NHRA teleconference March 3, 2009 An interview with: ANTRON BROWN RON CAPP MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to welcome the media on today's call to our teleconference with the respective points leaders in Top Fuel and Funny Car, Antron Brown and Ron...
March 3, 2009
An interview with:
MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to welcome the media on today's call to our teleconference with the respective points leaders in Top Fuel and Funny Car, Antron Brown and Ron Capps.
Before we begin, a couple of quick notes. First of all, next weekend's race, the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals, March 15th, will be televised on ESPN, not ESPN2. A programming note for you all. It will begin at 3 p.m. eastern time on ESPN.
I'm going to introduce Antron and Ron. I'll ask each to make an introductory statement, after which you will be able to ask questions of both of the drivers.
Antron, you have three wins in 26 Top Fuel races, which is pretty impressive, in the Matco Tools dragster, including one win and a runner-up in the first two races this season. You have a 42-point lead over Brandon Bernstein after the first two races. Rewind maybe six weeks to the middle of January when there was so much turmoil going on with the change in ownership and crew chiefs, could you have imagined this? Bring us up to speed now, if you thought this was possible.
ANTRON BROWN: Actually, it didn't take me by surprise. When we go back six weeks ago, it's just like we were thumbing along, everything was great, like a gravy train over here at the time with 3BRacing. The whole team had the car ready to go, set forth. We were getting ready for the upcoming test session at Phoenix, Arizona. Then we had the bomb dropped on us. We didn't know if we had a team owner, where my team owner (David Powers) basically told us he was getting out of the sport, he couldn't do it because of health reasons. We were a little bit in turmoil.
Later that afternoon, actually my team manager now, Tom, walks in the building and tells us that Mike Ashley took over the race team. At the time we found out that Lee Beard was going to be my crew chief. I was like, 'Oh, Lord, what's happening? Where are we going with all this?' They told us that Brian Corradi and Mike Oswald was going to be our crew chiefs. I knew we had two solid crew chiefs coming in. Made me feel better. But I was worried about my team getting separated.
Our team as a whole came together. They kept the majority of all the guys on our team. A couple of guys didn't want to stay. They were actually getting out of racing.
We went to Phoenix, and that's when our whole deal came together. The whole team jelled together well. We went out there and ran the quickest in Top Fuel. Gave me a boost of confidence to know what our team was capable of, all our hard work in the off-season paid off. Went to Pomona, qualified No. 1, went to the final. I was ecstatic, pumped up.
We pulled the win there in Phoenix. Gave me a continuing boost of confidence. We're a contender in the championship. We didn't know how our team was going to jell. I'm pretty stoked now because I know we have a strong team and we're only going to get stronger as the year goes on.
MICHAEL PADIAN: I'd like to introduce the points leader in Funny Car, Ron Capps. Ron has won the first two races of the 2009 season, to give him 26 Funny Car wins for his career, which ties him for top five for all time with Cruz Pedregon. He has 27 total wins, of course, with the one win in Top Fuel.
Ron Capps is the winningest Funny Car driver in NHRA history to have not won a championship. He has three second-place finishes: 1998, 2000, 2005.
Ron, I think it's fair to say you are among, if not the most, decorated driver to not win a championship. Crew chief Ace McCulloch is in the same boat. What's difference so far this season, the first two races, than last season (when you didn't win a race)? Where do you think it's going to take you 22 races from now (end of the season)?
RON CAPPS: Well, pretty much just the approach for this season from the get-go. I mean, when we left Pomona last year in '08, we ran the quickest run on Sunday and lost in the final. We ran 4.07 or 4.08, one of our quicker runs for the year. By a lot of team standards, we had a pretty good year. For our standards last year, we were kind of embarrassed with ourselves with how we finished. We finished eighth. We didn't win a race. We were in final rounds. We didn't live up to our expectations.
At the end of the day, of course Don Schumacher, NAPA being our sponsors there, they want us to win. But it's Ace and I and the team that have to wake up in the morning and know we're not having the kind of year we wanted to have.
When we left Pomona, even though we ran good, he completely re-did the tune-up on the car, went back to basics, and started from scratch, redid the whole car. When we showed up in West Palm for our first test session, we were the quickest car every session. Then when we went to Phoenix for pre-season testing, we wanted to test a lot of things. When we rolled into Pomona, we were a little bit apprehensive but a little bit confident. We weren't sure how the weekend was going to go. To win there, it just proved that a lot of hard work paid off.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Ron, of course, drives the NAPA Dodge Charger.
I'll open it up to questions now.
Q: How different is Gainesville going to be compared to where you've been? What does it take to win there?
ANTRON BROWN: I think the deal with Gainesville is when you go there, we know you can actually set some fast ETs depending on the weather. It should be pretty cool out there. It's a sea level track. The traction is always really good there. The fan atmosphere really gets you pumped up. It's a really good track to go fast at.
It's going to be a little bit different coming from Phoenix in one aspect because Phoenix was dry, it was fast out in Phoenix. We're going to have a little bit more humidity. Play mind games on the crew chiefs. Set their tune-ups in a different way. Us as drivers, I mean, we personally -- I get pumped up going to Gainesville because it's where I always started my season off before and the weather's always right. It's always one of the biggest races we go to.
You have to deal with the crowd. You got to deal with all the other stuff going on around you and get ready for a real fast race.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Having won there in 2006 and 2007, Ron, your approach?
RON CAPPS: Like Antron said, the conditions can be very good. One thing we learned, lucky enough to win it there twice, those years, it's real easy because of the records set there in the past. Kenny Bernstein being the King of Speed, breaking the 300-mile-an-hour barrier. The track had cool conditions with cloud cover for several years and got a reputation for being very fast. But as of late, with being in March, the sun can come out. Of course, humidity, a lot of these crew chiefs have in the back of their mind this attitude that this track has had records set there and you need to get after it. But it's very tricky.
Antron will tell you, when the sun comes out there, you can't try to run low ET. The crew chiefs that do it are the ones that may qualify low qualifier but they're going to go to go out on race day because conditions change.
It's a very tricky track, like Antron says, but it's prestigious. The first year I won, I was blown away, because that race, it's one of the big three races we have. To win it twice was even bigger.
It's kind of like the Winternationals for the East Coast. A lot of corporate sponsors come out. It's a big deal for everybody.
Q: How do you rank the Gatornationals as far as all the races on the Florida? Is it what you would consider one of the most prestigious stops? And how has the economy affected your programs?
RON CAPPS: Well, as far as ranking the race, kind of go off of history. I love the sport of drag racing, following the history as a kid. It's probably the second biggest race. Of course, Indy has to be our biggest race. For me Pomona is big because of its history and being the heart of drag racing. Wally Parks got everything started there.
When you look at the corporate level, you look at the fan turnout, the campers, when you're driving up that small highway to the racetrack, there's just miles of campers lined up with racing banners, it's amazing.
So I would put it up there right with Pomona, two or three.
The economy, I'll tell you, I've been bragging on our sport because, to be honest with you, the fan turnout has been unbelievable. We have a great package. Our sport is in good hands. The fact that people are going to look in their wallets and say, Here is what I'm going to spend my money on this whole year for entertainment. When you look at any motorsport, any stick-and-ball sport, you can't get any better buy than a drag race. Take the kids, meet the drivers, meet the legends. It's amazing to see the turnout we had. Even when it was raining in Pomona, I couldn't believe the fans out there, even without umbrellas.
I expect a huge crowd in Gainesville. My sponsor NAPA is doing just fine. I think people are spending money on things they have at home instead of going out and buying a lot of things. I'm not really that worried about our sport.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Antron, first of all, the Gatornationals, what is your perspective on it?
ANTRON BROWN: The Gators is, definitely like Ron was talking about, one of the most prestigious races, especially for the bike class, because it's where the bikes always started at. That's my start back in '98. I mean, I love going to the racetrack. I'll say it, it ranks up there definitely of all the races we go there, definitely in the top five of all the racetracks that we go to, for sure.
When everybody thinks about racing, they think about the Gatornationals and the U.S. Nationals. They go hand-in-hand with each other.
As far as the economy will go, I think our sport is just like Ron was stating, it's not just us being biased because we're drag racers, when you talk to our NASCAR counterparts, they say the same thing about our sport. It's the best bang for the buck. A few of them even came by thinking about getting drag race teams because they see how our sport is growing, from the Coca-Cola standpoint all the way down to when I look at it through our sponsor, with Matco. Their business is growing. You see other people getting out of different motorsports, where they're taking a leap of faith and more and actually extended our contract through 2009 and 2010.
It's definitely a great buy because you're seeing more people working on their stuff at home, like Ron says. They're going to NAPA to buy their stuff and hopefully they're using Matco Tools to put that on their car. Every child that gets in our sport now is under 12. Our sport is really family oriented. The people come into the stands, come to the pit areas, mingle around, seeing the cars warming up, seeing the crew. Every ticket is a pit pass. Our sport is growing in a time of hardship, which is great for our sport. I'm happy to see it because people are having short fields. We've been having 22-car fields in Top Fuel. The same thing in Funny Car. That really put a shine on my face when we came out the beginning of this year. People were saying, Let's see how the field is going to look. Our field has actually been booming with the new kids, rookies coming out in our class and making our sport grow. I'm really excited about our sport as a whole, how it's grown in a time of desperate needs. And I love Gainesville.
Q: What do you think of the new variable timing starting tree? How is it changing your approach at the start of a run?
ANTRON BROWN: I love it. I never even realized it or even saw it. But I guess you did have some people who've been in our sport for a while. Ron can probably talk a lot better than I have because he's been in the Fuel class a lot longer than I have. I didn't realize there were some people anticipating the tree, but you're seeing more of it as the race goes on. It makes it more competitive for our classes. Now you have to be a disciplined driver, which me coming from bikes, we always left when I saw yellow, I was able to red light. But I leave when I see yellow in Fuel, I don't have to worry about red lighting. Other people were anticipating a little bit.
It's made our class a little bit more interesting because now people have to be more prone to be disciplined enough to leave when they see yellow. I think it's been making a little bit for up-and-down racing and better racing.
What do you think about it, Ron?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, I agree. It's something all of us drivers together last year and kind of formed a group, sort of a task force to look at safety and a lot of issues to deal with PRO, NHRA. One of the deals came up to getting the Christmas tree back where it was when the late Buster Couch was the starter. It's so automated now. For people that don't know much about the tree, the amount of time when a flash of yellow would come down when both cars were staged, a guy could count one thousand one, one thousand two, almost guess at the light. We wanted to put it back into the driver, make the driver a little more important I guess.
It caught the drivers by surprise. I almost red lit. Robert Hight told me the same. Raced the semis in Pomona. We were more excited about how the tree made us wait, we were both in the cars ready to push the gas, than even the fact I won, I was going to the final. So I think it was welcomed.
We had a meeting with all the drivers. It was a unanimous decision at the time. I think you're going to see one more change to the tree that NHRA might change, a small amount, nobody is going to notice. Again, it's going to bring the drivers back into it. It needs to reward guys like Antron, the guys that are really quick, that can wait and anticipate and leave on yellow. That's what needs to happen. There were too many guys taking shots and guesses. That's not good when you come home to your kid and you explain a loss because a guy guessed at a tree. Trying to eliminate that.
Q: There have been more red lights in the first two races than last year. Do you think we'll see more reds all year long?
RON CAPPS: Yeah, you might. You might. But you got to take a step back before you go forward. I think if there's any drivers complaining, then they need to go back and practice some more.
I'm saying that because I could very well red light the next race. But the fact is we did it as a group because we wanted to bring the driver back into it more. You might see some more red lights. Antron can talk about the bikes a few years ago. There were a lot of red lights when they tried to change the tree or they did change the tree. We've coped with a lot of changes with NHRA. They went to a different bulb type. A lot of things have happened in the past. It went along until all of a sudden the tree was just more of a robot.
There was a guy named Buster Couch, a starter years ago. It was in his control. You didn't leave until you saw amber. If he wanted to make you wait, you waited. That's when you hear Don Prudhomme and Don Schumacher talk about the old days. That needs to be back the way it was.
Q: When you look at how competitive it is out there, how remarkable is it that Tony Schumacher had last year with all those wins? What could you compare it to maybe?
ANTRON BROWN: Compare it to? That was kind of phenomenal. He had an unbelievable team. I had firsthand watch at it because he was kind of kicking our team's butt up and down the track each and every time last year. I think we beat him twice maybe. No, once. I was 1-6 against him.
When you can compare that to? One of the John Force's domination years, when he won all those world championships in Funny Car. I think some people say, is that good for the sport. I think it's great for the sport because what it has done is I think if you see Top Fuel now, it has raised the level of Top Fuel because everybody has to compete with that kind of team. That team is still out there with Larry Dixon, who is a phenomenal driver himself. Us as a whole, we worked on the off-season so we can be that much more competitive. That's what it does, it drives it.
Force won all those championships. I'll let Ron speak about that. I think that rose the level of Funny Car to where it's at, too. All it does, when one person breaks records, it creates a whole 'nother level for the teams to have to step up to to compete on that level to win that championship. What it's done is you create your own monster with other race teams to step up to that level. That's what's happening.
Continued in part 2