Ashley Force Hood, Larry Dixon - NHRA teleconference

NHRA teleconference July 7, 2009 An Interview With: ASHLEY FORCE HOOD LARRY DIXON THE MODERATOR: I'm going to move along with the nitro categories and the next driver I would like to introduce is Ashley Force Hood. She is the driver of the ...

NHRA teleconference
July 7, 2009

An Interview With:
ASHLEY FORCE HOOD
LARRY DIXON

THE MODERATOR: I'm going to move along with the nitro categories and the next driver I would like to introduce is Ashley Force Hood. She is the driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Ashley has one win in four runner-up finishes to lead the Funny Car points standings for the second time in her career.

You were in this position in spring of '08 before finishing the season in sixth place. What, if anything, did you learn from that experience last year that you think you can use this year now that you're back in first place?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: Well, I think last year really showed us that you can really quickly go from hero to zero and back again. We had a great spring and went to three finals and won in Atlanta and then went into a huge slump with some first-round losses and not qualifying and that totally set us back from all of the success that we had earlier in the year.

So this year, you know, with every final we have gone to and every race that we have done well at, we have tried to not get too far ahead of ourselves and know that it could change very instantly and just keep working at it and cope trying to go around every weekend and try to be consistent and hopefully at the end of the summer we can still be up high in the points.

THE MODERATOR: Next I'd like to introduce Larry Dixon driver of the Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing Dragster. Larry has won three of the last four races and four overall to move into second place in the Top Fuel standings.

Larry, you have experienced the Western Swing as a crew member and you are only one of six NHRA Full Throttle Series drivers to have swept the Western Swing, so you have aswide-ranging perspective of the Western Swing as anyone out there. Tell us from that perspective of a crew member, of a driver, what is it that makes this stretch of races through Denver, Seattle and Sonoma in three weeks so difficult.

LARRY DIXON: It makes me glad I'm not a crew member anymore. Now the miles that the teams have to drive in between all of these races, from starting out at our Brownsburg, Indiana shop, just doing that leg of tour in three weeks is a lot; let alone having to service the equipment and everything and getting ready for next event. It a lot of work on the teams, and the crew chiefs; it's a lot just in the preparation for the event.

The elevation changes, the track surface changes, you start out at Denver where you're a mile-high in elevation and you finish off in Sonoma where you're right at sea level. So it's definitely challenging for the teams and being fortunate enough to have won all three, I just feel lucky to be a part of that deal, and obviously we are going to go out there and try and do it again.

THE MODERATOR: Is there any more stretch of races on the tour that is more of a team effort between driver, crew and crew chief than these three races?

LARRY DIXON: I don't really think so. Just from the standpoint of how many miles you travel in between each race, and how different all of the tracks are. Obviously we are all racing 1,000 foot, and that's about the only thing that is the same. We are starting out with such a nice facility (in Denver) the Bandimeres, what they have done, and what they have developed with the cooling underneath the racetrack to try and give the racers as much -- give them everything they possibly can, and with the shut down areas and sand traps that they have developed, I'm really looking forward to going to Bandimere (Speedway in Denver) this weekend.

Q: With your four wins, are you ahead of any pace that you might have hoped for when the season started with you hooking up with Alan?

LARRY DIXON: I don't know, I don't really look that way. You try and just go into every event and try and do well, and obviously going into (the 2009 season-opener in) Pomona, we laid a big egg and didn't even qualify for it.

You know, just going to the next event and qualifying was a celebration, but getting four wins out of the first 12 races we have run so far, and everybody is in a little different position, me just being in a different team, Jason McCulloch , he's a crew chief now, all of the guys on the team; Alan Johnson back being a team owner again. It's a lot.

Looking back, every racer will look back on all of the races you didn't win and you know that you give some away, but to still be able to go the first half of the season and win four out of the 12, I think it speaks a lot of what our team has done just to start out from nothing to get to where we are right now.

Q: Ashley, do you believe that the limited testing has hurt your dad and Robert's performance so far? They have been doing some during the race testing to get ready for the Countdown.

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: I think it's added to everyone's struggle and frustration that every lap, even not full run, half-track passes, launches everything helps in testing not just for the team but for the drivers just to gain more experience and track time.

But you know, that's part of the game, and you know, you go along with the rules and everybody is in the same boat. So it is frustrating though because they always love to have that option of having to have testing and they have always really utilized it.

It's definitely a big difference this year, but thankfully I think they are kind of getting the hang of things and starting out and are starting definitely upward on the tough time that they have been having so far this year.

Q: Have you become accustomed to actually being home on Mondays instead of testing?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: There's pluses and minuses. We like to have a that extra time to get home but on the flipside we love to have that testing come race week and you need that extra right there behind you.

But funny, listening to Larry talking about being at home and listening to Larry Dixon's answer earlier about the Western Swing and the struggle for the guys to be on the road that much, and I'm actually packing up right now in our RV right now to go to the Western Swing and I might just turn around, because I'm thinking, 'Oh, no, I don't know what I'm getting myself now.'

But the time you do have at home, I think most racers, especially right in the mid of the season, it's almost a waste of time, you would rather be at the track and stay in the groove of things rather than you get home and it's a change of pace. I think for the rest of the summer, we'll be on the road and taking it as an adventure.

THE MODERATOR: You asked about where Larry was this season relative to past seasons with his wins. His two winningest seasons for Larry were his championship seasons of 2002 and 2003, Larry won nine races in 2002 and eight in 2003, and of course, we are at the exact halfway point of the season and he has four wins this year.

Q: When is the last time you drove for an unsponsored team, and I want to get your thoughts on the Sheikh, and obviously the fact that he's brought a lot of money into the series and done some good things.

LARRY DIXON: Well, first of all, we are very sponsored. We are sponsored by an entire country (Qatar). But Sheikh Khalid, he's very excited about how the two cars have won, with Del (Worsham) he won earlier this year at St. Louis and Bristol. And it's just trying to get both cars up to championship caliber, which is what I believe he and Alan Johnson both want. And so it's been very exciting and I feel very fortunate and flattered at the same time to be a part of this group.

Q: Your job is hardly a tame 9:00 to 5:00 routine. What about your job do you think is toughest in general for all drag racers, and what about your job is toughest for you?

LARRY DIXON: For me, I love the fact that it's not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. The last 9:00 to 5:00 job I had was working at Jack in the Box, and you spent the time watching the clock waiting so you could just go out and play.

Now, you go race on the weekends just for fun, and now to be a part of 20-plus years now, I've been out there racing, you know, whether it's crewing or driving, that is our jobs. And every day is different.

You can never just set the alarm clock at a certain number, because it might be -- you might be qualifying, you might be racing, you might be going to do appearances, you might just go into the shop. I mean, every day is different and I think that part of it makes it fun, because you never -- I almost know what I'm going to do every single day for the rest of the year, but every day is definitely not 9:00 to 5:00, but for me, that's the best part of. It.

Q: What's the most difficult part of the job for you, do you think?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: I'm in my third season in the Funny Car category, and I can really see that there's been a change each year in the challenges. Of course, the first year was just the car; it was all about the car and getting it on the racetrack and not hitting anything on my way, and that was really all my concerns were wrapped around that.

But as I've grown and learned a little bit more about how to drive these cars, it has taken a turn and this year, the challenge had a has been a part of it is just the pressure of it and the mental aspect of things. You think we race these 8,000-horsepower machines, that it's a very physical sport, but at the same time it's equally, if not more mental I think, and that's been really interesting for me.

I've been reading a lot of books on other athletes and just to see their take of things, because it's not something I ever remembered thinking about as a kid watching my father. I always thought, just get in and you race your car and whoever is quickest, wins but now I see that there is a whole other side of things and fortunately the team that I have, they are very into motivation and being positive about things and taking the best out of even a not-so-great race and they can see the good in it and it really helps me to not feel that pressure and not get mental about it, in that I do have that support and that we do work as a team that way.

I think that's been for me, this season, and I think of course for all drivers, just balancing everything; the travel and it's all exciting, fun things, doing media, working with the fans, your sponsors, driving the car, but there is a bit of learning to balance that, and you know, I've watched a lot of other racers and seen -- Larry is a perfect example, that he's able to be out there and have his family out there and have his kids and he's able to find that balance.

Every time I see him he seems happy and confident and good to be out there and I never see him having a mental breakdown and running around like crazy and it shows that he's able to find that balance and I'm still work on that, but luckily I do have the support of people around me. And no matter he how crazy I am, my father is always more crazy, so it makes rest of us look calm.

Q: Can you compare your growth looking back at Seattle, the run you had against Kenny Bernstein in the second round in Seattle, and compare that, what was going through your mind up to last week in Norwalk when you got on the track against Ron?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: It's all about experience. And I've had so many people tell me that, including my father. I've had some of the best people around to learn from, but yet it's never going to measure up to your own experiences, and that was the perfect example in Seattle.

I don't know how many times I've mentioned it since then. It (the crash at Pacific Raceways in Seattle in 2007) was actually a good thing for me. Obviously you never want to be in a wreck, you never want to hurt your race car or obviously yourself. But I learned more from that one run than a hundred good runs, because I was able to take that experience, and the next time I was in a situation similar to that, react off, you know, knowing what happened in the past and knowing how far I could push the car and knowing where I was on the track and what was going on.

And obviously I still have a long way to go, but I know that each -- each different experience I'm in, like it kind of gets built up in the back of your mind because you're not thinking these runs through. When you're in that car, it's happening so quickly, your body is just reacting.

So the more you have in the back of your mind to know how to react, the better you'll be off. It's so obvious to look at that now and see, and I tell my sisters (Brittany and Courtney) as they are moving up the ranks, I tell them, 'I can talk to you, and our dad can talk to you all you want until we are blue in the face, but it will be your other experiences in your race car that will make you a better driver.'

Not that I want any more wrecks obviously, never again, but that is a part of what do we do, and if you can take something from that it becomes a positive experience and down the road you'll look back and be thankful for.

Q: You're both at fairly different places in your career. What would one piece of advice each of you would have for someone who is maybe in the Lucas Oil Series or something like that who is looking to break into the top ranks, what would one piece of advice you would give to a young driver be?

LARRY DIXON: I think that whatever it is in your life, if you want to drive cars or tune cars or whatever, don't let anybody tell you no or you can't do it. You don't accept that as an answer. You've just got to go out there and do whatever you can to do what you want in life. Like I said, whether it's driving or tuning or whatever, it's just you know, just have that hundred percent desire and let that drive you.

You know, in 1993, I'm up in Ennis, Montana working on an Alcohol car not getting paid any money just so I can drive the car at Douglas, Wyoming on weekends. At the time you're asking yourself, like what the heck am I doing here. But at the same time, it's because this is what you want to do with your life, and you've just got to keep your eye on that target way down there and just don't let anybody tell you no.

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: You mentioned someone asking from the position of being in sports, I think the sportsman categories, they are great to race in. I know I have raced in super comp through my college years and I raced in an Alcohol dragster in three years before moving to Funny Car and I can't tell you how helpful that was to me. Yes, they are very different cars than the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car that I'm in today. But all of those years of experience and just learning the basics in those cars was huge for me. I mean, it was building blocks, and I didn't know at the time.

There were times where I would get frustrated and I wanted to move up quicker or I wanted to be in a different car or you know, I wanted something different. But now looking back, I'm so glad that I took that journey and learned that way. I could have, I guess, jumped up quicker if I chose to and if my dad wanted me to. But thankfully we are both on the same page and knew that that time in those cars would be helpful when I did move up, and now watching my sisters, they are running Alcohol dragsters, there's no need to rush.

And a million fans ask them every a day when are you moving to the Funny Car; that was the No. 1 question I got asked when I was in my dragster and I tell them: Don't let anybody rush you. They go 260 miles an hour and are not slow by any means and gives you experience and you will be that much better of a racer when you do move up and know that you are going to lessen that learning curve.

And I had quite a learning curve in Funny Car but it would have been a lot worse if I had not had those five years in the other categories. So I think it's a great place to be, and the people I got to meet and just a fun part in my life to take part of that and on top of it prepared me for the spot I'm in today.

Q: Larry you're one of only a handful of drivers to have swept the Western Swing, looking back at that (in 2003), do you consider that one of the great accomplishments of your career other than championships and 47 victories, just to clinch the swing?

LARRY DIXON: It's definitely an accomplishment, probably like winning the Boston Marathon or something. It's just something that's very hard to do there again because of the varying conditions and you know, doing that with Dick LaHaie, tuning our car at the time, that was his first, you know, sweep of the swing, as well.

So I mean, it was a lot of fun. They just posted the seven teams that have done it in the past on NHRA.com and their little moment in the sun for those deals and it was fun to just go back and look at that.

You know, the team I'm hooked up with now, most of those guys were part of Tony Schumacher's 2008 (Western Swing) sweep. It was good times and you just, you know, it's there and it's out in front of you and that's what we are all going to try and do, you know, starting this week.

Q: You get into this part of the season, particularly with the way things have gone in Funny Car, do you really experience any kind of lull, or do you focus all the way through; do you pretty much look at every segment the same way?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: I don't believe that we look at in any differently. I know we are excited to come to the Western Swing. You know, it's summertime and there's going to be a lot of kids at the races. The teams are excited to come over the to the West Coast, and for me, it's kind of my home track, going to Sonoma, going to these events that I used to go to as a kid because we were out for the summer from school.

So on a personal level, it's an exciting time of year for me. We want that much more to do well in front of our West Coast people and a lot of our sponsors from this side of the country, a lot of our family and friends that will come out to these events, so there's kind of that excitement in the air and knowing that right around the corner, you know, the Countdown is going to begin, Indy is coming up.

It's kind of an exciting time of the year but definitely a time you don't want to lose focus and you don't want to let yourself get behind. Every round counts, because at the end of the year, people have lost championships by a round or two.

So we are trying to stay focused on that and not let ourselves get in any kind of a lull and going into this Western Swing and hopefully do really well at it. I know my team is pumped and they want to sweep the Western Swing that Larry has been talking about on this call, and that's just amazing, seeing other drivers do that. When you get on a roll and have that magic with your team, that's when you do and my team is definitely pumped heading out this weekend and hopefully we'll do well.

Q: What are your feelings about the Ford engine in terms of durability, power, things like that?

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: You're actually going to ask me a technical question? Oh, no, Elon, my PR guy who is listening I'm sure is hitting his head on the table.

I'm a Ford girl. I've only ever driven Fords. I still have my F150 truck from when I was 15, 16 years old. I very much belief in Ford and every everything they put in their products.

And we've spent a lot of time at their headquarters earlier this summer in Michigan and talked to a lot of people and they explained to us the parts of the normal cars and everything can transfer and help us in what we do on the racetrack, because it's so much about safety and performance and all those kinds of things.

I can't give you a very good technical answer about the motor. I know our team is very happy and excited to race for Ford and hope to show them off this year in the Western Swing.

Q: I was asking more about some of the little quirks, just little differences between what you used to race.

ASHLEY FORCE HOOD: That that would be something you would want to talk to (crew chief Dean) Guido (Antonelli) about. I could come up with some kind of answer, but it would be way off and I would have to listen to my team in two days when I get there, sorry.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks everyone for joining us on today's call.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Schumacher , Dick LaHaie , Ashley Force