Beckman, Lucas - NHRA teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Jack, at a press conference last Wednesday before Sonoma, I saw you looking at points, what you needed to get in. Talk about how different it is in the Countdown era versus years past. JACK BECKMAN: I'll give you a...

Continued from part 1

Q: Jack, at a press conference last Wednesday before Sonoma, I saw you looking at points, what you needed to get in. Talk about how different it is in the Countdown era versus years past.

JACK BECKMAN: I'll give you a perfect example of why NHRA is ruining the drivers' lives with this Countdown format.

Our team, we went into Seattle in 10th place, won one round of racing, left in 10th place. Pre-Countdown format would have been a completely disappointing weekend. We didn't achieve our goals of making it to the final round and winning the race. Now that NHRA has implemented the countdown, increased the level of excitement, now we're starting to look at crumbs as being more important.

In Seattle we didn't accomplish our goals. By the three cars behind us losing first round, we actually left with a bigger points lead. Then the exact same thing happened in Sonoma. Typically two second-round losses in a row would be a major letdown for any team like ours. But it actually was a small sense of accomplishment for us simply because we stretched our points lead in there.

I think that's the excitement that this countdown generates, before they take it to 10 cars, and then it's going to be incredibly exciting because it's kind of analogous to NASCAR waving a yellow flag. At Indy we all bunch up again. And the people that were down there in seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, now if they're on a roll, actually have a very realistic shot of running for the championship, where in years past, typically those cars would be 10, 14 rounds out of first place and you would basically be racing for a top five spot.

MORGAN LUCAS: We were talking about the same thing in our pit this weekend. Like what would happen if Schumacher went out and dominated like he did all year long, and for whatever reason when the Countdown hit, he struggled and somebody else wins the championship? It can make or break the whole deal. That's the beauty of it and also at the same time the tragedy. You never know what's going to happen. What Jack is saying, basically at the end of the year you can either hate it or you can love it, but it can make or break you.

JACK BECKMAN: You look at Tony Schumacher right now has a 20-round lead. He literally could sit out four races and still be the points leader. After Indy, what that will amount to is a 30-point lead. He'll have one and a half rounds of cushion instead of a 20-round cushion, so it's going to be interesting.

Q: Jack, obviously with the thousand-foot rule and everything pretty much to the end of the season, how will that affect your Countdown strategy? Is it something that you would be comfortable with the rest of the season? How do you adjust?

JACK BECKMAN: It's not a big adjustment. The reality for us it's about seven, seven-and-a-half 10ths of a second. We're just shutting off at a different point. I think it's made a lot of us breathe a lot easier because you could have something go wrong, a late chute deployment, a brake issue, an engine malfunction at the top end, and still get these cars stopped. But the biggest issue is that cutting out that last 320 feet, the stress on these 8,000 horsepower motors, you're going to see a lot less explosions. The side benefit is way less oil down, less downtime. The fans aren't going to have to stand in the stands and watch these trucks roll on the racetrack for a while.

But tune-up-wise, you know, I talked to our crew guys. I said, 'Can we make our cars quicker now that we know they don't have to survive another 320 feet?' What we're doing right now is accelerating these cars as hard as we possibly can, and the clutches don't completely lock up till roughly about 700 feet down track. I think the only possible increment of the racetrack where you can gain some ET from the new thousand-foot format would be from 700 foot to a thousand foot. And I don't think there's much more than a hundredth of a second out there. So we're really not taking any different of an approach.

Q: Morgan, being on the bubble at this point in the season, what does it do for your strategy? Do you kind of go all out? Do you try to play it a little bit safe or what?

MORGAN LUCAS: It kind of goes back to that phrase 'God hates a coward.' You know, we know we've got to be aggressive about getting the round wins and trying to make our own destiny, trying to basically block out Dave Grubnic or Doug Kalitta. These are priorities for us. But you have to also go a level ahead. You can't go in and with -- you have to compensate, but you've got to know there's still a chance. You just basically have to put the extra work in. And as far as from the driving aspect, you know the team has put the actual work in. At the end of the year, bonus money-wise that could be the difference of, you know, I can't even say how much between, you know, these guys in their household, that's a lot of money.

Q: Do you like the week off and what do you kind of do?

MORGAN LUCAS: There's the lake, there's golfing. Actually, to be honest with you, this week, I think Jack will back me up on this one, it's nice to take a couple days and breathe and think about what you have coming up, but not engulf yourself into it. Because, you know, just like anything else, you can think about it too much. To be honest with you, I work out, I golf, I eat and I hang out with my girlfriend. That's my life. You know, and think about racing, of course, that's probably number one.

This week, going to be fun, looking forward to coming up to Brainerd. I think we're going to have a practice in Reading on Friday morning up there (for the Charity Softball game in Reading, at the home of the Reading Phillies). Actually a street fair thing going on in Minneapolis Wednesday night. We've just got a lot of stuff. Just trying to get ready for it.

JACK BECKMAN: My grandfather grew up in Minnesota, so I got a lot of relatives coming out. It will be fun for that. You guys have that zoo deal out there. I hear those people wait 11-and-a-half months out of the year and save up all their adrenaline. So that's the fun part about coming to Brainerd. But more specifically with the racing and our personal lives, my wife, I and our 16-month-old baby did the Western Swing in our motorhome. And they're going to be staying at home. I'm going to be flying out for the next couple of races. It's going to be tough not having them. But getting back home, it's kind of nice to unwind a little bit. I was really disappointed. First thing when I did when I came home, called my surf buddy, he said there's no waves up there. That's usually how I try to unwind.

But it will be nice to get back into a little normalcy. However, our guys schlepped all the equipment right back to Indy. Not only did they work business as usual, but if you can imagine, the wear and tear on the parts from three weekends in a row racing, these guys actually worked extra hard.

So the interesting thing is a lot of the crews can't wait to get back to the racetrack because they almost don't have to work as hard as catching up from this three-race swing. Because we've got a little bit of momentum going now, I'm really excited to get back out there.

Q: There's so many things a driver has to do to adapt. Do you think the ability to adapt and adjust is the best skill a driver can have? If so, what can anyone do to improve on that?

JACK BECKMAN: Drag racing, it's such a mental sport. The people that overplay the physicality of drag racing are really missing what it's all about. When that crew chief motions you forward into the stage beam, there's not much you're doing physically. You've got a hand brake, a foot throttle and a steering wheel. You're not bench pressing 300 pounds. It's about controlling your emotions and doing the things that you need to do. And a lot of times something out of the ordinary will happen. The idol will stick on the burnout. They'll have difficulty when the body is up doing the fuel system changeover. In a Top Fuel car like Morgan's you might have your visor fog up. Funny Cars have air tanks in there.

Yes, I totally think the ability to overcome distractions and stay focused on the task at hand is the biggest trait.

Now, when you leave the starting line, you've got another series of events that can happen. You've got to keep that car in the groove. If it goes out there and starts to shake, you have to make a split-second decision. Sometimes it will drive through the shake and you'll be okay. If it doesn't, you better be off and on that throttle as quick as possible. Morgan is one of these few drivers that can actually drive with the brake on a run which is a pretty cool skill. When you're getting down track, you're listening to your motor, feeling the car. If it's a qualifying run, you're already in, it does something funny, you're after the throttle immediately much

If it's qualifying and you need that run or if it's elimination, it's a totally different set of parameters that you operate by. So there's a lot of things to occupy your mind in less than four and a half seconds.

MORGAN LUCAS: It's funny, at the end of a run, four and a half seconds, you can talk about it like it was a half hour rollercoaster ride.

Q: The reports about the nitromethane shortage, how much of a concern is that with the teams, particularly with you as a driver, testing for the rest of the year?

JACK BECKMAN: I'm going to take the testing part of that. Any time that there's a change, there's always unintended consequences whether good or bad. Not being able to test theoretically impacts all the teams exactly the same, except for a lot of the teams implemented the new mandatory sticker tube chassis earlier in the year when they were able to test, and it was a smooth transition.

Many teams, including ours, didn't do it because we had a long wait in line to get our brand-new chassis. We were faced a very real prospect of bringing an untried car out there. We actually went up to an IHRA racetrack to make some test runs just to make sure that our car would go down the racetrack safely before we came out.

Cutting the racetrack to a thousand foot, unintended consequence, that saves about a gallon of nitro a run, which could make a difference. From what I understand, even though the price is just astronomical right now, we're going to be okay with these cutdowns that NHRA has made in testing and we'll be fine for the rest of the year.

But also going to a thousand foot had the unintended consequence of almost penalizing the big mile-an-hour cars, which is interesting. You look at a lot of these cars that are quick early but don't seem to run well the last 400 feet, this theoretical played right into their hands. I think it's exciting. We've changed tires, chassis, we've eliminated testing, but yet you're still seeing good quality side-by-side racing. It's almost like it hasn't had any of the negative consequences we thought could happen.

MICHAEL PADIAN: Folks, thanks for participating in today's call.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta