Beckman, Lucas - NHRA teleconference, part 1

NHRA teleconference July 29, 2008 An interview with Jack Beckman and Morgan Lucas MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to begin by welcoming the media who've joined us on today's countdown to the championship teleconference Before I introduce the ...

NHRA teleconference
July 29, 2008

An interview with Jack Beckman and Morgan Lucas

MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to begin by welcoming the media who've joined us on today's countdown to the championship teleconference

Before I introduce the drivers, first a couple of notes from the just-completed FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.

- Tony Schumacher's win was the 49th of his career, tying him with Don "The Snake" Prudhomme for seventh on the all-time NHRA wins list and moving him within three of Joe Amato for first on the all-time top fuel wins list. Amato won 52 races;

- Tony Schumacher became the sixth driver to win the western swing, joining joe amato, Larry Dixon, Cory McClenathan, John Force and Greg Anderson;

- Dave Connolly moved into the top 10 with his win. He passed warren Johnson and leads the six-time world champion Johnson by 52 points;

- With regard to the countdown to 1, Tony Schumacher clinched the no. 1 seed, and four more drivers -- antron brown in top fuel, Jason Line and Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle -- clinched playoff berths.

- Finally, a contingent from the new zMAX dragway at concord that included COO and president of SMI Marcus Smith toured Infineon Raceway on Friday and Saturday of last weekend to prepare for their inaugural race, the Carolinas NHRA Nationals, September 11-14. Any inquiries about the new facility in concord can be directed to Scott Cooper or Adrian Parker at 704-455-3209.

There are three races left in the 18-race regular season that will set the 10-driver fields for the NHRA playoff, the countdown to 1, beginning with next weekend's Lucas Oil NHRA nationals at brainerd international raceway.

And today, we have two of the drivers sitting right on the playoff bubble, Jack Beckman and Morgan Lucas. I will introduce each driver and then open it up to questions. To ask a question, hit star-1 on your keypad.

I'll begin with Jack Beckman, who drives the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger R/T for Don Schumacher racing. Jack, you began the western swing in 13th place, 56 points behind Bob Tasca and you exit the Western Swing in 10th place, 42 points ahead of Tasca. Last season, you won twice in the western swing, you didn't win this year, but you made a major move nonetheless so to begin let's get your thoughts on what these three races have once again meant to your season ...

JACK BECKMAN: Obviously last year was perfect. I guess we couldn't have scripted it better, except I would have liked not to have been in a slump going into it. This year we started off strong. We actually, at Houston earlier this year, which was race four, we were (second in) the points. Then we just dropped off the face of the earth, all the way down to 13th. We kind of dwelled there in the cellar for a while. We had I think a seven-race streak where we didn't win a single round. We had three DNQs. One of our DNQs, we were the next car in line behind Scott Kalitta when he had his tragic accident, which not qualifying was the last thing on my mind after that. We just need to make sure we rebound from that.

The Western Swing is interesting. It's three races in a row, and maybe more important, it's five races over six weekends. You know, we get a week off, then we've got to go do Brainerd and Reading back-to-back. It's not the time to go into a slump. It's not the time for the car to throw you a curve in the tune-up. With Goodyear implementing the new 25/50 tire at Denver, everybody was kind of holding their breath hoping it didn't cause a lot of issues. So far so good. It seems to be a great, predictable tire.

But leaving Denver with a runner-up, getting round wins in Seattle and Sonoma was exactly what we did need to do. We would have liked to have gotten some more round wins out of that, but the reality is each race we left better off in the points than when we came in there.

We're still not comfortable, though. We're two rounds ahead of the two cars behind us, and in 13th place our teammate Gary Scelzi who could go on a streak at any time. So I think we really need to win one of the next three races.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Next I'd like to introduce Morgan Lucas, who drives the Lucas Oil dragster. Morgan, you also made a move during the West Coast swing with two trips to the quarterfinals to get within nine points of 10th place Doug Kalitta and within 31 of ninth place Dave Grubnic. Why don't you talk about the performance of the dragster right now and what your team's mindset is heading into the final three regular season races?

MORGAN LUCAS: To be honest with you, the Western Swing is brutal on us, just like it is for everybody else. It's a fun set of races. But, you know, it's almost like who's going to last the most to kind of go the rounds. The thousand-foot deal has really kind of (indiscernible) with our tune-up. We're kind of looking forward to racing more like that this year.

To be honest with you, our main goal and focus right now is just getting one if not both cars in the top 10. I know JR (Todd)'s car, it's almost impossible at this point. But we're going to work our butt off to make sure it happens.

We actually got kind of a pretty good announcement. Just as of today, we hired Jimmy Walsh to come over. He's going to start running my car. That might add a pretty cool mix to things and hopefully he can bring a performance advantage over and maybe even get us further than just 10th or 9th, maybe get us around that 9th place spot so we have a little cushion.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Thanks. I'll open it up to questions now.

Q: Morgan, you mentioned, this is all about championships, you've grown up among champions. Do you feel champions have common traits and abilities, and if so could you identify a few?

MORGAN LUCAS: Well, I think in our sport, as far as when you're talking about being a professional Top Fuel or Funny Car driver, I think one of the biggest things from our standpoint to do is just be as consistent as possible. I think you see that in some people that can go up there, know how to react to things. It's almost like second nature for some of them. They don't buckle under pressure. That's a lot of characteristics that make a quality championship driver in my opinion. Joe was one of those kind of guys, you know, Amato. He was a great driver. You know, a great team owner, too, when I was around him. He just showed his personality, how he carried himself and everything else in life.

He's got it together. I think it was a good kind of beacon for me to work towards that as a driver, to try to be able to go up there and do the best I can every time.

Q: Jack, you know a lot about drivers. Obviously you taught a lot of them. Do race car drivers today need more and better skills than the racers of four or five decades ago that started out the sport?

JACK BECKMAN: Great question. I think that any time you put more competitive people in a single environment, it raises the level of performance for everybody. I think stick-and-ball sports you can make the same argument. Forty years ago most of the drivers were also the owners and the tuners. Their objective, quite different than ours today, was to make money. They did a lot of match races. They'd do as many as a hundred match races a year, so they'd beat the cars down road, unload 'em, drive, load 'em back up. So there wasn't this specialty. Today a lot of the drivers are just that, drivers. Our other duties include interacting with the fans, and with the sponsors and the media. So I think it has freed us up to focus on things that can help us be better at our single duty out there on race day.

To the question you asked Morgan, the character traits. I would say mental clarity, you know, ability to focus, ability to block out any distractions out there. That's what separates the good ones from great ones, not just in physical sports like baseball or football, but especially in a mental sport like drag racing.

Q: Jack, can you put your finger on what has helped you turn around your situation in the Western Swing?

JACK BECKMAN: Yes. A win light keeps coming on (laughs). It had been broken for several races. Morgan and I were actually talking about this. A lot of times it's not who you race, it's when you race 'em. You might go out there and have second low ET the first round and you race the person that had the quick ET. Conversely, you could have the second worst pass of that round and race the person who was slowest.

I think qualifying is important. I think that Morgan would agree with me that neither one of us have done a great job capitalizing on qualifying this year. What happens is you go up to first round not necessarily at a big disadvantage, but you do have one strike against you.

We are now making more consistent runs, but consistent doesn't win if it's not quick enough. But I think that the more times in qualifying that we can get our car down the racetrack, the more usable data it gives us to help us make it go quicker.

Q: Morgan, with the thousand-foot distance, the consistency of this new tire in three events, everything has tightened up, qualifying times and also the elimination runs. Has that made reaction time more important?

MORGAN LUCAS: When you think about the ETs tightening up, the qualifying orders, everything else, with the thousand-foot racetrack, your first thought should be reaction times are that much more important and they really are. You know, a lot of cars, they can go down the track, they start dropping holes, you see some ET difference there, some loss and gains. Now with this thousand-foot rule that we're racing with here, I mean, every car is within a half a 10th of each other for the most part. That reaction time thing is that much more important. That's something I've been working really hard at lately, trying to get better at. That way, as the time comes, believe me, when you're driving, you know how much work the guys put into it, you know how much work goes into everything. To make that one four-second lap, you don't want to be a guy that's coming back to the pits saying, 'Sorry about that, guys, we lost because I was on the tree.' You know, there's nothing worse than having to come in and basically admit to being the weak link in the situation.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Cory McClenathan , Jack Beckman , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Don Schumacher , Dave Connolly