are turning the knobs and that's what needs to be done.

They need to put some strict rules in there. Because I've sat up in the stands at several events now with the fans that don't like the 1,000-foot racing. Now if everybody was racing 1,000-foot, it would be different. But they see this big finish line down there with the scoreboards and they see these Funny Cars shutting off early, they think. Well, they're shutting off at the 1,000-foot mark, but it does look like it's shutting on off early because the scoreboards and the rest of the cars are going further.

And I think NHRA does need to address that. I think we should go back to quarter mile racing, and put some very strict limitations on the dragsters. And Kenny's 100% right. Let them go 300, 301, 299. When somebody put a 300 on the board, that would be good. Mostly they'd run 295, 296 right in there. They don't need to go 320. He's right. You can't tell the difference.

If it wasn't for the scoreboards, in fact, my personal opinion the scoreboards are one of the worst things to ever happen to the sport. I look at the cars leave the line, I'm sitting in the stands. All of the fans. Here come the dragsters down the track, realtime, and everybody turns to look at the scoreboards. It's ridiculous. But that's the way it is, you know. It's one of those things that just happen to us. We didn't realize it was happening.

-source: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Bob Glidden , Don Prudhomme