Bruce Sarver, Funny Car driver, interview

BRUCE SARVER Pontiac Firebird DALLAS (May 24, 2000) - Most new teams that decide to take the plunge into the world of NHRA Championship Drag Racing face a number of hurdles that go hand in hand with the quest to field a competitive...

BRUCE SARVER Pontiac Firebird

DALLAS (May 24, 2000) - Most new teams that decide to take the plunge into the world of NHRA Championship Drag Racing face a number of hurdles that go hand in hand with the quest to field a competitive motorsports program. There are the growing pains of trying to get different bodies and personalities moving in the same direction, but with the one unifying goal of putting all the pieces together to make a legitimate drive for the Winston title. For Bruce Sarver, the usual challenges have been there during his first year behind the wheel of the Pontiac Firebird, but the question is not if this Funny Car team is going to win races, but when.

You had hopes coming into the season, and struggled early, but it looks like things are starting to come around.

"From the get go we knew that when you put a new group of people together that the potential is there for growing pains. Personnel-wise, we've made some small changes here and there, but that's not a factor that's really affected us either way. We didn't really get off track. We ran good in testing and ran good in Pomona. When we got to Phoenix little problems started popping up. We actually only got one run there (Phoenix) and that particular run would have got us in the show easy. Being with a new car, and at that particular track, the way the clutch came in, the car was coming off the ground at halftrack, but the run had to be aborted. We stayed over Monday, tested and ran really, really well. We were jacked up about going to Gainesville. We ran a couple of laps in the low 4.90s, and ran a 4.93 after shutting off at a thousand feet - we could have run in the 4.80s. We got to Gainesville and bolted the new Firebird body right on. The first two runs the car didn't have enough power - we didn't realize it had 3000 more pounds of downforce. We lost two runs there and when we got enough power in it, the car went down the track. The body was so good that it pressed down, hit the rear tire and I had to abort the run. Hindsight's 20-20 but we probably should have tested it before we used it. But if something's better you need to run it."

There's a lot of potential on this team. Are you confident of winning before the year is over?

"Since Gainesville, we've tested and have been running pretty good. We didn't qualify in Vegas but that was because of parts failure. We had these blower belts that were bad - it wasn't just us breaking them, everyone using them was breaking them. The teams that had been around had some good belts saved up, but us being a new team, we had some brand new stuff that we were running. So when the belt stuff started happening, we couldn't even find a used one. Everyone was keeping the belts they had. We didn't qualify in Houston but it was for the simple fact that is was a belt problem. The car was going to halftrack strong, I mean it was flying, well enough to put us in the top half of the field, but then again, parts failure raised up and bit us. Then we got to Richmond and things began to turn around. We got our new belts in Atlanta and we haven't broken one since then. In Richmond we ran really good, made it past first round, but we were still breaking belts. We got lucky for a change."

Now with the season approaching halfway, realistically what would you like to accomplish this year?

"Looking at the points right now we're 15th, but we're three rounds out of 10th and if we could pick up the momentum I feel comfortable that we could crack that. We have a real mild tune up right now. Alan (Johnson) would like to get several more laps consistently going down the track, get some data and then start getting after it like he does with 'Big Red.' We just need a few more laps. If things go our way, we might get some luck and then we can start playing hardball real soon. We're going to try and be a top-five car here before too long. We go into every race now with the attitude that this is a new season. There are a lot of tough cars out here, but if you look at the top 15 teams, anyone of them could be a top-five contender. I feel real confident right now."

Why did you choose drag racing?

"I don't come from a racing family, although we've always been big sports fans. When I was a kid I went karting, which may have cut short a pretty bright future in baseball. When I got in high school I played baseball but I was successful in karting. When I was 14, 15 years old, I was touring the country. When I got out of high school I started getting paid. I always had the support from my parents. I like to control my own destiny and in something like auto racing I could do that. I'm just a good old boy from Bakersfield, California and when I got into racing, I needed the funding to keep doing it. I've been working on securing sponsorships since I was 14 years old. I just didn't want to race go-karts in Bakersfield. I wanted to be the best. Then it got into touring Europe and Japan and I became pretty successful. We couldn't wait to go out to the March Meets. Warren & Coburn were pretty famous in the 60s and 70s and the March Meets were a pretty big deal. Every year all the big hitters in Top Fuel came to race. We'd ditch school, and head out to the racetrack and I was just intrigued with the noise and the power. I didn't know a soul in the sport except for those two guys. When I was 33 years old, Craftsman Truck Racing was just getting started. I looked at possibly doing that and putting together a sponsorship with a lot of good stock drivers, but to make it to the top I knew it was going to take a long time. If I was going to make the move to drag racing then I needed to make the move right away or I would have been chasing the Craftsman deal and Winston Cup Racing. I figured I could spend as much money drag racing as I would spend in racing trucks, yet I could be in an elite group here and be with the big boys right off the bat. Everyone thought I was nuts and told me I couldn't do it. But don't tell me that. James Warren's wife didn't want him racing any longer and they got to where they ran the car once or twice a year. The week before the Winternationals they invited me out to make a couple of squirts -- they were going to have a bunch of people out with a big barbecue so I said sure I'd be out. I went out there, went a couple of hundred feet and decided I was going drag racing. I spent eight months putting together a sponsorship, going to races, seeing who was who and how to do things. At the World Finals in 1995, my girlfriend and I were sitting in the stands and I was going to take home a car to get this thing going so I bought Joe Amato's car. There were three different cars we were looking at, but Amato's car had just run 4.72 at 312 or something. We went over, got to know Joe, bought the car and took it home. We made Mike Kloeber. We spent the next month trying to get some guys together but no one knew who Bruce Sarver was. So Mike flew down before Christmas, I showed him how much money I had, told him I wanted to run the whole season and we were off. I went out and bought a brand new truck and trailer, put together all the equipment in 28 days and got my license at the 1996 Bud Warmups. People were asking 'who the heck are these guys?' The very first run I made at Pomona went 4.82 at 303 mph - on my very first run I went 300 which was pretty cool. We qualified for every event but Indy that year and finished 11th. In 1997 I crashed in Sonoma and missed two races and still finished 11th. Then in '98 we finished 10th."

Where do you see your career going from here?

"I want to win the Winston championship. I think I'm with one of the most capable teams of doing that. We have a great group of guys with Alan Johnson and Gary (Scelzi) and Rob (Flynn). I come to every race knowing that we could win at anytime."

Can you share information between the two teams? "The motors are identical, and if they need a motor they can get it over here and we can do the same. Everything is the same other than the fact that one's a Funny Car and the other is a dragster. What's neat about this new 2000 Firebird body is that it's downforce isn't too far off from a dragster. We can run the car a little harder now knowing that it's similar to the dragster. We know we have the best equipment, and sponsors and everyone on this team feels like I do that we have a winner here."

What's the difference between the Funny Car and the Dragster?

"As soon as you mash the gas the Funny Car has a mind of its own. It does something different every time. I love the Top Fuel Car too. They run so much harder that you get a certain rush and perception of speed -- you're really driving them from about 200 feet on. The Funny Car's a little slower, and you're not thinking about the g-forces. Coming from stock car racing it's kind of nice because you get to work on the chassis, and tune the car. We've learned a lot about working in the wind tunnel with the body. Now we have some aerodynamic stuff we can play with for different track conditions."

Comments from team owner Alan Johnson.

What were some of the challenges of putting together a new Funny Car team?

"Building a whole new program from scratch, we were kind of under the gun to get it done because it was a last-minute deal. We didn't start to prepare in the middle of last year like we should have because we didn't have things solidified. But we're all caught up now and our problems up until now have just been a matter of having a lot of things happen that usually just don't happen. At this point that's probably just built a little bit of character on the Funny Car team. We have all the tools to make the Firebird run good. It's just a matter of weathering the storm and getting it to run like it should. We've lost so many runs in qualifying to freak things that it kind of put us behind the curve."

How difficult is it to run a two-car program?

"It certainly isn't the easiest thing in the world to do, but you just have to have key people in the right places to make everything work. We have all the resources to make it work, all the right people and I'm looking forward to some success here shortly. It also has its advantages. Both cars have nitro in the engines so when you're unsure of the climatic conditions, one car can either prove or disprove your theory on whether you're close or not. Then you can adjust for the second car."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Joe Amato