Bernstein, Hight teleconference, part 1

NHRA POWERADE DRAG RACING SERIES TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIP BRANDON BERNSTEIN AND ROBERT HIGHT THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the media and our special guests to today's NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series teleconference. We're joined today...


THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the media and our special guests to today's NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series teleconference. We're joined today by two of the season's hottest drivers, Brandon Bernstein, driver of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil Dragster in Top Fuel; and Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car.

Both drivers are currently second in the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship in their respective categories. Only 10 races remain until the Countdown to Four begins at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and Championship contenders are established as the top eight racers in each pro category and Championship points are reset.

Brandon has earned two victories in three final rounds and currently trails Top Fuel Series leader Rod Fuller with 23 points heading into next week's weekend O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at scenic Bristol Dragway in northeast Tennessee.

Robert has won two times and has advanced to four final rounds. Robert has also earned two No.q qualifying positions. Robert is currently 121 points behind Funny Car Series leader Ron Capps.

Brandon, we'll start with you. Now that we're seven races into the season, the Countdown to the Championship Playoffs is fast approaching. Do you feel that there's been a higher sense of urgency these first races compared to past seasons, and has it affected your team's race-to-race strategy?

BRANDON BERNSTEIN: Well, I think there's definitely an urgency to be in that top eight. To begin the season, we know it's a long season, so there's going to be a lot of cars and a lot of changes in that top eight. But we just try and focus in on trying to be in that top eight. You know, it's kind of just changed our dynamic just a little bit just to know that the eight number is the key number, and you have to be in that, and we just kind of race to be in that top eight and hopefully be up there in the top two, three, four, and be able to be in a good position with points.

THE MODERATOR: Robert, when you look at the competition in Funny Car and the quality of cars that haven't been qualifying in every race, does that give you a certain sense of pride to know that your team has been to four finals in seven races this year?

ROBERT HIGHT: Yes, it does, but at the same time, also, it gives you a little fear, too, because there are so many good Funny Cars in this class, and you know you could be on the outside looking in on Sunday if everything doesn't go just right. It's a little scary, last weekend in St.Louis having only two qualifying runs, and you know, I think the Countdown does help a little bit early in the season so that if you're not perfect but you're steady, you're going to be in the top eight. But there are no guarantees in Funny Car or Top Fuel, that's for sure, with the amount of good cars. You know, our focus still is to go to each race and do the best we can, and I believe with the Countdown or without the Countdown, either one, the best car is still going to win the Championship.

THE MODERATOR: Now we'll take questions from the media.

Q: This question is for both of you guys. Looking ahead to Bristol a little bit, they've just kind of fixed the whole launching area there, and nobody has run on it yet. Does that change anything about you guys' setup or your approach or anything heading into the Bristol race?

ROBERT HIGHT: My crew chief Jimmy Prock was actually at the Bristol track this morning, and he was looking it over, and with the way NHRA prepares the racetracks today, it'll have plenty of rubber, and it'll be seasoned by the time we get there.

BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I feel that Tim Richards, our crew chief, does the same thing. Once he gets to the racetrack he'll make that assessment, and the way that NHRA does prep the tracks down and the amount of sportsman cars that we have going down the track, it does help out a lot. So I'm sure that that track will be just fine.

Q: This is another question for both guys. I'd like to know, having multiple wins this early in the season, how much pressure does that take off of you as far as sponsors and other outside interests like that?

ROBERT HIGHT: Well, you know, we finished last season on a pretty good roll, you know. We were basically -- going into last weekend in St.Louis -- we had been in seven of the last ten finals leading back to Indy last year. So we had been on a pretty good roll and had a good race car. But you always want to start the season on a high note. Everybody takes the off-season off and works on new things and you go testing. Everybody has high hopes going into the season, and you know, guys like Mike Ashley, he stepped right up to the plate. He's been No.q qualifier the last three races, and he's on the verge of winning a lot of races here. To have already been to the finals and won, it's a big deal, but we've got to stay focused and continue going to the final.

BRANDON BERNSTEIN: We feel the same way. Obviously getting some wins early in the season, it does definitely take a little bit of the pressure off of the team, off of the sponsors, everything, because you know if you get going in the season, and say you're 10, 11 races into the season with no wins, it just kind of feels like a snowball effect, like, man, are we ever going to win a race? Or how long is it going to take? So it's nice to be out there early in the season and get those wins.

Q: Robert, I'm just wondering, what do you think it's going to take to jump ahead of (Ron) Capps in the points standings?

ROBERT HIGHT: It's going to be tough, I'll be honest with you. He's already out to a pretty big lead on us, and there is no sign of his team struggling. They go a lot of rounds. They go down the racetrack probably more than anybody else. You know, they don't make the big runs that a lot of the teams make, but they make good enough runs to win a lot of rounds. Since we missed Houston from Eric (Medlen's) accident, you know, that put us a little behind. But to still be second here, you know, with the competition that we have, I'm pretty proud of our team. But I'll tell you, I don't see Capps faltering any time soon. We've actually been about the only car that can beat him this year. So we've got to do it on our own, that's for sure.

Q: Do you think his experience, as much experience as he has, you know, is really the difference?

ROBERT HIGHT: Yes, I do. You know, he's been at this a long time. He's been runner-up to John quite a few times. You know, that team has stayed together over there, and that's a big part of it is keeping all of your guys and the whole team together year after year. That's how I believe some of John's success came along, because he had the same team year after year, same guys, everybody knew their routine, they just did a perfect job, and that's what they're doing right now.

Q: Is there such a thing as a tune-up book for Bristol, and since the race has been in April with a lot of rain and now in May, can you throw that book out the window? This is a pretty wildcard race for you guys.

ROBERT HIGHT: Well, because it's in a different month this year, and also since it's a brand new racing surface, you're right. What we did last year is probably not going to apply this year. But in all honesty, what we did last year with our race cars doesn't usually apply the next year anyway because there's so many changes. To be the best and get better and run better all the time, you're always continuously changing things. You know, we know that Bruton Smith is going to prepare that place first class, and it's already a first class racing surface. It's going to be fun going to a new surface and letting the crew chiefs get in there and do what they do.

BRANDON BERNSTEIN: I agree with Robert. I think that definitely with Tim Richards, our crew chief, is going to look at some past data. But for the most part, year to year the tracks change, atmospheric conditions are so different, and obviously it being a different month, we're going to see some different climates. It's just going to be one of those deals where we just go in and try and race the racetrack.

Q: For both of you, is there anything that is particular that's done special for competition at the Bristol track that you don't see anywhere else in the country?

ROBERT HIGHT: I would say no. You know, I would say if there's one racetrack that we do different things at, it would be Denver because of the high altitude. But the rest of them, basically the same tune-up will apply. You have your track temperature, you have your atmospheric conditions, and you have your elevation. All the crew chiefs have formulas for how they prepare the race car based on what we have at that given time, and the only really different place, like I say, is Denver with the high altitude. You know, we have to add compression and we change pistons, and it's a pretty big ordeal to go to Denver. A lot of fun, though. Anyway, the other places you can basically look off of -- I believe once we make a run in Bristol we'll be able to go back to what we did at St.Louis and compare and make changes.

BRANDON BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I totally agree with what Robert said. It's definitely the only place really that we see that is obviously different is Denver, like he said. You're going to see in Bristol, obviously it's going to be a great surface and it's just going to be good racing.

Q: My question is mainly for Robert. I'm interested in the safety changes now in the cockpit. When you guys went to Vegas, John expressed his concerns about the safety changes with the added padding and so forth, and then you went ahead and raced in Vegas anyway. You've had a couple of races now, a couple events under your belt. How is it in the car? Are you comfortable? Are there more changes that you think need to be made?

ROBERT HIGHT: Yes, I'm very comfortable in the car right now, actually more so than I've ever been, which actually that's a good thing. I believe that our seatbelts, the way we've changed them, has been one of the biggest changes. It really holds you in the car and in that seat to where you cannot move around. Being able to be tight is a good thing. But it also makes you more part of that race car, and I think I can feel things and feel what the car does better than I used to. So that's a plus. But what we can't forget is we've got to keep looking forward. You know, I'm sure we don't have perfect environment yet, and we've still got to get with experts and people that really know what they're talking about and ultimately get the safest race car we can.

Continued in part 2

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Mike Ashley , Tim Richards , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller