Las Vega preview teleconference
An Interview With: DEL WORSHAM, JASON LINE, ERICA ENDERS, MIKE NEFF, CRUZ PEDROGON
THE MODERATOR: After competing more than 15 years behind the wheel of Funny Car Del made the move this season to the Top Fuel category in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and it did not take long for the driver to get adjusted. After only two races into this season, Del powered his Al-Anabi Racing Dragster to his first Top Fuel win becoming only the 15th driver to win in both nitro classes and the win also boosted Al-Anabi to the No. 1 spot in the points standings.
Del, when you began your preparations in the off season to make the switch, did you ever imagine that you and your team would be so successful so quickly?
DEL WORSHAM: No, I didn't. The one thing I did know is that I was going to be driving a very good race car. The entire Al-Anabi team and especially Alan Johnson and hiring Brian to take over the lead of this new Top Fuel team; nothing but good things could really come out of it. And for it to happen this fast, I didn't expect it to happen this fast but I knew it was going to be a great team.
THE MODERATOR: One of the questions that has come up with so many multi car teams in the classes this year, how have you guys seen the success of having two Top Fuel dragsters competing in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series?
DEL WORSHAM: Well, I mean, we are just getting started with that. This is our first season as a multi car team in the same class, and I have often asked myself, you know, what can I or what can this team bring to the Al-Anabi Top Fuel team? With Larry Dixon winning 12 fuel races in the championship last season; you would think not a whole lot.
But hopefully as the competition gets stiffer and there are more of these teams out there, hopefully just the additional information will also help Larry's team, along with ours so that we can compete for a championship.
Q. How do you interact with this crew with them in Brownsburg and you in California, do you spend any more time than you did with your Funny Car crew? Because Funny Car you had that down pat, and you worked with these guys more on the Top Fuel side.
DEL WORSHAM: Well, it's funny you say that because I'm actually in Brownsburg right now. And back then, when we were racing Funny Car, I would not have been here; because the Funny Car, I had down to such a science as far as being fit in the car and being comfortable and not worrying about where things were.
In this dragster, I have not been 100% comfortable or close to the level I was in a Funny Car. So after the first two races, I could kind of tell some of the things I didn't like or we could do to make myself more comfortable, so I actually came here yesterday and we're redoing a couple of things, a couple of controls in the cockpit right now with Brad Hadman, who builds our chassis; he is here right now and we are moving these things around.
Yeah, and I've already made one extra trip that I normally wouldn't have made, but you know, I'll do whatever it takes.
Q. Changing gear a little bit, what can you tell me about Stand 21 and some of the things you've worked on with them? I know gloves, is one of them, has he designed your safety gear?
DEL WORSHAM: Stand 21 is a company based out of France that I first got introduced to them probably back in maybe 2007 and they make a great product. They are wanting to get into drag racing and they are very involved and they are very dedicated to this.
In this dragster, I have not been 100% comfortable or close to the level I was in a Funny Car.
We have been working with them on building a driving suit, gloves, the shoes, the helmet which is the 860 helmet and I'm wearing all of their safety equipment right now. The stuff feels great. So far, good. We haven't tested as far as safety goes, but as far as comfort goes and how I feel in the car, at this point right now I'm very happy with it.
Q. What makes a difference from some of the other stuff you've used in the past?
DEL WORSHAM: Well, one thing is, is just the mobility and flexibility of the equipment has been noticeable. I really did not have a 100%, like apple to apples comparison because I hopped out of a Funny Car into a dragster. So I couldn't jump out and say this is more comfortable than what I had on.
It's definitely more flexible. The helmet passed just some great ratings as far as like safety goes, and basically just hand tailored all of the stuff to make sure that Larry and myself are as comfortable as we can be and hoping with all of that, I can get the comfort level up and I can feel as good in the dragster as I did the Funny Car.
If you feel good and you're confident, you'll probably be more aggressive. If you're bound up and not feeling very good or very comfortable at what you're doing, you might not have that same feeling.
THE MODERATOR: One of the questions that comes up is you had mentioned after your win in Gainesville that the car that you're in, is Larry's car from last year that won 12 races in 12 final round appearances. Has Larry been able to give you any advice or any pointers on driving that particular car that has helped you to this success?
DEL WORSHAM: Sure, he has. The amount of Top Fuel experience he has, compared to me; I missed a couple of seasons way back in the early 90s. And he's kind of like a go to guy for any questions I have.
I didn't know what to expect; so I really didn't ask a whole lot of questions until after I drove the car and I just got to kind of feel for myself and see what it does and what I need. And any time I have a question, whether it's steering related or parachute related or whatever it is, I go to Larry and he's right there.
THE MODERATOR: We thank Del for being on the call. We know he's got to get back. He's working on a few things at the shop there in Indy. Thanks for participating in the call and we'll see you in Vegas.
We'll now turn to our next drivers on the call, our Pro Stock points leader, Jason Line, as well as Pro Stock driver Erica Enders. Jason has had one of the more impressive starts of any driver in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing season. He's powered his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP to back to back wins at the season opening Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winter Nationals in the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gator Nationals. He enters the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas with a 48 point lead over second place driver and fellow teammate, Greg Anderson.
Jason, you've won this event in 2008. With this being your title sponsor's event and also the home of team owner Ken Black, how big is it to win this race?
JASON LINE: It's huge for me. Like I say I won it once before and I think it was the first Summit sponsored event I had ever won. So I kind of have fond memories of that.
It's a big deal, and especially right now it's a big deal for Ken, because us doing well definitely motivates him and he's really working hard and he's trying to get better and get out of that wheelchair. He's going to make it.
THE MODERATOR: Pro Stock driver, Erica Enders, started off the 2011 season returning to the team she began with Cagnazzi Racing, and within the first day of qualifying the team saw success. And Enders raced her ZaZa Energy Chevy Cobalt to the No. 1 qualifying position at Pomona, just the second in her career, and finished the event with a second round finish. Her next race the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gator Nationals, proved to be one of the most memorable of her career when she paired up in the first round against NASCAR Champion and first time Pro Stock competitor, Kurt Busch; in one of most highly publicized first rounds of racing in the history of Pro Stock, Erica drove past Busch to get the win and move on to the second round.
Erica, did you ever think before the season began that your first two races of the season would bring so much emotions and so much excitement?
ERICA ENDERS: Well this is a very exciting and emotional game to begin with, but just to come back with Victor Cagnazzi and the same group of guys that I ran with five, six, seven years ago is a dream come true for me.
So to come out and qualify No. 1 and then go set the speed record in Gainesville and how the race occurred, it was a crazy cool experience for me.
Q. You and Greg are very, very competitive with the rest of the field. How much do you guys throw it back and forth between each other like you did after Gainesville?
JASON LINE: Well, we try not to take it too serious, but it's a tough thing because obviously we both have egos and we both want to win and not just for ourselves but we owe it to the rest of the team to do the best job we can because these guys are working hard to give us good hot rods.
It's kind of fun but at the same time we take it serious. But as soon as it's over, within two minutes, then it's back to joking about it, because whoever wins, you know, either way, at that point, like after Gainesville, either way the team won and that's really what's important and that's what keeps us going.
Q. You say you've really grown as a driver. Like what have you learned the most, either from coming back or sitting out or a combination?
ERICA ENDERS: I have learned a lot of life lessons and lessons in the driving cockpit, as well. Just the seat time that I've had over the last seven years has really made me a better driver. I mean, I had never driven a door car, let alone a clutch car, when I first started driving for Victor in 2005.
So I have learned a lot. I have become way more confident in the cockpit and I've grown up a lot, too. I'm 27 now and was 20 when I started. I've learned huge lessons and I guess the biggest one is how quickly everything can disappear, no matter how hard you work at it, because this is something that I've dreamt of doing my entire life and I'm blessed enough to be in the position to capitalize on that.
But it can vanish in an instant, and I'm just going to enjoy it and do my job to the best of my ability. I've certainly got the team and the car and the motor that's capable of winning races and so I'm very optimistic about this year.
Q. You've had to play every instrument the band: You have to be a marketer and you train and you go to the sport psychologist and you've done so many things. Does it strike you how overwhelming that is; that maybe you didn't know that at first?
ERICA ENDERS: I didn't know it coming in and I didn't expect it to be easy by any means. But this is something that takes a team of people to work, and I have 30 guys working full time on making this a success for me and for my team. It's crazy difficult.
I went to school for marketing at Texas A&M; I work out every day; I work with sports psychologists; I practice on the simulator, and I do everything that I can to better my game because I know how important it is.
And being on the marketing side of it and having to pay for my wide and my dad to fund this deal for the last couple of years and now ZaZa Energy, I know exactly how much every run costs going up and down the racetrack.
So it just puts that much more pressure on your shoulders to be able to execute everything to the best of your ability. So to answer your question, yes, it's very challenging in all aspects but I'm definitely up for it.
Q. Along with Greg, your team has won five of the past seven championships. With so many people really giving it a very serious challenge, what is most important for to you keep up your edge, is it the technology or the driving focus?
JASON LINE: I think it's fear; fear of people like Erica.
You know, everybody is work being hard to win, and you know, they are just trying for me it's nothing personal, like you know, for Erica and I, whoever is racing, at the end of the race, whoever wins, basically shake hands you're done with it. But that's what keeps us in business is winning races. That's what we are supposed to do. That's what we are getting paid to do.
Honestly fear of not winning is definitely a good motivator, because speaking of growing, my crew chief, Rob, tells me I've grown a lot in the last seven years every time we scale the car. And one of the things I like to do is eat. So in order to eat, you've got to work.
So this is what we do for a living and definitely fear motivates me to keep going to work every day and do what I do right now, which is I'm dyno ing an engine as we speak, or at least I was until this phone call. We want to find more power and do a better job of getting up and down the racetrack.
Q. You're in the lead for the first time since 2009; do you like leading or chasing better?
JASON LINE: Honestly with the way the points format the way it is now, I don't really give the points a lot of thought at this time of year.
Of course, you have to qualify for the Countdown, but right now it's just about winning races and obviously every time you win, you make money, and we make Ken happy and make the sponsors happy and that's what we are paid to do.
So it's great and it feels really good. I've never done this before in my career, so it's kind of exciting and usually I play kind of second fiddle to Greg because he's kind of hoggish; he wins more than his share of races. So for me to do it is kind of fun.
Q. You said you wanted to win all of the races; so, so far, so good.
JASON LINE: Yeah, so far so good. But you know, I've got a feeling it's going to get a little bit tougher. But it's still fun to be off to such a good start.
Q. You've really struggled the last couple of years trying to get into the show. How excited were you with the No. 1 qualifying effort?
ERICA ENDERS: I was very excited, but as Jason can probably attest to; that being in the No. 1 spot doesn't say a whole lot for Sunday. It's almost a cursed position. To come from the trials and tribulations over the past couple of years and driving a car that wasn't competitive, I can't pay for that seat time.
So that was crucial. And I wouldn't have had the opportunity that I do now to drive for Victor and ZaZa Energy had I not been in Jim's car.
You don't take it for granted when you're doing well, but you forget how great it feels until you have it all taken away from you. And you know, I want to focus the fact on you don't take it for granted, because we have run well before and it's exciting, and you kind of lose sight of everything until it's all gone.
So where I came from last year to coming out at the first event and qualifying No. 1 and going to Gainesville and having a good run and getting the top seed, I'm excited about the year, and the fans have been great. I've had an up and down career in Pro Stock as far as qualifying and not qualifying and changing teams and manufacturers.
It feels great to still feel the love and to be paired back with a great group of guys, I think I've said this in a number of interviews this year, but I think people are key to making a program work and I've definitely got the right people?
Q. Were you surprised that Kurt Busch put up as good of a run as he did his first time out in Pro Stock?
ERICA ENDERS: You know, I'm not, because I know how hard he worked at this. He did not just go to a test session and learn how to drive a car. He worked on it since last October and November, and has been to a number of test sessions and made quite a few runs on the car.
I said it in Gainesville, I think it speaks volumes for what kind of a driver he is, because these cars are not easy to drive there. It's a challenge and they throw something different at you, every single time you get in the car and just watching him test in Bradenton and then qualify and what not in Gainesville; he was under a ton of pressure to begin with and all of the extra media attention and the NASCAR fans and the NHRA drivers that wanted to see him do well.
Jeg has helped me from day one from a driver's standpoint.
I think he did a great job. And his run on Sunday was awesome. I was really lucky to leave first, because we didn’t have a great run in that right line. We were light on clutch and I mean, it was great for us and for ZaZa Energy to be able to edge him out but I think he did a tremendous job of driving; these cars are really hard.
Q. Has Jeg given you any pointers about this car and some of its idiosyncracies?
ERICA ENDERS: Jeg has helped me from day one from a driver's standpoint. He's been a great friend over the years, and he's close to Rich, my boyfriend, and we actually hung out with him in Bella Rose this weekend. He'll shoot me text messages when we were in Pomona or Gainesville and congratulating me and telling me good job and whatever else. So, yes, he's been helpful to me a lot. He's a great guy.
THE MODERATOR: One more follow up question, it seemed that the KB Racing Team had a rough off season with the back surgery that you had and the trailer fire that happened almost right after the championship was won by Greg. Did you guys feel that sitting second race into the season, going into the third race that you would be one and two in the Pro Stock category?
JASON LINE: That's a tough question to answer. You know, it's hard to say. We always have high expectations but the truth of it is, this it off season was a breeze compared to the one before, because you know with Ken having a stroke, it really had a profound effect on all of us.
As Erica said, things can slip away from you in a hurry. With Ken, he's more than our team owner. We love the guy, and he loves us, and he's been so many more things to me and all of us here than just a team owner. He's a one of a kind kind of guy. So the fact that we run up the trailer and all of the parts, that can be relayed and we have the manpower and equipment to fix that stuff.
It was not as huge a deal. We kind of made a joke out of it; that we never really liked that car, anyway, even though it won the championship for us. We were able to laugh about it because of what happened to us the previous years.
So I don't know if it's a surprise or not, but it's definitely a nice thing for sure and we have always felt like we have had the team to do this, but sometimes aligning all of those things together and actually putting it together on the racetrack and talking about it are two very different things. But either way, a nice way to start the year, and hopefully we can carry that through.
THE MODERATOR: We would like to thank both Jason and Erica for being on the call and we will let them get back to their shops and what they are doing. Thank you both for being on the call with us.
We'll go ahead and go on to Funny Car points leader Mike Neff and then we'll open it up for questions. After tuning the same Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang driven by John Force to its 15th World Championship in 2010, Mike once again climbed back into the driver's seat for the 2011 season.
Mike was not only driving his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang but also serving as the crew chief on the car, a task that could seem heavy for any driver or tuner. But success came quick with a semifinal finish at the season opening race in Pomona and a win and the points lead at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gator Nationals just a few weeks ago. He now sits 26 points ahead of second place driver Matt Hagan entering the Las Vegas race.
Mike, you must have been excited when you got the word from John that you would be racing again this year. But what did you think when he said you would also be tuning your own car?
MIKE NEFF: I was probably more shocked than anything when I first found out that Ashley (Force Hood) was pregnant with what was going to be taking place or that I was going to be going back in.
I knew that we had talked about it before; that we knew it would be a possibility at some point. I didn't know it would be this year, next year or the following year; at some point Ashley would want to have a child. I kind of knew that if that happened, there was a good chance, John had told me that I would be back in there.
And after tuning last year, I kind of knew that that would be probably the best way to do it would be to have Bernie help me and everybody else, and we just all pitch in. That was the most, probably the easiest way out for us.
Q. I was wondering, since Gainesville, how long did it take for John to ask for his car back, or has he?
MIKE NEFF: No, he hasn't yet. I've been waiting for it, but no, all of these cars, they are all pretty much the same, and I know he's maybe not off to the start that he wanted, but that's just kind of the growing pains when you go to a different car, different team.
But he'll be right back in the fight in no time. There's no question, that's a great team over there, with Ashley's car with Team Antonelli and Ron Douglas over there. There's no doubt John Force will be swinging back here real fast because he definitely wants to win.
Q. You've crewed, you've driven and now you're pulling double duty on the car. How gratifying is it to win after your first season in the car, winning the final race, and now winning the second race in, how gratifying is that doing the double duty?
MIKE NEFF: It was really exciting to win Gainesville, like you said, doing both and just the pressure of it all, and just having a great weekend like that, it was, and like I said, you know, and I mean this, that was probably without a doubt the best day of racing I've ever had in my life.
You know, even the whole week, it just was a lot of stress and a lot of nerves and to just see it all, fall up through and end up winning that the way we did it was just very gratifying and just a great experience, great feeling.
Q. You talked in Gainesville about how it's important for you just personally to be a good driver; that that's an important thing. You want to be recognized as a good driver. But without doing more than you're doing already, how do you find time to clear your mind and focus only on driving?
I believe that the worst thing a driver can do is start thinking.
MIKE NEFF: Well, you know, I think it's almost helpful to where when like before, when all I was doing was driving, you would have all of that time to sit around and think about it, and.
I believe that the worst thing a driver can do is start thinking. When you get up there and psychologically, I need to do this, I need do that; it seems like the more you think, the more trouble you get yourself into.
So the one positive thing about now is that now I've gotten so much stuff going that I don't have time to sit around and worry about the driving or my reaction times or anything like that. And I think that almost helps me, because when it's time to finally get in there, you just go and do it and doesn't feel like I'm playing all of those mind games with myself like I used to the last time I drove.
So I think it's helping.
Q. You're not a rookie anymore now, too.
MIKE NEFF: I don't have any excuse any more so that that hurts.
Q. Well, you weren't making any excuses before. Did you have to adjust the car physically for to you drive it? Was there a lot of adjustments that way?
MIKE NEFF: No. Honestly, no, it was very minimal, very different feet insert for me, as opposed to John. And you know, moved the brake handle around a little bit and the steering wheel. And that was it. So it was just very minimal here and just was able to just hop in and go. So that made it nice.
Q. You said you got a couple calls. Was one of them Gary Scelzi?
MIKE NEFF: Yeah, I did call him that night. He was excited. He had texted me prior to that. Yeah, I did call him that night when I got to dinner. He was excited for me, and it was we had a good laugh . It was good talking to Gary again.
THE MODERATOR: After missing the Countdown to the championship in 2010, Cruz Pedregon came out in the playoffs and all but dominated the class racing his way to win in Charlotte and Redding, two of the six races in the Countdown Playoffs. That success did not end when 2011 began as Cruz drove his Snap On Tools Toyota to the No. 1 qualifying position in Pomona and picked up a runner finish at the recently completed Tire Kingdom NHRA Gator Nationals. Cruz enters the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas fourth in the points standing 40 points behind Mike Neff.
Cruz what has it meant to you to have the success you've had early in the season, especially against so many multi car teams?
CRUZ PEDREGON: Well, saying it's meant a lot would be an understatement for sure. It's meant a lot to me, the team, and everybody involved with the car, Snap On and everyone.
What really feels great is to be able to carry the momentum from last year and carry it on, because in the off season, you kind of make changes and we started with a different car. I was reluctant, but felt like we needed to rest our reliable car from two years ago, the 2008 championship car. We ground it out last year, so I felt, okay, let's start off with a fresh car. Again, that's making changes that really were not warranted, but we felt like we needed to load our gun so to speak.
So we made some changes and freshened up everything. So to be able to continue and go down to a test session in Palm Beach, run the second quickest time down there in 4:04 or 3:11, 3:12, I believe it was and we were not pressing to run fast. We were trying to go A to B and make sure the car was working good and the car jumped up and ran good on its own.
At Pomona, conditions were fast and we were able to take advantage of the track and conditions and run a 4:01 which put us on the pole, and unfortunately second round we ran into a little clutch issue which eventually bit us in the final round against Neff. But I think overall, we would have to give ourselves a B plus for our performance so far.
Q. Carrying on from where you left off last year and having such a good start this year, how much confidence does the team have looking towards the Countdown and a shot at the championship?
CRUZ PEDREGON: We are confident, and I would say that carefully, because I don't want to be overconfident. But I think we have I think we are in a good position where we can say, you know, we are confident, but the battle continues every week. Every week we have a new set of conditions.
Obviously Vegas coming up will be a different kind of challenge because that's a little bit of altitude. And we might get some heat on the track but overall we are confident.
And I can tell you this; that I remember those days where the last two years in a row were so hard for me, because I would see the different drivers go up and put their name during the morning pre race thing, I would see the drivers put their name in the Top 10 and I thought, man, sure to be wise though do that some day.
So I'm looking forward to the day that we can walk up there and put our name in the hat or on the Countdown because it's been tough lessons but we are turning that into motivation to make sure we get on the stage this time.
THE MODERATOR: A question for Mike. How do you read the track, and then get back to the pit and into the car in time to make the precise adjustments when there's only a 60 , 70 minute turnaround?
MIKE NEFF: I really don't have time to go out there any more; plus the restrictions that NHRA has put on the crew chiefs for getting the out there and looking at the track, it's very limited to what it used to be.
But fortunately for us, we have Lanny Miglizzi that works for us and that's what his job is. He's up there all of the time watching the track preparation and getting track temp'ed and keeping us updated. That's what made it a lot easier for me is that when it is time to go up there, he's reporting back and keeping me updated with what's going on, so there's really almost no need for me to have to go up there anymore.
So it's definitely helpful.
Q. Cruz, this is your best start since that 2008 championship season. Did you have that championship feel that early on in '08, and do you have anything like that now?
We have a pretty good car right now and they were we were just keeping up with those guys.
CRUZ PEDREGON: Oh, no. There was nothing sealed about it until in fact, when they did all of the math, I wanted to make sure that there was no errors, because I didn't want to be jumping up and down like a fool and have it not really be reality.
But this is a long, hard fought this is going to go down to the end. In fact, I have to give credit to Mike. We have a pretty good car right now and they were we were just keeping up with those guys. I mean, you know, we were the better car won in Gainesville. I want to make sure I say that, because you know, I don't know if we would have beat Mike with what we had pulling up there, so hats off to those guys.
It's going to go down you have John Force back there, he's one of those old, wily veterans that will be swinging here pretty quick and obviously the cars that contend every year, Beckman and Hagan and some of those guys.
But I just want to be in the fight. I just want to be in the mix, because you know, I hope that I can rely on my championship experience. It's like the playoffs, you have to get in it and then hope you get hot at the end. But I think if we are in it, we can who knows, we might have something to say.
Q. And Mike, how involved, if at all, are you going to be with court any's testing this year?
MIKE NEFF: I won't be really involved in it at all. Guido and Ron are going to actually I think Ron Douglas is kind of heading up her car more than anybody. So he and Guido will tune that and run her on Monday. So I really won't really have much to do with that at all.
Q. Wondering, where is it tougher to compete against, John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing, is it for sponsorship away from the track or at the track itself?
CRUZ PEDREGON: Well I, don't think we compete against those guys for sponsorships. In fact, I don't think we do compete against those guys for sponsorships. They offer a whole different package than we did. They have multiple cars and we have a whole different, I guess, portfolio or whole different scenario.
But I think on the track, they present we have our challenges. We have our hands full with those guys. I would say that just when you think the Schumacher team is going to take off and reel off a bunch of wins, the John Force team does that. But I think they are both tough. I wouldn't say one is tougher than the other. They are both extremely tough.
But on the other hand, they force us to make sure that we do all we can to run with them and hopefully we can get our licks in once in awhile.
Q. How much of this goes back to your championship that you know you can beat these guys, but just need a break here or a break there to do that.
CRUZ PEDREGON: Well, you know, last year we were running on a pretty thin budget. This year, I think we can run as hard as we can without having the budget even being an issue. So I'm not even going to bring up budget this year, because I feel like we have the adequate budget to go out and blow a body or two off and maybe blow a couple of motors up and not have to change the way we run the car.
We are running the car the way we run it start to finish without even I don't even consider when I'm at the track, I don't consider the budget. I completely turn into a racer and we just try to run it the way we think we need to run it to maximize our performance.
Certainly the dynos and test equipment and being able to run the cars and have different feedback from different cars, I think that's an advantage that we can't what I've learned to do is not worry about what we don't have; just focus on our strengths and that's just be gritty and go out there. And, like I said, I like our chances. We have a good car. It will run with any car out there. In fact, you can look at the ET slips and figure that out. So I think we just have to go out and just earn it now.
THE MODERATOR: We would like to thank our drivers for joining us on this conference call.